Driving up country, from Sydney to Queensland, my wife and I noticed that all of the towns we passed through have exceptionally well cared for war memorials engraved with the names of their fallen in the First and Second and Korean Wars, and the Vietnam War.
Sadly, we found many of the surnames are the same; fathers, brothers, sons...
It focused us, forced us to imagine what it must have meant to their families, lives and hopes torn apart for freedom but buried in the soil of distant lands. No, we can never know or feel the depth of their loss.
Our destination, Gin Gin, double-barrelled, spelt as the spirit (and just as lovely) is a small friendly rural town; approximately 270km north and a little west of Brisbane. Many of the surnames on Gin Gin's Centre War Memorial and at the RSL Memorial Hall in Milden Street are also of fathers, brothers, sons...
On the outskirts of Gin Gin is a cemetery, a beautiful place; peaceful, a sanctuary surrounded by gently sloping fields of sugar cane, soft woods and the melodic ping of bell birds. In the cemetery is the grave of a lady, her name is Sarah Jane Allen. She died in November 1925. She was seventy.
On her grave is a second stone, a plaque engraved with the names of her three sons, Josiah, James Edward and Ernest. Josiah and James Edward died 7 June 1917, Ernest died 23 April 1918, on the fields of battle during the First World War. They never came home, graves unknown. Yes, Sarah Jane survived her three sons, eventually dying and being buried some eight years later by her husband, William.
For that time, Sarah Jane, a mother, a mum, it must have been heartbreaking never to see her sons again; the ache of despair and the grief she would carry through her remaining years, always, always with that interminable echo, "Why"?
But for William, longer...
They, Sarah Jane and William, as with all parents of the names on those war memorials are the forgotten heroes and victims of that war, all wars.
It is to be noted that in August 1920, Sarah Jane was asked to "Turn the first sod for our dear boys' memorial statue" at Gin Gin's Centre War Memorial on behalf of the 'Kolan Shire Fallen Soldiers Memorial Committee'.
A distinguished British journalist recently summed it up very well:
To all, these sombre and thoughtful shrines are not glorifications of war, but memorials to beloved people who went to their deaths in the belief that they were saving us...
I decided in 2012 to journey to Flanders and the Somme, and to the shrines, the memorials, the Menin Gate at Ypres in Belgium and Villers-Bretonneux in France close to where the brothers, Josiah and James Edward and Ernest Allen died, graves unknown...
Here are my thoughts of that journey...
The Great War (1914-1918)
A tribute to Sarah Jane, husband William and their three sons, and to all war parents and their soldier kin, who died so that we may live and grow from their paths of courage and sacrifice.
"Every intelligent person in the world knew that disaster was impending but knew no way to avoid it."
The words of H G Wells 1886 – 1946, found at the entrance to the In Flanders' Fields War Museum, Ypres, Belgium.
Peace and War
Are the same:
Manteaux de bataille (Cloaks of battle)
That heal the angst
Or crush the soul
But ne'er the twain
To reason, "Why"?
In trust I went
To pay my respect:
Fathers, brothers, sons
And those unknown
Fearless, frightened lost
Of parents, hearts broken,
Worthy of the truth
Known only to God.
And beauty stirred
A twitching breeze
A sapphire sky,
Fields of green and gold
And poppies and roses
Red and glorious
Parmi le vent turbines (Amid the wind turbines_--)
Et autoroutes électrique (And motorways electric)
And thoughts stirred
Life flows always
On pavements crowded,
But sadness too
And tears will fall
Amid the graves (of peace)
To remind us all
Ne'er to forget
To remember, "Why"?
The same distinguished British journalist also wrote the following that underlines Australia and New Zealand's ANZAC Day and the UK's Remembrance Sunday as an undoubtedly sombre but glorious bringing together of all people and all nations, to honour lost ones:
Much of civilisation rests on the proper response to death...
The desire to show sympathy for irrecoverable losses...
If we ceased to care we would not be properly human.
We will remember them...
GIN GIN CEMETERY
"In Memory of the Fallen"
The introduction and poem was read at Gin Gin's Centre War Memorial at the dawn service, Anzac Day, 25 April 2012
Photo: Gin Gin Cemetery "In memory of the Fallen"
Father, William Allen, was interviewed in 1932 about his pioneering life in Australia. Here are extracts from that interview:
The Australian life and pioneering days of William Allen 1862 – 1937:
Born: 1843 Oxhill, Warwickshire, England.
Died: 1937, Gin Gin, Queensland Australia.
It was in the little village of Oxhill, Kinston, Warwickshire, England, that Mr William Allen first saw the light of day in the year 1843.
He was one of a large family and after leaving school, Mr Allen engaged in farm work near his native place at the small wages of 3d per day. This low wage was that ruling at that time in England for a boy leaving school. As he grew to manhood he was attracted to the wonderful new world – Australia.
In June, 1862, he set out from Birkenhead on the sailing ship Rajasthan. Four months later, after a tempestuous voyage, he landed in Brisbane and began his life in Australia; working hard and long.
In April 1874, Mr Allen married Miss Sarah Jane Childs, a Queenslander born at Colinton on the Brisbane River. Mr Allen declared with pride that during 52 years of married life, not one angry word passed between his wife and himself; truly a record that many married couples cannot boast of.
During the Great War Mr Allen and Sarah Jane suffered great sorrow by the loss of three of their sons: Josiah, James Edward and Ernest, who each enlisted and paid the supreme sacrifice.
It was a great blow to the aged couple.
Mr Allen said: "That if only one had returned safe back to us, we would have felt satisfied. We believed that we were sending them away in a good cause, and did not expect to see the three of them not come back safe..."
Photo: Sarah Jane Allen's grave with the plaque to her three sons killed in the Great War
Article and images contributed by Tom Miller