Remembrance Day… Ipswich Railway Workshops Memorial

Written by: Geraldine Mate, Senior Curator, The Workshops Rail Museum

In the last two months, the grounds at The Workshops Rail Museum have been reminiscent of scenes almost 100 years ago. Our heritage listed War Memorial has been undergoing a face-lift, with the installation of new paving and walkways. Watching the transformation, the busyness of the construction workers has evoked the activities that would have surrounded the construction of the Memorial in 1919.

The monument was conceived of in 1915 and from there plans were put in place to raise funds for the memorial. The collection of monies was overseen by management at the site and, from the outset, the plan was to make a memorial for “shop-mates” who had gone to the front from the Workshops. In order to give it due importance, the memorial was to be placed in a prominent position outside the Dining Hall[i].  By 1917 the fund was well advanced, and on the 15th of July 1919, construction commenced[ii].

Queensland Railway Architect Vincent Price designed the monument and the memorial itself was made by several firms. The base and column were made by Andrew Petrie of Toowong, the commemorative plaques, including the railway coat of arms, were cast by Charles Handford of Brisbane, and the statue was sculpted by John Whitehead and Sons, London.

On the 27th of September 1919, a crowd of over 2000 people assembled at the Ipswich Railway Workshops in North Ipswich to witness the unveiling of a memorial dedicated to “the Officers, Non-commissioned Officers and Men who left these Works to fight for King and Empire” in World War 1. There were over three hundred names on the memorial, including the thirty-one men who did not return. The Memorial was unveiled by the then Governor of Queensland, Major Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams and his wife, with other guests including Mrs Lily Ryan, the wife of Premier T.J. Ryan, the Mayor of Ipswich Alderman Easton, Archbishop Donaldson, the first Archbishop of Brisbane, and the Commissioner of Railways J.W. Davidson. The Governor’s wife, Lady Goold-Adams, was presented a posy by Bella Martin, the daughter of one of the men from the Workshops, Private Martin, who had lost his life in the war. Along with a day of speeches and activities, the event was also marked by a printed program given to attendees.

Unveiling Ceremony of the Memorial at the Ipswich Railway Workshops, September 1919.
Unveiling Ceremony of the Memorial at the Ipswich Railway Workshops, September 1919.
Official Souvenir Programme of the unveiling of the Memorial.
Official Souvenir Programme of the unveiling of the Memorial.

In itself, the erection of a war memorial in 1919 was not a particularly unusual event. Over 280 similarly styled memorials with obelisks, plinths and/or statues were constructed to mark the Great War, and opened with attendant ceremony. What made this memorial important at the Railway Workshops was the commitment of workers from the Workshops to the erection of the monument. In 2016, workers at the Ipswich Railway Workshops continue to mark the contributions of their predecessors with Queensland Rail workshops staff restoring the commemorative plaque as part of the work being conducted on the Memorial.

This week another Remembrance Day is commemorated. As we stand in the shadow of the “Digger” statue at the Workshops, it is worth reflecting on the strong public sentiment that surrounded the efforts of those that went to war. In 1915 that public view was strong enough to encourage railway families in Ipswich to contribute to a memorial when they had little to spare, and in 1919 enough to see a remarkable unveiling ceremony to commemorate their sacrifice.

Memorial at The Workshops Rail Museum.
Memorial at The Workshops Rail Museum.

[i] Queensland Times 16 June 1915, p 7 “Ipswich Railway Workshops: Memorial for Fallen Soldiers”.

[ii] Queensland Times 15 July 1919, p 5 “Ipswich Workshops: memorial”.