MEET Hilda Smith, pictured inset with her two children, Hillary Jean and Clarence William jnr.
In 1915, Mrs Smith was just 20 when her husband, Clarence William Smith, left Ballarat to serve in World War I. Her son was born five months after his father left. When Clarence returned in January 1919, father and son met for the first time.
Mrs Smith’s story of living in Ballarat and raising a young family alone while her husband fought overseas will be just one of many uncovered during a major project by the Ballarat and District Genealogical Society.
The Ballarat group, which recently received federal funding, is researching for the online publication of a database that focuses on the stories of the people who kept the district going while their loved ones went off to war.
The project aims to tell the stories and in particular the important role of women from the Ballarat region, who played a key part in the local war effort.
A $4500 grant from the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program will support the project.
Ballarat Genealogical Society research co-ordinator Jennifer Burrell said the project, called The Home Front, would look at Ballarat as a microcosm for the rest of Australia during World War I.
“Many Ballarat women during that time had sons or husbands or brothers fighting in the war. This meant these women had to step into roles they normally wouldn’t do, like working in factories just to keep those home fires burning,” Ms Burrell said.
While research for the massive project is expected to take some time, the society is already cross-referencing names with those who planted trees along Ballarat’s Avenue of Honour, as well as cemetery records. Researchers have also been given access to the payroll of workers at the Ballarat Woollen Mill, which made garments for those fighting overseas. Information is also being used from the 1891 Suffragette Petition, which included the names of more than 800 Ballarat women.
“We will also be looking at information from such organisations as the Red Cross. It will be a very difficult task to find these invisible women,” Ms Burrell said.
The Ballarat community is also encouraged to provide information or photographs of their mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers to be used in the project.
In announcing the funding last week, Ballarat MP Catherine King said the Anzac Centenary Local Grants Program supported projects which commemorated the service and sacrifice of Australian servicemen and women during World War I.
“What is often forgotten when we reflect on our nation’s military history, is people who were affected by the war back at home ... the families and the children of our service personnel,” Ms King said.
“This (Ballarat) project aims to tell their stories. These roles included fundraising for the provision of comforts for troops, assisting volunteer organisations such as the Red Cross with the supplies to assist wounded, imprisoned or the missing, enlistment activities and work in the local mills and factories to produce clothing and printed materials.”
Anyone with information is asked to send it to firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com or go to the society’s website at www.ballaratgenealogy.org.au