Horrockses hero’s story comes to light

A special trophy presentation prompted Warracknabeal Fire Brigade to search for descendants of a firefighter who rescued a little boy from drowning at Lake Hindmarsh – all the way back in February 1937.

Warracknabeal, one of Victoria’s oldest country fire brigades, celebrated its 125th anniversary on 15 October.  

As part of the weekend’s celebrations, the brigade was presented with a replica of the prestigious Horrockses trophy – featuring the name Francis Marsh, a constable in the local police force – as part of proceedings.

Story by Sonia Maclean

The one-metre-high trophy existed only in perpetual form at Fiskville, but an initiative is underway to present each brigade on the shield with a replica.  

In his quest to learn more about Marsh and what happened that summer’s day 88 years ago at Lake Hindmarsh, Warracknabeal member Colin Newell approached the Victoria Police Museum.

As well as a striking photo of the young policeman, the museum uncovered a witness statement which tells the story of the events that day – provided by Tarranyurk farmer Wallace Smith.

According to Smith’s statement, on the 7th of February 1937 he had gone to Lake Hindmarsh with a Mr Rodda's motor boat.

“During the afternoon I took several persons for pleasure trips. At about 4pm I took a party of about ten persons… for a trip when abut 1 ½ miles from shore when the engine faulted and I decided to return to the shore to investigate the trouble.

“When turning the boat it capsized, and went under. There would be about 10 to 12 feet of water where we went down. When I came to the surface I heard someone call out ‘Tommy McIntosh is drowning, he has gone down for the second time’.

“First Constable Marsh dived and brought the lad to the surface where he was assisted on top of the cabin of the boat which was about five feet under water.

“Later a boat arrived and rowed us safely to the shore.”

Tommy McIntosh, seven years old at the time, survived the incident. But, tragically, seven years later Francis’s own son Graeme was struck and killed by a car at the age of 6 years and 8 months – very near the age same age as the boy who was saved.

From the records available it appears that Graeme was one of Francis’s two children. Francis was 27 at the time of the boat rescue and passed away in 1983.

“When the region approached us about the shield, at first I thought, ‘What’s this all about?’”, said Warracknabeal’s Colin Newell.

“It’s been an evolving story and we found out quite a bit from the Police Association. I’m not really a history buff but this intrigued me.

“It’s about honouring and respecting the past.”

‘Horrockes and Company’ were Calico printers who back in 1904 created the shield for the then Country Fire Brigades Board, to be presented to any member who was instrumental in saving the life of another.

Back in 1937 the actual shield would have been held by Warracknabeal until another act of bravery warranting its award had been performed. 

The Horrockses Shield has been awarded a total of 14 times, the last brigade to receive the award being Bendigo Urban FB in 1974.

Author: Leith Hillard