“Friends — the culmination of years of work. The boys have returned home!” Teachers RSL Sub-Branch Secretary Ken Stevenson wrote joyfully to Federation as the Honour Board of teacher soldiers of World War I was returned, glowing with new life, to the Education building in Bridge Street, Sydney. It will be re-dedicated at a ceremony on September 22.
The original board, commissioned in 1921, had deteriorated with age and being stored poorly when it was taken down on the orders of past minister of education, Terry Metherell (it was subsequently returned).
Craftsman Paul Jordan stripped the board right back, re-stained it and re-lettered in gold leaf the names of some 750 teachers who enlisted to fight in the Great War.
Mr Stevenson was buoyant after discovering 15 more names to be added to the list on the board. Many of them were teachers who had resigned from the Department in order to go to the front. From his research, Mr Stevenson made scores of corrections to other names and details.
The restored board was brought back to be hung in the Department building on August 19 as members of the Teachers RSL Sub-Branch and Department executives looked on.
“All of us were amazed at the beauty of the new Honour Board,” Mr Stevenson said. “There was a palpable sense of emotional connection with those long-ago teachers who went to fight for their country.”
The 755 teachers who enlisted in the war did so at great cost at great cost — 153 of them were killed.
Many others were maimed and suffered psychological damage so that they could not cope with teaching classes of children in peacetime afterwards while, as the World War I poet Wilfred Owen wrote, "Memory fingers in their hair of murders/ Multitudinous murders they once witnessed ... Always they must see these things and hear them."