Keeping Ken’s work going

A ceremony to award prize winners in the inaugural Ken Donnellan Local History Competition remembered his devotion to telling the stories of local World War I servicemen. His widow, Colleen, and children, Lauren and Jack, participated in the ceremony.

This year, local Stage 3 children were asked to write a diary entry or a letter home from the War, with over 60 entries being received.

Local historian Malcolm Bedford emphasised to the children that 100 years ago wasn’t that long ago.

“My grandfathers were at Gallipoli and Ypres, so you are looking at someone who remembers the men who went through what you wrote about.”

Next year, a photographic competition will be held in Mr Donnellan’s honour.

The prize winners from each school were:

Ss Peter & Paul
Winner: Elias Oldfield
Highly Commended: Noah Parker, Lily Gazzard

Kiama Public
Winner: Laura Ellis
Highly Commended:
Scarlett Hill, Molly Simpson

Gerringong Public
Winner: Kate Evans
Highly Commended: Mia Reiten, Samuel Le

Jamberoo Public
Winner: Jack Maguire
Highly Commended: Clare Smith, Pippi McInness.

The winning entries on are display in the Library, and make moving reading.

The following is Elias Oldfield’s entry from 30th July 1917:

Dear Mother,

Firstly, I’d like to say that I am sorry that I haven’t written to you in such a long time. To be honest, I haven’t wanted to tell you of the atrocities I have been experiencing whilst I’ve been living in these horrid trenches. But I know that you would be desperate to hear from me. I’m not sure what is being reported back at home, but I can tell you now that life in the army is far from the exciting existence that was advertised when they encouraged us to enlist. I’ve lost countless friends on the battlefield and also just from disease developed while waiting in the trenches. The trenches are narrow and are dug deep into the ground. Where we are currently fighting is a very cold, wet environment so our uniforms are often drenched and it’s near impossible to keep warm and dry. Some of the men have developed what is known as ‘trench foot’. It’s awful mother. According to the nurse, it is “a painful condition of the feet caused by long immersion in cold water or mud and marked by blackening and death of surface tissue”. I’ve seen some of the men suffering from this having their foot amputated and then getting discharged as they can no longer fight. Sometimes I feel like they are the lucky ones to escape these cold and ugly days.

We only sleep when we’ve got time but mostly we don’t sleep as our nightmares seem to keep many of us awake. My new mate Robert however, tries to distract us from our dark thoughts by telling us countless stories about his history and culture as he is Aboriginal. He talks differently to us but is quite a funny fellow, so most of the soldiers embrace the distraction and we often share a laugh. This helps to lift our spirits.

We try to keep our strength up although this is difficult on a very basic diet consisting mainly of beans and biscuits. Oh, how I miss my sweet porridge with honey and your Sunday lamb roasts. The thought of one day tasting these once under appreciated treats, keeps me going and gives me hope. It just seems like everything is miserable and gloomy at the moment. I need one of your warm hugs desperately.

Recently, we were ambushed by the feral Germans and my friend John, got shot and then sadly passed away in my arms. That was my toughest day so far. I feel that there are still many more days like that to come. War is such an unfriendly, heartless environment and I have to wonder why God would allow such hatred and destruction to happen.

My hope is that you are doing well back on the farm and that one day I will return to you. I ask that you pray for me and all of the other soldiers who are fighting in this war and that it will all be over very soon.

Your ever loving son,

Joseph
xox

 

 

 

 

 

 

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