An open door into Ryde's WWI history
Published on 08 November 2018
In the lead up to Remembrance Day, we hear from Angela Phippen, Local Studies Librarian and author of new book Ryde's World War I House Names: Houses for the living and memorials to the dead.
Nameplate for 'Wiltshire', Edgar Street, Eastwood
You go into some detail in the Background section of the book, but why did you embark on this project? In particular, why house names?
In your Background you mention that the idea for this book first came about in 2009. Did you think at the time that it would take so long to complete?
The initial enquiry came in 2009 about a house called Gallipoli in West Ryde and I thought it was interesting that a house would be called that and wondered how many other houses in the Ryde LGA were named after WWI battles. Initially I didn’t do a lot of research; it was one of those questions in the back of my mind. That enquiry is memorable too because Gallipoli was given to Maud Lamont, the widow of Charles Robert Lamont who died at the Battle of Lone Pine in August 1915. He was the father of eight children under 10 ...
However, with the centenary of World War I on the horizon, I thought it would be a worthwhile research project. The Ryde District Historical Society was researching the soldiers who had enlisted from the area and there had been a lot of work already done about our area’s war memorials and honour boards. It also gave the story of the War a very local flavour. Having said that, doing the research is one thing but producing a finished product is quite another. The impetus to write a book came about because of Centenary of Armistice grants offered by the Australian Government.
Gallipoli, Orchard Street, West Ryde - A. Phippen
Did you realise there were so many house names that had WWI themes in the City of Ryde when you first embarked on the project?
No, I didn’t. Initially I thought it would relate solely to battle names but very soon realised that ship names and personal names, such as the names of soldiers or famous generals such as Allenby were also attached to houses. The ship names are interesting: widows sometimes named their house after the ship that took their husband away; returning soldiers named their house after the ship that brought them home.
Do you have a favourite house featured in the book, due to the particular history behind the house’s name and house in itself?
I do have a favourite because it’s a story about love and life, not death. Nick Carter was blinded during the war; physically lost both eyes. He was sent to a rehabilitation hospital for the blind in England, called St Dunstan’s. There, out the front, was a Red Cross worker, Hilda Nancarrow. They fell in love, married and Nick returned to Australia with his new bride. They eventually bought a pre-existing house in Eastwood and re-named it St Dunstan’s. That house name represented love and hope and a new life.
The interesting point about this house, however, is how did I know that the house St Dunstan’s had such a strong World War I connection? The answer is I didn’t, but someone came to one of my talks a number of years ago and asked whether I was interested in a house named after an English rehabilitation hospital. I said I was, but without that piece of personal information from someone who had lived in the house and been told the story, I would never have made that connection.
St Dunstan's, Shaftsbury Road, Eastwood - A. Phippen
Do some of the house names survive?
Of course, not all the houses exist but of those that do, there are some original house nameplates and some where the original nameplate does not exist but a new one has been attached recording the original name.
From your research, what do you think were the primary reasons people named their houses after WWI themes?
I think if the house was named by a widow or other family member for a soldier who did not return then it was a form of war memorial. The bodies (if they were ever located) were never repatriated back to Australia. There would not have been the expectation on the part of relatives in Australia in the 1920s that they could go and visit a gravesite in Europe or the Middle East, if indeed a grave site existed. The great war memorials such as Villers-Bretonneux, to those with no known grave in France, or the Menin Gate, to those with no known grave in Belgium, did not exist in the early 1920s. Putting a name on a house was a way of bringing your loved one home.
For those people who did return, it was a way to celebrate the safe return and to remind others of your war service. If you survived and your mates didn’t, it could be a form of homage to those who didn’t make it home.
In some cases, the house might have been named to show patriotic support.
Is there more research to be done on this topic?
As a result of this book being published, the stories of other house names will come to light; the stories that have been passed down through families but were not obvious from the available records.
Also, sometimes I knew the house name but not which of its owners or occupiers named it so, without that information, you can’t really know why it was named. Again, someone reading the book may be able to answer some of the questions I have posed.
What I am really hoping will happen is that a similar survey will be done in other areas of Australia. This story is not unique to our area. It would be interesting to know whether the mix of battle names we see here is repeated elsewhere.
Copies of Ryde's World War I House Names: Houses for the living and memorials to the dead are available for purchase from all Ryde Library Service libraries. To find out more other ways the City of Ryde is commemorating our fallen heroes from World War I and their families, visit our Ryde Remembers page.