Esperance locals chart biographies of World War One veterans

After years of research, two local history enthusiasts have nearly completed a book which details how the Great War impacted the people of Esperance.

Kathy Hine and Jen Ford are collating the history of the 75 men on the Esperance RSL Honor Roll, in addition to other men who served but were not listed on the roll.

Mrs Hine said she began the project after she met a man in England, in 2012, who was researching the men in his village, and was inspired to do the same here.

“It has become a local history project more so than a military project, as it deals with the men who served but also their families and the community as well,” she said.

“Their families are a big part of it because it’s a reflection of where they’ve come from.”

Mrs Hine said in researching, she was surprised to learn about the postwar experiences of those who did return.

“We always hear stories of those who didn't come home, but I think the effects of the war on those who did come home can be almost as bad, and for the families as well,” she said. 

A lot of the time the department just did their best to get out of taking responsibility for the effects of the war.

Kathy Hine

Of the 75 on the roll, four never left Australia because the war ended, one deserted and never came home, 20 died and 50 served and returned. 

“Out of that 50, there were quite a few divorces and quite a few who never married,” Mrs Hine said.

“After the war, there were a lot more women than men so I think there was a fair bit of post-traumatic stress.”

A sad discovery was made by Mrs Hine when looking at the Veterans Affairs records.

“A lot of the time the department just did their best to get out of taking responsibility for the effects of the war,” she said.

“There was one man who had severe migraines and was unable to work and he had suffered bomb wounds to the head.

“They still wouldn't acknowledge that it was due to war service.”

The Esperance community rallied throughout the war in support of their brothers, sons, fathers and husbands who were serving.

Concerts, tea parties and fundraisers were held frequently and were usually run by the mothers and sisters of servicemen.

The mothers of the men who died were the ones who decided on the design of the Esperance War Memorial.

Private Robert 'Bob' Henry Blake with his sweetheart Jane 'Jean' Gibson superimposed in the background. Photo: Esperance Museum.

Private Robert 'Bob' Henry Blake with his sweetheart Jane 'Jean' Gibson superimposed in the background. Photo: Esperance Museum.

Mrs Hine said Jane ‘Jean’ Gibson, a school teacher engaged to Private Robert ‘Bob’ Blake, was a particularly prolific fundraiser. 

“She had the students making sandbags and collecting things for the war effort and then she'd go to the Bijou and she’d be running fundraisers there as well,” she said.

Bob Blake was a grocer in Esperance when he enlisted in February 1916.

He survived the battlefields of the Western Front and a case of mumps which hospitalised him and eventually returned home in 1919.

One of Jean’s former students would go on to write how all the girls were excited for her fiance to return and “claim her”. 

The couple were married in 1920 and Jean died nine years later. Bob never remarried and died in 1960.

Mrs Hine and Mrs Ford hope to have the book completed about a year from now.

“We’re still looking for photos of about 25 of the men and personal stories,” Mrs Hine said.

“It’s easy to access the military records, but we’re really interested in who they were and what happened to them after the war and how they and their families were effected by their service.”

The book is a not-for-profit project, with the sale price just enough to cover publishing costs. 

To get in touch with Mrs Hine regarding photos, stories or information call her mobile on 0458 416 506.