10 November 2022

Bowning's war heroes honoured, thanks to one woman's campaign

| Sally Hopman
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Man and woman with honour boardd board

Stuart and Frances Atkins stand under the World War II honour board which now takes pride of place in the village hall. Photos: Sally Hopman.

It has taken 18 months, more phone calls and meetings than she can count – and probably even more dead ends – but farmer Frances Atkins has righted a wrong – the name of every Bowning person who gave their life to their country in war has now been honoured.

Although she has no family connection to war service, when Frances discovered in 2020 that of the World War I and World War II honour boards that should have been in the village hall, one was missing and the other was incomplete, she knew the situation had to be remedied. (The incomplete World War I board, still hangs in the hall, but it was not designed to last, made as it was out of cardboard cutouts.)

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Since then, she has made it her mission to have the two boards hung proudly in the hall, as a tribute to the people who lost their lives in those wars who were either born in or had their family address as Bowning.

A small village about 12 km from Yass on the road to Gundagai, Bowning lost 66 of its people in the Great War and 102 in World War II.

Honour board

The Great War honour board unveiled on Remembrance Day at the Bowning Hall.

The honour boards, the names on which Frances has painstakingly researched, will be unveiled today, November 11, when the townsfolk gather at the 1926 hall to mark Remembrance Day.

“It has been a long time coming,” Frances, who has farmed in Bowning with her husband since 1997, said. “It’s about 18 months from the day we [The Bowning and District Progress Assocation] first minuted a motion to restore the boards. We started off with the names that were already there on the cardboard list and went from there.”

“From there” took Frances to the Australian War Memorial, Department of Defence, National Archives of Australia, RSL and the Red Cross, anywhere she determined she could check and cross-check the records of who from Bowning served in the wars.

Lest We Forget clock

The Bowning community will never forget its war heroes now, thanks to local Frances Atkins.

“I’d say I’ve consulted with every possible channel about this. That includes the local community of course,” she said, showing the huge folders she now possesses, all including documents about the patriotic Bowning folk.

She has at least two documents to prove each person’s identity and connection to the village with all her hard work independently audited to ensure everything is correct.

“I did it because it needed to be done,” she said. “People had been talking about it for years, talking about how someone should do it, but no one ever had. That’s why I did. It was important to me that as many people as possible were involved, that’s why there’s been so much community consultation.

Photo of soldier

World War I hero Thomas Eccles was born in Yass but Bowning claims him as one of their own as his father was born there.

“We had meetings about every stage of the journey, each bit of progress.”

Everything about this project smacks of community. Frances asked the Yass Men’s Shed to help with creating the honour boards – they were made by Trevor Cox who used a piece of Mt Isa mahogany which another local had donated.

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The Yass Historical Society helped Frances track down photographs of the veterans, many of which she has had framed so they can now hang alongside the boards. Up there proudly among them is a portrait of World War I hero Thomas Eccles, DCM, MM who, although born in Yass, Bowning claims as one of them because his father was born in the village.

But perhaps the most telling of this show of community spirit are the names on the boards themselves. Many of them still have family in the Yass Valley, names like Alchin, Kennedy, Glover, Davis, Cripps and Smith, live on today through their descendants – and through the new honour boards.

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