A CHANCE find by museum volunteer Margaret Clark is likely to rescue the forgotten history of hundreds of Hunter men who served in some of the world’s most horrifying battles.
Rummaging in the archives of the Manning Valley Historical Society at Wingham, she found hundreds of postcards sent from and to Australian World War I soldiers, many of whom served in France.
‘‘They were odds and ends, just in a box labelled postcards,’’ Mrs Clark said.
Her curiosity yielded Postcards from the Front, the story of Richmond Vale soldier Alf Haynes.
Mrs Clark has turned her talents to writing a history of his battalion, the 36th, raised in 1916 at Broadmeadow.
She’s seeking help from Hunter Valley residents who might have family connections with members of the battalion that saw service at slaughter sites such as Messines and Passchendaele.
Mrs Clark said the story of Alf Haynes was about ‘‘one man’s war’’.
The 36th Battalion was part of the famous efforts that helped defend the French towns of Amiens and Villers-Bretonneux. The history of the battalion documents the mounting death toll, which by 1918 resulted in it being disbanded because no reinforcements could be found.
The men of the 36th came from places such as Catherine Hill Bay, Weston, Kurri Kurri, and Newcastle.
They were self-described as ‘‘squatters’’, miners, farmers, labourers and men who worked on the trains.
‘‘These guys were older – they were running out of young men. They knew what they were getting themselves into.’’
One of the postcards Mrs Clark found was a birthday card from Alf to his baby daughter, Thelma.
‘‘My dearest little pet. Let us thank the Almighty that your Dad ’as been spared to come through all this terrible strife and trouble ... what a glorious and a happy reunion for us all to be together again,’’ the card reads.
Alf Haynes returned to Australia in 1919 and died in 1922 from throat cancer, possibly caused by poison gas.
His widow Lilly, from Buledelah, was left to care for four children.
Alf Haynes is buried in Kurri Kurri cemetery, his grave unmarked because the original wooden cross has disintegrated.
Mrs Clark can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.