JAMES “Bim” Affleck’s mind has been immersed in the sadness of World War I for 18 months as he painstakingly researched the lives of almost 1400 men who enlisted in what was to become the bloodiest conflict in history.
“Some of the stories I have uncovered would break a wooden heart,” he reflected.
His Stories Untold and Faces Forgotten entails 680 pages of profiles, photographs, letters and other snippets of life when Australia gave more than its fair share of sacrifice for King and Country.
It even has late addition pages, added after the presses stopped rolling at Terang’s Star Printing.
Affleck, a former Hawkesdale district farmer and now amateur historian and Peterborough resident, is proud of the two-volume publication, which was officially launched last night at Koroit Primary School by Wannon MP Dan Tehan, who helped secure a federal grant for the $17,000 project.
It is the only comprehensive account of Great War enlistments from Koroit, Port Fairy, Macarthur, Penshurst, Woolsthorpe and surrounding districts.
The research lists 250 men who died in the conflict and about 1100 who returned in varying degrees of normality.
“Bim has provided a detailed narrative of each person’s involvement, which releases a history in its own right, and I am sure will interest many readers not only at a local, but at a national level,” Mr Tehan said.
“The intellectual integrity and tremendous human pathos explored in this book is exceptional.”
As the Anzac Day centenary is commemorated next Saturday, the book will be treasured by the many families and groups who contributed information and photographs.
“It involved thousands of hours’ work — eight hours a day for 18 months,” Affleck said.
“In the future I’d love to do another project, but will take a break for a while.
“I have a very patient family, especially my wife Anna.”
The project was sparked by the discovery of “hidden” photographs of men listed on an honour board at Koroit and District Primary School.
That prompted Koroit and District Historical Society to enlist his services in delving deeper.
“It started small and just kept expanding as James discovered more information,” society member Kathy Baulch said.
About $12,000 in funding was sourced from the Jones Foundation philanthropic trust, Moyne Shire and the federal government. Book sales will hopefully make up the balance of the cost.
“The idea was to record the services of these fine men in ‘the war to end all wars’ (which sadly wasn’t as they were back at it 20 years later,” Affleck wrote in his precede.
One of the saddest stories uncovered was Allansford-born John Thomas Hart, who enlisted at Port Fairy on July 4, 1917, aged 35.
He was killed a year later while serving with the 21st Battalion in France.
His wife Elizabeth had died in 1916, leaving their seven children, all under seven years of age. Her brother John Blair Edwards, of Hawkesdale, was killed in action in Belgium in October 1917, so Private Hart’s oldest surviving next of kin was his 10-year-old son, also named John Thomas Hart, who was sent his father’s last effects — a safety razor, photographs, cards, a letter, notebook, wallet, seven coins and a union medallion.
Among those who supplied information for the book were Denis and Marita Murphy who have visited battlefields where their great-uncles died.
Sergeant James Francis Murphy is remembered on memorials at Koroit and Warrnambool and is on a new plaque to be unveiled at Dennington.
Marita’s forebear, Harry Tyrrell, is listed on the Warrnambool memorial.
Stories Untold and Faces Forgotten will be available at the Hawkesdale and Warrnambool war memorials on Anzac Day and can be ordered by mail through the Koroit and District Historical Society, PO Box 118, Koroit.