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ALICE AND THE WAR PART 1

PART 1 : MEMORIAL

(Warning - some of the following details and links contain content that may be extremely distressing)

The weather in Warrnambool on Anzac Day 1926 was “cold and rough” [1]. But, it had not deterred the large crowd assembled at Canon Hill for the unveiling of their new War Memorial. Minister for Defence, Major General Neville Howse, came as the Prime Minister’s representative. After speeches, hymns and a prayer, he “withdrew the Union Jack which had shrouded the figure of a soldier”[2]. An “expression of infinite sadness” carved into his marble face.[3]


Perhaps Alice Best was there that day. Wearing her own expression of “infinite sadness” as she searched for the name of her son, William Thomas McKinney on the granite wall. William was one of the 240 men from the district who had not returned. Now, Alice had somewhere close by to mourn him for he was buried in a grave in France that she would never visit.


Depending on which family member is telling the story, William died on the Somme, at Passchendaele and once at Pozieres. According to his service records, he had actually been killed in action in Beaumetz in France on the 23rd March 1917. On that day the Germans surprised the British Allies from the 29th Battalion by launching a surprise attack on the village. [4] The heavy shelling started early that morning. Although the Australian battalions eventually pushed the Germans back, they sustained heavy casualties. William was one of those.


At first he had been reported missing. According to the Red Cross Missing and ( Wounded Enquiry, it had been difficult to identify him. This is the most likely reason that he would have been registered as missing. At home, Alice would have been given the news that he was missing in action. It would be a month before she found out what had happened to him.


In World War 1, when a soldier was killed, the family would receive a pink telegram. Alice’s granddaughter, Marion Shoppee (nee Begley), related a story that her mother, Florence told her of the day Alice received the telegram. The day the telegram arrived, Florence was about 7 years old. She remembered that as soon as Alice received the telegram confirming William’s death, she walked straight out into the backyard and was violently ill.


Nine years later, the Warrnambool War Memorial was unveiled. The service was a detailed acknowledgment of the service of all the men from the district who had fought in World War 1; those who had returned and those who had not. Until then, there had not been a funeral for William. Until that Anzac day in 1926, he had never really come home.



Fig 1. Photograph of William Thomas McKinney, original held by the McKinney Family


Next in the series: Part 2 - The Twin






[1] "WARRNAMBOOL SOLDIERS MEMORIAL." Camperdown Chronicle (Vic. : 1875 - 1954) 29 April 1926: 6. Web. 19 Sep 2022 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article25111758>. [2] “Warrnambool Soldiers Memorial.” [3] “Warrnambool Soldiers Memorial” [4] Lives of the first world war, “Action at Beaumetz” https://livesofthefirstworldwar.iwm.org.uk/story/52407 Accessed 19 September 2022

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