The War Memorial photographed c 1919

The War Memorial photographed c 1919

To appreciate the full significance of this simple, uncluttered memorial one has to understand the communities who joined together to create it. In the primary documents of 1919 it is referred to as ‘The Mt Wilson and Mt Irvine and Bell Soldiers’ Memorial’. Scanning the names carved on the granite of the Memorial that should not be any surprise to those who know a little of the past of this district.

The construction of a memorial to those who served in World War 1 or ‘The Great War’ should be seen against the impact, sometimes disturbing, that war had on even small isolated communities such as Bell, Mt Irvine and Mt Wilson. It is sufficient to observe the number of names listed to appreciate the extent of the involvement of these tiny communities. Their coming together to fulfill their combined desire to honour those who served is a tribute to their sense of belonging in spite of the distances and the state of roads which had to be traversed.  Reading accounts in the Lithgow Mercury printed during these war years of social gatherings, many being held in the local school, one senses pleasure, friendship and dependability amongst those who lived and worked in these communities.

The written evidence for this story commences in 1919, in documents given to the Society by the Valder family. It is clear that Miss Helen Gregson, a daughter of Jesse Gregson, the founder of “ Yengo” Mt Wilson  played  an important role in setting up ‘The Mt Wilson, Mt Irvine and Bell Soldiers’ Memorial Committee’. She became its first Secretary. The loss of one of her two brothers, Willie, in 1916, must have influenced her strongly. Her father, devastated by the loss of his son, also played an influential role behind the scenes, frequently being consulted by Helen.

Charles Robert Scrivener, already distinguished in the field of surveying, having been the first Commonwealth appointed Director of Lands & Surveys, had retired to Mt Irvine in 1915. Here he built ‘Taihoa’, a quite unique home, and operated a timber mill. He was well established in the committee by 1919, representing Mt Irvine. He also had sons who served in the War. The Hall family from Bell throughout the period of the construction of the Memorial was also actively involved. One of their sons W. [Bill] Hall had paid the supreme sacrifice. According to the correspondence records the committee  was operating fully by early 1919. Subscriptions from members of the communities were being received; diagrams and sketches of the proposed memorial, drawn by Charles R. Scrivener, were in evidence attached to letters. And there was much debate over the decision to order the vital granite block on which the names were to be inscribed.

Where was the memorial to be built? A delightful piece of evidence is a letter written on 16th March 1919 by Mrs Flora Helena Mann of ‘Dennarque’ in which she states: “Relative to the erection of a Roll of Honour to those soldiers who enlisted from Bell, & Mt Wilson & Mt Irvine, I shall be pleased to give a part of Portion 26 - Parish of  Irvine, the County of Cook ----- as a site for the purposes. Your Committee is at liberty to enter on this area & do necessary work in connection with the memorial provided that a new fence is properly erected on the new boundary line.------When a survey has been made of the small area on sketch I shall be quite prepared to transfer that area to the Committee or to any persons who may be appointed as trustees for the area.” Signed Flora H. Mann. While her elder daughter, Esmey Burfitt, was to become a trustee for the memorial, contrary to what has been stated and written elsewhere, it was her mother who originally offered the gift of the land as she was owner of the property in 1919. Flora Mann died in 1921.  She had three sons serving in World War 1, one of whom, Alfred, was killed. 

This grant of land was not officially transferred to the Committee until 21st October 1924, being from the Estate of Flora H. Mann {E M E Burfitt, E G A Moran, J & F Mann & A W M d’Apice} an area of 13 ¾ Perches, part of Portion 26, Parish of Irvine, County of Cook -- to Helen Gregson, Albert Kirk, Esmey Burfitt  {Joint Tenancy}.

A significant feature of this grant is that an owner of land had graciously and generously given this part  for a special collective community purpose.  It is a theme of this community’s history as one explores its  past and finds many similar examples.

The decision to purchase the granite block was made finally in May 1919 by Charles R Scrivener.  He wrote to Helen Gregson telling her that he had written to W.G. Partridge of Sydney and a price of 54 pounds had been quoted which was to include the lettering, punctuation, and all other marks on the granite, 352 in number.

