Compiled for Darebin Heritage by Brian Membrey

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The Great War : South Preston : Scholars That Served

From early 1915, the Education Department actively encouraged the families of enlisted servicemen to notify schools of former pupils that had enlisted with a view to eventually assembling Honour Boards such as those erected at the South Preston and Preston State Schools.

It is impossible to gauge the percentage of those that did respond - undoubtedly there would have been many men that attended the two schools that were not recorded.

The original lists in this document were taken from the lists published by the Leader when the Boards were unveiled just two weeks apart and are, of course, subject to errors of transcription that may have slipped in.

The final South Preston Board had around 15 names added after the unveiling (bringing the total to 278); although a sighting of the Tyler Street equivalent suggests this remained unaltered.  There are some names that appear on both Boards - given Preston was an adjunct under South Preston's control for several years, this is not surprising and there are probably several others in the 25-plus age groups that fall into the same category.

The Department later encouraged the creation and maintenance of “honor books” : leather-bound volumes of hand-made paper recording details of those that enlisted. These were accompanied by 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 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).

The list of entries for the South Preston State School Honour Board was published in the Leader on 28 June, 1919 after the Board was officially unveiled with all due pomp and ceremony the previous Saturday, June 21.

The Board was unveiled by Brigadier General Brand, official guests included the Hon. W. C. Beckett, M.L.C., Mr. John Cain, M.L.A., the Hon. James. G. Membrey (the recently retired Minister and M.L.A. and whose own son Claude from Northcote was killed during the conflict) and the Shire President, Cr. Edmund Allchin along with all the local identities.

The headmaster at the time was then Mr. James Sebire, for whom the ceremony must have been a bitter-sweet occasion - he was an uncle of Francis Henry Sebire, killed in action 20/11/1916 and whose wife, Flora Margaret Sebire was a teacher at the school.

The Board listed 49 ex-students as having died in service - three of these, Hercott (2) and J. Swan have proved untraceable with any degree of certainty to the district.  The name Hercott does not appear in any enlistment records or indeed in Sands and MacDougall directories of the time, but further research suggests the name may have correctly been Jephcott, the brothers in East Brunswick at the time of enlisting, but based in Thornbury and Northcote at the time the boys would have been educated.   Swan's name also appears of the Preston Cenotaph, but cannot be linked to the directory with the resources now available.

Three other known casualties, Amy Simpson (the only female student to enlist), George Moate and William Henry Lord were not shown as dying.

Amy Simpson passed away from the effects of an illness contracted during the war some two years after the board was unveiled, George Moate enlisted twice and was serving under the name of George William Moate when he was killed, and Lord's fate in a Turkish prison camp was not known until nearly two years after he died.

The fates of approximately 230 (roughly 85-90 percent) of those listed have been traced with reasonable certainty, while there are a few “possibles” perhaps requiring further confirmation.

Using an adjusted figure of 47 deaths and allowing for the handful that enlisted but did not serve overseas, this gives a fatality rate of about 22.8%, somewhat higher than the overall average of 18.4% based on approximately 330,000 embarkations and 61,520 deaths currently listed on the Australian War Memorial Honour Roll.

It is, of course, impossible to determine how many names were NOT recorded - there are many examples of servicemen that grew up in Preston and often were still resident when enlisting that do not appear of the boards at either South Preston or Preston, the only schools operating at the time the men would have been educated.

In considering “South Preston”, it should be realised that between 1895 and 1903, Tyler Street operated as an adjunct under the control of the headmaster at South Preston, Henry Hanna -  children at Tyler Street stayed up until grade three and then had to complete grades four to six at Preston South. As a result, there are many “dual” entries (acknowledged with a double asterisk in the lists.   Four new rooms were then added to Tyler Street and it resumed teaching of all grades in 1904.

The Prince of Wales State School in Wales Street, Thornbury officially opened on 1 October, 1891 but closed during the depression of 1892 before reopening around 1893. It was also an adjunct of South Preston State School (Hotham Street) until 1913 when it was transferred to an independent head master (although there was no interchange of pupils).


More on Preston’s Schools