Of Love and War in Broken Hill

Posted: 26 June 2016 in Australia - travel

I am not often surprised when doing a routine task but something out of the ordinary really set me off to do further research while in Broken Hill this past week.

Commonwealth War Graves are easily identified by their unique shape in pure white marble, just a plain grave but with a distinctive headstone clearly visible from almost anywhere in a cemetery.  While staying at Broken Hill I happened to look over the corrugated fence at the rear of the caravan park to find we were next to a cemetery – and standing head and shoulders above all was one white marble headstone – almost saying “look at me”, which I duly did.  Has anyone ever seen a War Grave like this before ? – even the bottom inscription is interesting “Beneath this emblem rests a Husband, Father, Soldier and Man” – mostly the inscriptions are unemotional like “His Duty Nobly Done”, while this speaks of love, respect and tragic loss.

Broken Hill - SX30556 LEHMAN 03 - 22 June 2016

Broken Hill - SX30556 LEHMAN 02 - 22 June 2016

So who was SX35506 G V LEHMAN and why such special burial treatment ?

His service records reveal that his name was Gordon Victor LEHMAN, born 28 June 1914 in Broken Hill, and living in Whyman St, Broken Hill when he enlisted in February 1943.  More interesting however are three consecutive entires,

24-3-1944 Son Born

25-3-1944 Married, next of kin now wife Joyce Laurel Lehman of 296 Iodide St, Broken Hill

11-5-1944 Accidently killed (train collision)

Well, given my transport background, that was just too much of research challenge to let pass by.  My search found that the accident occurred at a place called Copley (formerly Leigh Creek), a small town on the old Ghan rail route that wound its way across flood prone land up through Hawker, Lyndhurst, Oodnadatta and eventually to Alice Springs, where the line terminated in those days.

According to the Australian Emergency Management Knowledge Hub and Wikipedia :

“On 11 May 1944, a military train was hit from behind by a goods train in Copley, 604 km north of Adelaide. Four servicemen were killed and 27 others were injured; two seriously. The 16 carriage train had several hundred servicemen aboard and had departed Terowie in South Australia’s Mid North for an undisclosed northern destination. The locomotive struggled to haul the carriages and laden trucks. It made several attempts to get over Quarry Hill and eventually made it, however it had to stop shortly after due to injector trouble. The loco was low on water, and uncoupled from the train to ‘run light’ to the nearest watering spot and refill. While it was away, the goods train entered the same section of track and struck the rear of the troop train. The guard saw the headlights of the rear approaching train and attempted to halt the train but to no avail. Despite the driver of the goods train applying the brakes the crash occurred impacting most severely on carriages 15 and 16.Only the fact that many troops were lying down saved them from serious injury and decapitation, as the tops of several carriages were shorn off in the impact.”

Chilling reading and no doubt a tragic shock for his family and new wife, Joyce, who had grown up in Kogarah, a coastal Sydney suburb, and was now a widow in hot dusty Broken Hill.  Had Gordon Victors family ín Broken Hill comforted and cared for Joyce after the accident ? Did his son grow up and stay in Broken Hill – questions not answered in the records – these will remain a mystery and speculated on by casual observers. One clue remains at least about the sons name – a grave vase simply marked “From Joyce and Paul” – is this the son born weeks before Gordon Victor departed for an undisclosed northern destination ?

Broken Hill - SX30556 LEHMAN 01 - 22 June 2016

 

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Comments
  1. A fascinating story. It is a huge cemetery isn’t it. Some 60,000 graves I believe.

    • Yes a big cemetery, our interest is primarily war graves 1939-1945 of which only 7 were officially listed for Broken Hill although we did spot about a dozen. War Graves fall into about 3 main categories – those who were injured overseas and returned but died here, those who died of illness in Australia and those who died as result of an accident in Australia. You would be amazed at the numbers in that last category – flying training accidents, level crossing accidents, truck accidents etc – all with interesting but sales tales – and almost every town has at least 1 war war grave.

      • Fascinating. Can I ask what prompted this interest?

      • Long story – short version – researched my own fathers war history a POW in Hong Kong & Japan – went on to be a volunteer researcher at the Australian War Memorial and involved in the Commonwealth War Graves Photographic Project – a project to photograph every war grave worldwide and make an online data base. The records go some way to telling individuals stories. I could do more with Mr Lehamn but the blog was the short summary.

      • Gosh the twists and turns of life. Keep up the good work. That’s the research that is invaluable to us amateur genealogists.