I have recently started writing a column for the Esperance Tide, a beautiful local publication. The column, entitled ‘5 Minute History’, features snippets of local history. This is the column that I wrote for ANZAC day.
In 1916, a young man named George Dickinson saved the life of a man who had fallen from the rocks while fishing at West Beach. George refused a monetary reward, and the man he saved gave his mother a gold medallion to recognise his bravery. That same year, George enlisted in the army, following in the footsteps of his older brother Herbert, who had enlisted in 1915. George was reported missing in action in 1917, and his mother wrote several heartbreaking letters to the authorities, pleading for information about her son. Herbert was also reported MIA, but was found, injured, and eventually sent home. George’s body was never found.
George and Herbert Dickinson were two of the 75 men from Esperance who served during the First World War, a very high number for a town of around 350 people. The ‘war to end all wars’ irrevocably changed so many lives. In the leadup to ANZAC day, my thoughts keep returning to these stories.
The three Dunn brothers, William, James and Francis, were also among the Esperance troops to serve. Their parents, Esperance pioneers Andrew and Mary Ann Dunn (who had 15 children!), settled here in the 1880s. James (Jim), built a camp oven on what is now know as Jim’s Oven road, if you’ve ever wondered about the unusual road name. He was discharged as permanently unfit for service soon after enlisting in 1916 due to illness. Not easily deterred, James enlisted again that same year, and was later killed in action in Belgium. Francis and William were both discharged, due to illness and injury.
The effects of the war were tragic and far reaching. Many people know of the Lewis brothers-all four boys enlisted, and three were killed in action. The remaining brother, James, returned from the war, but he never married and never had children. Perhaps less well known is the story of William Shortland, a larrikin who was known as ‘Bill the Goose’. Serving in the famous 51st Battalion, he was known for his sense of humor, but after his discharge, William suffered ongoing mental heath problems. He died at the age of 48 in a Mental Hospital.
These are just a few of the many brave men who served, and of course, Esperance people have been involved in other conflicts over the years, such as the Second World War, and the Korean and Vietnam wars. Esperance man Leslie Tom Starcevich received a VC for bravery while serving in WW2. More recently, Esperance man Lee Stapley has served in Afghanistan. My own grandfather, Peter Florisson, was still a teenager in Holland when he was captured and became a POW in Nazi occupied Germany. Who knows where our family might be if the Allied forces had not won the Second World War? We will forever owe our ANZAC troops a debt of gratitude-may their stories live on in our memories.
- Many thanks to Kathy Hine and the Esperance Museum, as well as Brian Pearce and the Esperance RSL for generously sharing information.