War memories on display in Avenel

By David Rak

Avenel RSL Sub-Branch has been hard at work researching old newspaper articles to commemorate the centenary year since unveiling the town’s WWI monument.

Some letters found were supplied during WWI by Avenel’s J Norman, mother of Signaller William James Norman.

Born in Palmerston, Gippsland, Signaller Norman was an apiarist before he enlisted on August 17, 1914 at the age of 26.

He formed part of the 20 000 people who fought at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, and was enlisted into the 2nd Brigade/8th Battalion First Australian Imperial Force.

Signaller Norman sustained injury in battle, and after treatment was classified as medically unfit after serving 709 days.

But that didn’t stop him.

He re-enlisted on February 1, 1917, into the Home Service Unit, and was promoted to Sergeant on July 1, 1918, serving until the war ended.

During his service, a large gathering of Avenel residents held a meeting on August 3, 1917 to consider the most fitting memorial to be erected in honor of Avenel’s volunteers.

Signaller Norman’s father was appointed on the committee that made the decisions.

After many years residing in Avenel, Signaller Norman’s parents relocated to Wangaratta after selling their home in Bank St to Mr E. Shelton in the 1930s.

Some of Signaller Norman’s published letters have been reproduced for the Avenel Anzac Day 2020 event and will be available for the public to read and get a first-hand account of life on the battlefield from a local.

Lieutenant Robert Avenal Bennet, born in Avenel, shares the same enlistment date as Signaller Norman.

A 26-year-old married electrician, Lieutenant Bennet was assigned with 2 Field Artillery Brigade (FAB).

He also served at Gallipoli and was later awarded the Military Cross. A record of his military service will be on display at the event.

In addition, other relevant articles and memorabilia will be on display that paint a picture of life in Avenel during WWI as townsfolk bid farewell to men going to war, provided a warm welcome on their return, heart-felt sorry for the loss of life, and actively raised funds to help with the war effort.

If you have any WWI memorabilia that you would like to display at the event, contact RSLSub-Branch secretary Joyce White on 5796 2398.