The basalt foundation stones were to be brought from Taihoa Creek Mt Irvine by horse team with C P Scrivener [Charley], a son of Charles Robert. Sam and Ellis Hall of Bell constructed the foundations and the surrounds of the simple monument.

In 1993 Tom Kirk wrote a short account of the building of this memorial in which he gave proper emphasis to those who carried out the hard physical work, without whom nothing could have been achieved. Just as little can be gained without those prepared to work, so it is that the workers must be paid and the materials they use paid for. The vital role of the Soldiers’ Memorial Committee was to raise funds.

Who were the subscribers to this Joint Community Memorial? In the archives are absorbing documents written by those involved at the time, revealing not only the diversity of those contributing but the size of the gift and on the other side of the ledger, the costs of wages and materials. In June 1919 there was to be a rather serious shortfall in the funds, but Charles Robert was not at all deterred and suggested to Helen Gregson a short list of subscribers on whom the Committee could rely for further help. His confidence in those on that short list (which included himself) was not misplaced.

Below is a list of the Subscribers as finally drawn up in 1923. By that time some had passed on, including Charles Robert Scrivener. An * next to a name indicates that person had died by 1923. [We have also added the name of the district with which the persons listed were associated, where we are sure.] Lists of this type are invaluable when conducting  local history research.

Subscriber District
* Charles R Scrivener Mt Wilson
Dr W. Burfitt Mt Wilson
* E E Brown Mt Wilson
George Valder Mt Wilson [Peter Valder's grandfather]
Jesse Gregson Mt Wilson
Ivie J Sloan Mt Wilson
Reginald Clark Mt Wilson
Phil Forrest Mt Wilson [a photographer of some standing; he took some wonderful photos in Mt Wilson at that time                                        
Mrs Willie Gregson Mt Wilson
Miss Helen Gregson Mt Wilson
Miss Bessie Gregson Mt Wilson
Mr F Morley Mt Irvine
* Mr Sydney Kirk Mt Wilson
James Nisbett Friend of Gregsons
Captain Tuson Unsure
Mrs Eva Moran [nee Mann] Mt Wilson
Professor M. MacCallum Friend of Gregsons
Mr J Anderson Mt Irvine & Bilpin
Mr J Joshua Mt Wilson 'Campanella'
Albert Kirk Mt Wilson
Mr Bunting Mt Wilson
Mrs Connors Mt Wilson - caretaker 'Bebeah'
W.L. King Mt Irvine 'Touri'
Mr Sam Hall Bell
J. Knight-Brown Mt Irvine
Basil Knight-Brown Mt Irvine
Norman Knight-Brown Mt Irvine
Harold B Morley Mt Irvine
Charles R Scrivener Mt Irvine
A.M. Walsh Mt Irvine
J.O. Rourke Bell
* J Hartley Caretaker at 'Yarrawa'
* Mrs Sharp Post Mistress at 'Beowang' for 20 years +
Mrs Alethea Shaw Post Mistress 1919 at 'Beowang' ['Withycombe']

 These subscribers raised over 102 Pounds, a substantial sum for those times.

Throughout 1919 the work continued as each stage of the construction was completed. A large block of granite from the Gunning district was transferred by horse teams from Mt Victoria railway station to the memorial site, where a large tripod of poles was used to place it correctly in position.

While it is not practicable here to provide comprehensive details of costs, it is enlightening to record one or two examples. For example a certain George Donald supervised the granite being put in place. He came in March from Sydney to inspect the basalt foundation and for this service he charged 2 pounds 7 shillings. Ellis Hall of Bell worked 107 hours at 15pence per hour from March 17th to April 2nd; the charge for one horse drawing logs was 14 shillings and the haulage of 12 loads of stone at 4 shillings a load. These figures reflect a very different pace of life, the limited technology and the demands on physical strength in those times. In all the final costs came close to 90 pounds, with some additional work in 1924 on the lettering on the memorial, costing 9 pounds.

It is a pity there are no written records of the official unveiling ceremony held on 29th November 1919 but there is a written statement by Miss Helen Gregson which tells its own story.

