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Our fallen: Quambatook’s Anzacs
Shane Pilgrim was standing in awe at the foot of the Quambatook War Memorial during an Anzac Day service in 2013 when he had a moment of inspiration – he just knew he had to tell the stories of the local men that fought and died in the battles of the Great War.
“I was reading the inscriptions at the War Memorial, which features a beautiful marble statue of a soldier in full light horse gear, when it came to me – this was a story that had to be written, of the brave men from a small Victorian country town that laid down their lives in the service of their country,” he said.
Shane is Quambatook Fire Brigade Secretary and Treasurer, and also the town’s police officer.
His moment of inspiration then became a small obsession. He spent the next six months researching and then writing Our Fallen, a book detailing the journeys of 15 Quambatook men who enlisted and fought in the First World War, from Gallipoli through to the Western Front.
“Researching these personal histories did take up a lot of time but it was worthwhile learning about their lives, their selflessness and their sacrifice,” he said.
“These were talented people, some of them accomplished sportsmen, from varied backgrounds – farmers, labourers, shearers, grocers, storekeepers and a school principal – all responding to the call to duty.”
“I also learnt so much about Australia’s military history, the politics of the time and the history of our town, which back then had a larger population than it does today.”
An additional motivation for Shane in writing the book is his own family’s history of service. Shane’s family is of English background and both his grandfather and great-grandfather served in the British Royal Artillery – in the Second World War and the Great War respectively.
Prior to joining Victoria Police, Shane enlisted in the Australian Army Artillery Regiment based in Townsville while his father Jim was a sailor in the Australian Navy. Jim was aboard the HMAS Melbourne on the night of 10 February1964 when it collided with the HMAS Voyager in a training exercise off Jervis Bay, cutting it into two, and leading to the deaths of 82 Voyager crew. The incident remains Australia’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.
“As you can imagine, Dad was pretty shaken up with that – it’s not something you forget too quickly or easily,” he said.
Shane said that while his research was exhaustive, the information was surprisingly accessible.
“I used a number of sources as part of my research. The Defence Force Academy and University of New South Wales jointly operate the AIF Project Database, which lists the service histories of WWI personnel, and the Australian War Memorial website, National Archives of Australia, National Library and the Commonwealth Graves Commission all have searchable databases with a wide variety of source materials.”
Shane said he was fortunate to have the help of local historian Rhonda Coughlan to assist with the research while wife Kristy “was my editor”, providing unbiased and forthright feedback. Quambatook Community Resource Centre also came onboard, helping to print, bind and sell the book.
Shane said the experience has motivated him to carry on and he is now in the process of updating Our Fallen to include stories of locals that fought in WWII.
Our Fallen is available through the Quambatook Community Resource Centre, with proceeds being donated to the Quambatook Men’s Shed Community Project.