They embarked on an epic 4000km journey over the newly completed Baghdad-Basra railway which had been placed under British control at the end of World War I. The mission, which included the official Australian war artist, George Lambert and photographer, Charles Bean, initially spent time recording scenes of Gallipoli and ANZAC Cove before travelling through Turkey, Syria and Palestine for two months and on to Egypt where the party dispersed. For the train sections, the group was assigned two converted cattle trucks which were used as a mess room/kitchen and sleeping quarters.
The best estimate of modern researchers is that about 180 New South Wales Government Railways men died at Gallipoli, with most of the deceased buried on the battlefield. Some, who survived long enough to reach a hospital ship but died during transit to other places were buried at sea. Their names are commemorated on the memorial at Lone Pine. Others, who lived long enough to reach Lemnos, Malta or Egypt before succumbing to their wounds, are buried in those places.
The anniversary of the Gallipoli landing on 25 April 1915 quickly became a focal point for remembrance of the events of World War I. As the employer of a very large number of people, thousands of whom had taken a direct part in the war, the NSW Railways needed to regulate their employee’s participation in remembrance events. From as early as the first anniversary in 1916, services were held though not officially organised and no public holiday was observed. Chief Mechanical Engineer, Ernest Lucy, advised his staff by printed circular that they could be absent to attend services for three hours, including their own lunch break, but no more. This concession seems to be extended to all employees.
By ANZAC Day in 1917 Lucy directed that all railway and tramway traffic was to stop, and all work in offices and workshops was to cease for a minute at 1pm. The previous arrangement remained so that all members of staff who could be spared could attend services, but apparently men who were refused leave took the time off anyway, despite the loss of pay. By 1918 there were many returned soldiers back in railway service. Now Lucy’s concession to attend the ANZAC services was only extended to returned men, not the general staff. He did concede, however, that those in dirty occupations needed time to go home and change clothes as they were not just attending a service, but were on parade. Still they could only attend if they could be spared and were not allowed to leave too early.
The next celebration was for the end of the war in late 1918. With the time difference, the news did not reach Sydney until 12 November, so Lucy granted leave to celebrate for the rest of that day, and the next day as well. The men who worked in order to allow everyone else to attend the celebrations were given double pay and received days off in lieu as well.
In March 1919 Lucy issued the same instructions as 1918. However, due to the Influenza epidemic that was sweeping Sydney, public gatherings could not be held and ANZAC Day had to be postponed until 22 May. In 1919 virtually all of the people who had served in the war were home and this would be the most significant ANZAC Day yet observed. Many men applied for leave, but it was refused, or did not even bother to apply. Lucy however chose to pay them absent or not, and those who did work were given another day in lieu. By 1920, ANZAC Day had become a public holiday, but as the actual day was the Sunday of a long weekend, returned soldiers were permitted to be absent from work.
To remember their service, workers at home erected honour boards at railway stations and depots. Many of these honour boards are now on display at Central Station as part of the ‘Railway Remembrance Wall’ which was inaugurated by railway employees ‘to honour their fellow workers who served in the defence of their country’. The Remembrance Wall was opened on 21 April 1997 by the Hon. Brian Langton, MP Minister for Transport and Minister for Tourism, and David Hill, Chief Executive of the State Rail Authority of NSW.
During the war the NSW Railways listed any men killed in action in Annual Reports. In the madness of it all many names were overlooked, or only added years later. The Honour Roll in 1921 records 1210 employees who had ‘given their life for the cause of liberty and Empire’. Many more were wounded, some beyond hope of ever working productively again.
A complete list of honour boards and war memorials is available to search on the Register of War Memorials in NSW.