Sunday, 8 June 2014

The usefulness of church newsletters

You’ve probably already considered tracking down Honour Boards and other memorials in churches, sports groups, lodges and so on. There are certainly plenty of those in the Coburg Historical Society collection and I have used them to add to the information in my database of service personnel with Coburg connections.

However, it wasn’t until I stumbled on a single, rather fragile copy of ‘The Coburg Presbyterian Chronicle’ for July 1915 that I realised there’s another vast resource out there that I hadn’t really ever thought about: church newsletters.

I found only one issue of the local Presbyterian newsletter in the Coburg Historical Society collection, but it had quite a lot to tell me. I learned that church members Norman Hunter (he was there at the sinking of the ‘Emden’ in September 1914), J. Wallace Ross, John Ross, Dan Scott and Roy Yorke had just enlisted and that choir member J. Buchanan had joined up and was preparing to go to the front. I also learned that Victor Clark, Archie Fedderson, John Ross, J. Wallace Ross, A.C. Thompson and Don S. Walker had been wounded and read an account of Archie Fedderson’s wounding in his letter home. It also told me that Harold E. Baxter had died, as had C.B.J. McKay. 

Image courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

182 Sapper Harold Evelyn Baxter’s service record told me that he was a telephone mechanic at the time of his enlistment, but the newsletter added that he had worked for the Railway Department, something I did not know. Harold Baxter is remembered at the Memorial Avenue of Trees at Lake Reserve, Coburg and was allocated tree number 132 in the original planting.

An Australian cemetery on the beach at Anzac Cove. The grave at the far right is of 182 Sapper (Spr) Harold Evelyn Baxter, 2nd Field Company Australian Engineers.
Image courtesy AWM. Image C01435.

1157 Charles Bernard James McKay was born in Balmain, Sydney in 1885 but was living in Service Street, Coburg at the time of his enlistment. He served with the 7th Battalion and died of wounds on 7 June 1915. Like Harold Baxter he is remembered at the Memorial Avenue of Trees at Lake Reserve, Coburg and was allocated tree number 92 in the original planting.

Several pages from Charles McKay's service record, giving some family background. It is interesting to note that his 1914/15 Star ended up with his father's brother in Edinburgh. It would be interesting to know whether the medal was returned to a family member (his sister, perhaps?) in Australia after his uncle's death in 1945.

Of the others,Victor Clarke died  at Lone Pine in August 1915, just after this newsletter was issued, and John Ross died in France in August 1918.


  1. Couldn't agree more, Cheryl. I got a huge amount of information from the Kensington- Flemington Presbyterian Church News:, including their roll of honour which was lost in a fire some years ago.

  2. Yes, when time permits I'll certainly go looking for more church newsletters. I just happened to stumble over this one and couldn't believe how much information it contained, not just about the war, either.