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Lady Rachel Dudley’s Australian Voluntary Hospital Unit (Martha Burns standing at the front) heading for France in 1914. Photo is Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.
Lady Rachel Dudley’s Australian Voluntary Hospital Unit (Martha Burns standing at the front) heading for France in 1914. Photo: Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial

Voices from the Great War

The Lives, Links and Legacy project underway at St Andrew’s Uniting Church in Brisbane city is uncovering the stories of congregation members who served in World War One. Dianne Jensen reports.

When Martha Burns stepped off the yacht Greta onto French soil with Lady Rachel Dudley’s Australian Voluntary Hospital Unit in 1914, her independent ways had already flouted social conventions. She had battled to attend university—becoming the first woman in Queensland to graduate as a dentist—and achieved notoriety by driving her Oldsmobile at an alarming 16 mph through the streets of Brisbane.

Martha’s adventurous life is just one of the stories uncovered as part of the Lives, Links and Legacy project underway at St Andrew’s Uniting Church in Brisbane. The project is sponsored by the Queensland Government through the State Library of Queensland’s Q ANZAC 100: Memories for a New Generation program.

The historic city church holds seven honour roll boards in the Merrington Anzac Memorial Peace Chapel as well as significant archival material. In all, there are 267 servicemen and women listed on the rolls from the Presbyterian and Congregational churches which are part of the heritage of St Andrew’s. The project team aims to research every name.

Project coordinator and heritage committee member Miriam King says that the project is uncovering some remarkable stories of how the lives of Queenslanders were shaped by the Great War.

“This is not just about the war, it’s about their lives before the war—about their families, their service—and if they returned from the war, the legacy they left for us,” she says. “A lot of their experiences were not shared at that time because people didn’t recognise their suffering.”

The church will launch the Lives, Links and Legacy website heritage.saintandrews.org.au on 22 April.

“There will be a page for every person listed with their stories and the many photos we have uncovered,” says Miriam. “It’s going to be a resource featuring those from St Andrews who were involved in the war and what they did, and it will be constantly updated with new material.”

The heritage committee has tracked down information on nearly half of the names in the two and a half years since the project began.

“There are quite a number where we only have a name, and we can’t find any links through the church archives or even from the War Memorial,” says Miriam. “We would love to hear from families or descendants to help fill the gaps.”

To find out more contact staheritage@gmail.com or leave a message at 3221 2400

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