More than just names on a wall in Manilla

MANILLA’S men in marble will no longer simply be names on a wall after the publication of a new book next year by the local historical society.

Those names will come to life with photos and stories of service to their country during World War I, thanks to the work of a group of volunteers.

The idea for the book came from Tamworth man Denis Creer, who’d enjoyed his time researching family history so much at Manilla, he signed up as a paying member.

Manilla historian Ian Bignall said Mr Creer had come to Tamworth from Bribie Island about six years ago and discovered his forebears were from Manilla.

“He has always been interested in military history and asked if we had any information on the names on the honour roll,” Mr Bignall said.

“I told him that to me, they’d always just been the men in marble and apart from that, we knew little about them, but he said with all the information these days on the internet, we could put profiles together of these men and if we could put photos with them, we had the basis for a book about the World War I Diggers.”

As there are 289 names on the roll, and of those 53 paid the ultimate sacrifice, it took Mr Creer quite some time to research each of them.

“Denis worked away and he ended up creating profiles for nearly all of them,” Mr Bignall said.

Using the resources of the historical society (both Manilla and Tamworth), Mr Bignall and his team started finding photos to go with the profiles. He also spread the word in The Manilla Express and on Radio 2TM talking to Graham Archer.

“I asked people who had uncles, grandfathers or great-grandfathers on the Manilla honour roll to come forward and pretty soon our photo collection grew. We now have more than 100 photos and we had some copied and restored from glass negatives belonging to the Tamworth Historical Society.”

About eight volunteers have now joined the working group on the book, which will be called either The Men in Marble, or Manilla’s Men in Marble.

One volunteer, 90-year-old Doris Wheeler, has gone through all the wartime papers of The Manilla Express and unearthed a treasure trove of information – stories of the local lads heading off to war, homecoming parades, and letters from the front – and she’s typed them all up. 

“It appears that if parents got a letter from their boys, they took it in to The Express and it was published,” Mr Bignall said.

“There’s probably another whole book we’ll do on the letters. Admittedly, a lot are the same as when they got to Egypt they all wrote home about the pyramids.

“One thing I noticed was the difference in the tone of the letters when boys were writing to their mothers. When writing to their fathers, brothers or uncles, they would describe as much of what was happening as they could, without being censored, of the atrocities they were seeing.

“Then in the letters to mothers it was all very pleasant, that they hoped to be home soon, they were well, they’d seen this person or that.”

Another revelation that’s come to light in the past few weeks was there’s more than one honour roll – and all of the names are not exactly the same on all of them.

“In 1919 there was a girls’ brigade march in town and they held up a big banner of an honour roll, but quite a lot of those names aren’t on the town honour roll, but they will all have their place in the book,” Mr Bignall said.

Mr Bignall and his small team are hoping anyone with photos or information about any relatives who enlisted in Manilla get in touch with him on his mobile 0428 421 668 or post any items to the Manilla Heritage Museum, 197 Manilla St, Manilla 2346.

It is hoped The Men in Marble book will be published next year to mark 100 years since the start of World War I.

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