Mount Wilson, Mount Irvine & Bell Soldiers Memorial

Owing to bad weather having prevented the attendance of many who would otherwise have been present on the occasion of the ‘Unveiling of the Soldiers’ Memorial’ at Mount Wilson on 29th November last business was postponed on that occasion.—The Committee now beg to call a Special Meeting of Subscribers for Saturday 20th December at 3.p.m. to consider the advisability of placing a namestone alongside the tree planted to the memory of W. H. Gregson, near the Soldiers Memorial.
As only a personal vote will carry weight the Committee hope that all those interested will make a point of attending in order to express their opinion on the matter.” Signed Helen Gregson, Secretary, ‘Yengo’ Mt Wilson 14th December 1919.

Today that small stone pillar, carrying the letters W.H.G. 1877-1916 still stands to the right of the Memorial. Its presence answers the query as to how those people voted in 1919 when they met in the School House on 20th December.  This small structure was desired by the Gregson family to remember Willie Gregson.  Nevertheless there was some difference of opinion best expressed by Charles R Scrivener in a letter to Miss Gregson at the time; he said: “The public memorial is ample, its purpose to indicate the public appreciation of the patriotism & courage of the men whose names are recorded-------“ he stressed the importance of it to the coming generation. His final comment was “The memorial is a place of pride and has nothing to do with sorrow”.

It seems fitting to close this brief early history with that sentiment.

It is of interest to mention some developments which could be elaborated on more fully in further research on the Memorial.

There is reference to a tree planted for Willie Gregson — a Deodar. In fact 3 trees were planted for the 3 men from this district who were killed in that War, and as a background to the Memorial members of the Mann family each planted a tree in the area behind the Memorial in Dennarque. Many years later in about 1952 the then owner of Dennarque, Sir John Austin, donated the land on which these trees were planted to the Memorial Reserve.

In December 1919 Charles R Scrivener was already questioning the wisdom of having Trustees. He proposed transferring the care and responsibility for the Memorial and its land to the then Blue Mountains Shire Council at Lawson, who did agree to undertake this task. However by 1923 Charles R. Scrivener had already resigned as a Trustee and his place had been taken by Albert Kirk. Helen Gregson and Esmey Burfitt were the other two Trustees. Charles R. Scrivener now in poor health was to die later in 1923. He was a great loss to both communities. The debate concerning whether the Blue Mountains Shire Council should be involved continued in that year and was finally decided by a vote of subscribers strongly in favour of keeping control in the hands of the Trustees for the local Community. At the time Helen Gregson    invited Harold Morley and Basil Knight-Brown from Mt Irvine to join the three approved Trustees from Mt Wilson. They declined on the basis of problems attending meetings and work commitments. Later the Memorial came under the care of the Mt Wilson Sights Reserve Trust, until 1989 when the Blue Mountains City Council undertook the responsibility.


Correspondence from the Mt Wilson, Mt Irvine & Bell
Soldiers Memorial Committee 1919-1923. Also Financial Records from that same Committee.
Tom Kirk’s Paper, March 1993
Articles in the Lithgow Mercury 1911-1912, 1914, 1916.
Australian Archives- Bell / Mt Wilson Postal records.
‘Mt Irvine a History’ [Mt Irvine Progress Assoc.]
Notes and details of land transfer from Michael Mann, a grandson of Flora Mann and a nephew of Esmey Burfitt.

The Photograph of the War Memorial came from the Shaw Collection in the Photographic Archives of the Mt Wilson & Mt Irvine Historical Society. The Shaw family lived at ‘Beowang’ c. 1918-c.1921. Mrs Shaw was the Post Mistress when the Post Office was in a small cottage in ‘Beowang’ [now known as ‘Withycombe’].

This brief history is produced by the Mt Wilson & Mt Irvine Historical Society Inc., November 11th 2002. Revised 2004.

Sketch of the War Memorial - Taken from correspondence from Charles R Scrivener, the Mt Irvine representative on the Soldiers Memorial Committee in 1919.

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      *KILLED   1914 - 1918
      1939 - 1945
      GUNN KR