A Poignant Note
Amongst the many papers found in the recess of the Nott Street School “Old Boys” Memorial is one very poignant note.
While all the papers bar one bear the name or names of Nott Street “Old Boys” who enlisted and some include a date of birth, the unit they served in or their residence in Port. Many note that the soldier was Killed in Action but it is the combination of the scarcity of information about the soldiers on this note and the stark recording of their fate that is so moving.
It is a sad fact of war that the simple epitaph ‘Killed‘ is part of the administration of compiling an Honour Roll as those who paid the ultimate sacrifice are identified in some way often with an asterix. The names would have been provided by a friend or relative and their fate would have been added later. It appears to be written in a different hand and certainly at a different time.
Percy William Lewis was three months past his 19th birthday when he enlisted on 15 July 1915 noting his mother Rebecca of 254 Bay Street as next of kin. His father, possibly also called Percy William, was deceased. Percy embarked for the front on 10 November 1915 from Melbourne onboard HMAT Ascianius and saw action in France from June the following year. He was posted Missing in Action 11 April 1917 and was declared Killed in Action on the same date at an enquiry held later in the year.
The other name on the card, recorded without a christian name, is probably his half-brother Hugh, about eight years Percy’s senior. Hugh enlisted in the first months of the war on 14 September 1914 and served in the Gallipoli campaign before being posted to France where he was Killed in Action on 7 August 1916. Hugh was also known as ‘Son’ or ‘Sonnie’. He was the eldest son of Hugh and Rebecca Watt but enlisted under his widowed-mother’s remarried name of Lewis.
Several Family Notices for Percy under the name Lewis and others for Hugh under Lewis (Watt) show the extent of the family listing both men as brothers of Mrs D Bingham, George (returned), Charlie, Robbie and Freddie. Brother-in-law of Dennis (on active service). Nephews of Mr & Mrs C Bower of Bena, South Gippsland.
Hugh worked for Swallow and Ariell and his fellow workmates in the Despatch Room at Port Melbourne included the following verse in their notice.
The World is wide, the sea is deep,
Far across the sea our workmate sleeps,
He went away in health and strength,
For King and country his time he spent,
His fight is fought, he stood the test,
And dear old Son was one of the best.
Hugh’s fiancé, Winnie Esler of Clarendon Street, South Melbourne inserted the following verse.
An Anzac hero.
He did not for a moment pause,
But gave his life in honour’s cause,
And for his country bled.
A painful shock, a blow severe,
To part with one I love so dear;
His loss is great, I’ll not complain,
But trust in God to meet again.
Loved by all. So sadly missed.
Along with C Esler, perhaps her brother or sister, Winnie also inserted a notice for Percy.
He is always in our thoughts,
It is sweet to speak his name;
In life we loved him dearly,
In death we do the same.
It is fitting to leave the final words in memory of Percy and Hugh (Son) to their mother Rebecca –
Days of sadness still come o’er us,
Hidden secret tears still flow,
For memory keeps our dear son near us,
Though he was killed one year ago.
He has sailed on his last commission,
On a beautiful ship called Rest,
And his head is safely pillowed,
On the great Commander’s breast.
You are not forgotten dear sons,
For true love never dies;
The dearest spot on earth to me,
Is where my dear sons lie.
1916 ‘Family Notices’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 23 September, p. 13. , viewed 12 Jan 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1614050
1918 ‘Family Notices’, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 11 April, p. 1. , viewed 12 Jan 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article155088946