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Compiled for Darebin Heritage by Brian Membrey

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Education Department : War Memorials


Within these page, we have tried to track all of the volunteers whose names were included on the South Preston (Hotham Street) and Preston (Tyler Street) State Schools are included - in reality, most boys born between 1890 and 1899 (by far the largest group of men that later served) would have attended both schools.

The whereabouts and level of a soldier's education was not part of the enlistment process - process – in reality, it probably had little relevance other than perhaps where volunteers applied for a commissioned rank (Second Lieutenant or higher), which involved a second application form.

The question was asked on what was known as the "circular", a questionnaire sent in the mid 1920's to the next of kin of all those that died in the conflict to assist in the production of what became a 12 volume history of Australia's involvement in the Great War.

There were never official figures kept, but trawling through the 850-plus servicemen in the In Memoriam volumes suggest about 70% of the circulars were returned.Of these, however, possibly 20% did not provide an answer to the question or simply replied "State School", so there may well be other former students of the school that died and of which no record is known.

At the time war broke out, there were around 2,300 state schools in Victoria, hundreds of them in country districts with less than 20 pupils.

The schools for administrative purposes into Inspector's Districts, each in charges of a skilled district inspector working closely with the central Education Department head office.  Most of the north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne extending to Broadford, Whittlesea. Kinglake and the Diamond Valley were part of Metropolitan District No. 4, initially under Mr. Rowe, later Mr. W. Park and then Mr. A. S. Burgess.

Parents in the school community were represented by a school committee of up to seven members, usually men of women of some standing in the local community.

Each month, the Education Department published School Papers in three editions - for Grades 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 (from 1962 Forms 1 and 2) - as compulsory reading matter for the children, along with an Education Gazette and Teacher's Aid in which instructions and general news was conveyed to teachers and school committees; it was via this latter publication that most of the guidelines for the ultimate honor books and memorial boards were issued.

As early as June, 1915, the Mister of Public Instruction (the Hon. T. Livingston, M.L.A) issued in the Gazette a notice in regard to the permanent commemoration within school buildings or grounds of the memory of old pupils who had enlisted, at the same time issuing a general request that relatives of servicemen contact their old schools.


Livingston's initial proposal was that a roll of honor be compiled with a view that a memorial with artistic value could be erected, at the same time suggestions of school committees and teachers would be supplied at a later date.

The Department's Art Inspector, Mr. P. M. Carew-Smyth was assigned as adviser to schools as the most suitable form of commemoration; initially wall-tablets of symbolic design were recommended, Carew-Smyth producing sample designs of tablets of metal, blackwood or a combination of the two.

In March, 1917, an alternative commemoration of a crimson leather-bound honor books and best-quality hand-made paper was recommended, the title to be embossed on the cover, the whole to be accompanied by a hanging blackwood case with plate-glass doors in which the book could be locked away (both the First and Second World War versions survive at Preston, South Preston’s copies probably lost in one of the two major fires that have destroyed much of the structure in the Great War buildings, although the original Honour Board survives).

Preparation of the book was to be entrusted to a senior teacher working with the school committee ... "When entries are made in the parchment-leaved honor book, they should be written in permanent ink by an expert penman; and the filling of the book should be a matter of the greatest care and concern, so that it may be in every sense a record of honour".

The Education Department encouraged families of those that had volunteered to provide details of their servicemen to schools they had earlier attended; these records were subsequently augmented by returning soldiers or by their comrades.

“The committee of State school No.824, Preston, are desirous of obtaining the names of old boys of the school at the front. Will parents or relatives communicate with Mr. J. Murdoch, giving parent's name and address, and the year in which the boy left school”.  

(Preston Leader, 13 November, 1915 - the Education Department’s post-war publication Record of War Service suggests James A, Murdoch of 624, South Preston attempted to enlist but was rejected on medical grounds. He was later reported in the Leader as reading out the names at the unveiling of the school’s Honour Board.  Murdoch was also secretary of the local Schools District Committee and applying to Preston Council 1918 on behalf of the Committee for the use of the Preston park for holding a sports meeting : "... the schools taking part will be South Preston, North Preston, West Preston, and Thornbury").

Schools had no way of verifying the information supplied and there were undoubtedly some deceptions and rather more errors that crept in, and, of course, it remains an unknown as to what percentage of names of ex-pupils where actually submitted.

Trying to track pupils that attended a school around 100 or more years ago is further complicated by the fact that many families had moved out of the district, but to date, probably 90 percent of the names on the two Preston school boards have been identified with a reasonable degree of certainty, while there are a few other "possibles".

Time will tell, but some preliminary research suggests that this is considerably higher that the likely “hit rate” that will be found on the Northcote State School Board (aka Project 2018).

And the possibility of further names being identified?

Just about nil - failing perhaps a descendant having identified a past association with one of our local schools!


More on Preston’s Schools

Above : The School Paper of May, 1916 depicting a (somewhat posed) crowd outside the Recruiting Office at Melbourne Town Hall.  The Papers started in 1896 and were compulsory reading up until the 1930s when the hard-back Victorian School Readers (John and Betty) became the standard volumes with the School Paper supplementing them. The Papers continued to 1969 when the three versions (Grades 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 (from 1962 Forms 1 and 2) were renamed Orbit, Meteor and Pursuit.  

The Paper usually featured around 10 words on the front page which pupils were expected to learn the spelling and understand the meaning and were tested thereon – for the record, the May, 1916 De-pot; Re-postem? (old, taken his case); Perfilled (put in peril); An-cestral Stake; Pa-tience, and Clamo-ur. ("Repostem" and "Perfilled" do not apprear in dictionaries of today)