NSW Government Railway and Tramway Honour Board

Posted on 4 December 2018
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8477 employees of the New South Wales Government Railways and Tramways enlisted for service in the Great War. They probably constituted the largest disciplined group of men to form part of the forces of the Australian Commonwealth. As public servants they did not resign from their civilian employment and were identified and paid by the NSWGR&T throughout their military service, and their deaths were recorded in their Railway and Tramway files.

Many memorials were erected in workshops and depots, but at Sydney Station a master Honour Board was maintained to list all who had died. Ultimately this board contained 1219 names, all of whom, it was believed, had died on active service. There are in fact minor errors on the board including three names of men who had not died.

The board was created over a number of years and comprises eight discrete cabinets.  The first was unveiled with some ceremony on Sunday 12 March 1916. A second identical cabinet was erected, probably towards the end of 1916, as casualty lists grew, though no precise date or any unveiling ceremony is known. It is guessed that at this time the original single board was re-located from some other position on the Grand Concourse and the now two boards were erected in their present position, opposite the train indicator board, outside the State Booking Office.

Early in 1918 a further two identical cabinets were made and erected beside the existing pair, on the columns between the windows of the booking office.

Names were still being added to the Roll of Honour published in Annual Reports until 1921 and it is surmised that the final addition was made to the Honour Board cabinetry possibly as late as 1924. This addition comprises four smaller cabinets, fitted below the existing four, and is so neatly filled with names that it is deduced that it was created at a date late enough for some certainty in the list of names to have been established.

There are few photos of the full set of boards in place. By the time that photography became more commonplace in the 1950s, the two centre sets of boards had been removed to allow the placement of an illuminated map of the NSW railway system, and all the boards had gone by 1960 when a rent-a-car counter occupied the site.

The location of storage, or display, of the boards from 1960 until about 2007 is unknown. At this later time they were delivered to the Heritage Store at Eveleigh Carriage Works without documentation, and subsequently re-located to another storage site at Chullora where they were ‘discovered’ by officers of Transport Heritage NSW and the Australian Railway Historical Society (NSW Division) in 2015.  Research established the provenance and forgotten history of the memorial.  By the time that restoration to Sydney Station was considered, the boards had suffered considerable water damage and one of the smaller name panels was completely missing.

Early in 2018 Transport Heritage NSW committed itself to the repair of the boards, Sydney Trains agreed to replace them in the original position on the station and the Australian Railway Historical Society (NSW Division) re-established the missing names and wrote biographies for all men whose names appear.  The board was re-unveiled on 8 November 2018.  The history and the biographies are available on an associated website. https://nswrailwaysremember.com.au/honour-boards.php

The suite of boards is formed of timber cabinets with hinged, timber-framed, glazed doors. Within these, the names of the men are printed in black on a loose white panel. The inside face of the glass is decorated with paint and gold leaf to frame the columns of names.  Since two of the larger name panels were very badly damaged, and one of the smaller panels was missing, replica panels were created for all. The original panels were conserved and stored. The paint and gold leaf had peeled from the glass beyond restoration and a new mask was created using modern techniques. In view of the intention to display the object in such a public place as Central Station the plain glass of the original work was replaced with more secure composite material.

The board includes the names several men who served and died in British regiments, as well as a few men who died of disease so early in their military careers that they are not included in the National Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial.

In 1918 and 1921 there were proposals to create a grander stone memorial to the fallen Railway and Tramway men in the gardens outside the western entrance to Sydney Station, and these proposals specifically state that the new memorial would replace the Honour Board. Since no such memorial has ever been built, the Great Sydney Station Honour Board remains the only comprehensive physical memorial to these men.