Kanownas Anzac Story – by Robert Baugh

With the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, Kanowna, situated 18km north west of Kalgoorlie was a mining town in decline. The gold had not run out but big mining companies had lost faith or patience with the district and had closed their operations in 1912. The town’s population began drifting away and by the commencement of World War I, the population of the town numbered less than 600.

Despite the depressed economic outlook for the town, Australia’s ‘call to arms’ did not go unheeded when war was declared. Quite to the contrary, the Kalgoorlie Western Argus reported: ‘Kanowna holds the proud and unique position of having sent away every fit man in the community to the Front….. The very acme, the zenith of patriotic devotion to King and Country has been attained by a small community on the margin of the unknown.'(11 April 1916, p.3). 

By the end of the Great War, Kanowna was considerably smaller but returning servicemen were welcomed home with special functions organised to honour them. ‘The citizens of Kanowna gave a welcome home to Signaller G Bartlett, Lance Corporal J Cunningham and Private T W Willis MM, who have just returned from the Front after nearly four years service…… The trio were marshalled onto the stage where they were each presented with a very useful souvenir.'(Western Argus, 2 September 1919, p.3).

 This article left me wondering who the other Kanowna men were and just how many there were? These questions occurred to me as I was researching the history of Kanowna and it was quite by chance that the answers came in a visit to the Kalgoorlie Town Hall where I encountered young museum assistant, Tim Cudini, who produced a coloured A3 photograph of the Honour Board pictured here.

Kanowna Honour Roll

Kanowna Honour Roll

 The heavy wooden carved and polished honour board was the result of a fund raising initiative by the less than hundred  students of the Kanowna State School, who on 21 June 1918 conducted a successful concert which raised 23 pounds. (Kalgoorlie Miner, 10 July 1918, p.2) Just where it was located in Kanowna could not be ascertained but the artifact has now become part of the Goldfields Military Museum collection in its Burt Street premises in Boulder.

 A look down the two columns of names revealed there were thirty nine listed on the ‘on active service’ Honour Board. Nine of those names had a gold crown next to them signifying the men had been ‘killed in action.’ The number killed amounted to 23% of the total. Given that one in five of all Australian men who served during World War I were killed in action or died of wounds, Kanowna men were certainly not excluded from the carnage. There were a further nine names which had a red cross next to them. This indicated these men had been wounded. Another 23% of the total. One other name had a blue circle next to it which denoted, ‘prisoner of war.’ 

 Apart from the mere statistical analysis, a study of the names themselves proved interesting. For example, there were three Gogan entries, all with crowns alongside and all sons of William and Mary Gogan. They were, John Nathaniel, a 28 year old railway worker, Roy William, a 25 year old miner and Laurence, a 24 year old grocery store worker. The two older sons died in action on the Western Front while the youngest died of illness in England. 

 Another entry in the first column was that of Hugh ‘Hughie’ Brian O’Donnell  (1393), a strapping lad of 16 who was living with his family in Kanowna when he enlisted late in 1914. He falsified his age, stating he was a 19 year old miner and he had a letter from his father to support his enlistment application. Sadly, young Hugh was killed at Gaba Tepe on the Gallipoli peninsula on 19 May, 1915, less than four weeks after his landing. He has the youngest West Australian killed in action at Gallipoli. 

Hugh O'Donnell

Hugh O’Donnell

 Second Lieutenant William ‘Willie’ Irving began the war as a private at Gallipoli but his leadership qualities soon became apparent and he steadily rose in rank over the course of the war. At the age of 24 he was killed at Decoy Wood in France in November 1917 when his forward command post received a direct hit from an enemy artillery round.

William ‘Willie”  Irving

Towards the bottom of the second column of names was that of Private T W Willis MM(4289). The MM referred to the Military Medal won by Thomas Warren Willis whose ‘determination, conspicuous gallantry and skill largely contributed to the success’ of an assault on a German position in Monument Wood near Villers Brettonneux on the afternoon of 9 July 1918. At the time, Willis was part of an assault party that had encountered determined resistance that threatened to hold up the advance. As first bomb thrower with the party, ‘he immediately, and on his own initiative, rushed over the open ground to within bombing range and despite showers of enemy bombs, continued to throw his bombs, killing four or five, and so demoralising the remainder of the enemy that they fled in disorder.’ (Official recommendation dated 24/7/1918 signed by Brigadier-General E A Wisdon).

 In unfolding these snippets of detail about just a few of the men listed on the Honour Board, my question had been answered but more importantly the Honour Board revealed the impact the world’s first global conflict had exacted on the people of Kanowna. The enormous losses and the shock of it all drove a compelling need to acknowledge and honour those who had served and the town simply, but respectfully achieved this through the noble initiative of its children.

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My name is Moya Sharp, I live in Kalgoorlie Western Australia and have worked most of my adult life in the history/museum industry. I have been passionate about history for as long as I can remember and in particular the history of my adopted home the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia. Through my website I am committed to providing as many records and photographs free to any one who is interested in the family and local history of the region.

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Comments

  1. Bernie Morris says:

    The honour board referred to by Bob Baugh, which has now found a permanent home, seems to have slipped from sight for many years; Bob says it’s not known where it was displayed in Kanowna but I can vouch for its presence on the wall of the “Drill Hall” that came in from Kanowna in the early 1950s and found its way to a vacant block in at 12 Barton St East Kalgoorlie (Williamstown), where it remained for as long as I can recall.

    I can’t say whether it was still on the wall of that hall when it was removed from Barton St to the Loop-line grounds a couple of years ago but I bet Mike Lucas would know.

    East Kal primary school used that hall for concerts, picture shows and dances as well as an overflow classroom during the ’50s; Wally Lake was headmaster at East Kal for a few years in the 50s and with his wife Dawn and other lay preachers they conducted afternoon “Sunday School” there.

    The honour board was there for as long as I can remember and many times I stood and read through the names.

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