Woodburn Hall First World War Honour Rolls
Richmond Valley Council was awarded a Community War Memorials Fund (CWMF) grant in 2022 to support the conservation of the Woodburn District Great War Roll of Honor and the Woodburn Lodge 146 First World War Roll of Honour.
A devastating natural disaster strikes the town of Woodburn
Located inside the Woodburn Memorial Hall, both honour rolls suffered from extensive liquid damage and impact from debris when the hall was inundated during the unprecedented flooding of the Richmond Valley in February and March 2022. The devastating floodwaters flowing from the Richmond River, exceeding 3-4 metres high in places, caused shocking damage to homes, businesses, the natural environment, and public infrastructure, including the hall.
Built alongside the river more than 50 years ago, the single-storey timber building was paid for by the Woodburn-Evans Head RSL sub-Branch and public subscription. At the time, the secretary of the sub-Branch said it would be “one of the largest and most up-to-date halls on the Northern Rivers”, with ample space and facilities for concerts and dances (Northern Star, 27 October 1953). The hall was officially opened by His Excellency Lieutenant General Sir John Northcott on 30 April 1955 and dedicated “in memory of … fallen comrades.” Two plaques are attached to the front façade of the hall, proudly inscribed with details of the opening and the dedication.
Damaged but not destroyed, the honour rolls survive the floods
The district honour roll is a large and elegant timber board made of red cedar and Queensland maple. It lists the names of more than 150 members of the community who volunteered for service in the First World War (1914–1918). Its curved pediment features colour paintings of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, the Union Jack, and Australian Red Ensign. It also has three supporting shelves and decorative columns on the sides. In contrast, the lodge roll is a smaller Queensland maple board with a simpler design, but notably featuring delicate moulded Corinthian capitals on its supporting columns. The roll lists the names of eight men who served in the First World War, who may have been members of a Woodburn Masonic Lodge, as the iconic ‘Square and Compasses’ symbol of Freemasonry appear at the top of the board. While the origins of these memorials are not known, the ornate woodworking details suggest they were constructed by skilled craftspeople.
The role of an honour roll in remembering local heroes
Two of the brave men who are commemorated on the district roll are Privates Samuel George Bruce Heugh and Percy Murray. Among the first residents from Woodburn to enlist, they were on active service for more than four years. Both men are shown in the below photo, published in the Sydney Mail on 31 May 1916. Titled ‘Woodburn (N.S.W.) representatives at the Front’, Heugh is first from the left in the back row and Murray is sitting in front of him. Next to Murray is George Cox, whose name is also listed on the district roll.
Private Heugh, who went by Bruce, was a 20-year-old beekeeper living in South Woodburn when he enlisted at Lismore on 21 September 1914. He sailed from Sydney on 21 December 1914 on board HMAT A34 Persic with the 5th Light Horse Regiment. Heugh served in Gallipoli and Egypt, suffering from at least three wounds that required hospitalisation. He sailed home at the end of 1918 on the HT Port Darwin, arriving in Australia on 26 December 1918. He was officially discharged on 24 February 1919.
Originally from Bingara, Private Murray listed his mother, Mrs E. Towney of South Woodburn, as his next of kin when he enlisted on 1 October 1914. He was a 21-year-old farmer when he joined the 7th Light Horse Regiment, sailing from Sydney on board HMAT A33 Ayrshire, the day before Heugh departed. Murray suffered from several bouts of influenza once abroad, before serving in Gallipoli and Egypt.
Surviving years away overseas fighting with the Australian Imperial Force, Heugh and Murray were welcomed home by a thankful town at a special luncheon in January 1919, which was coordinated by the Empire League at the local School of Arts hall. They were the focus of heartfelt toasts and patriotic speeches, and were presented with gold medals by Mr Nicholls, who had known the pair since they were boys. Heugh offered his thanks to the crowd and Murray shared stories of his experience as a stretcher bearer at Lone Pine and assisting with the evacuation from Gallipoli.
Saving these irreplaceable objects
The damage to the boards caused by the floodwaters was extensive, including warping, shrinking, and splitting of the timber elements, accumulation of dust and particulates on surfaces, wear and discoloration of the shellac and varnish coatings, dents, scratches, and mould. Council engaged with their Heritage Advisor, Ms Deborah Wray, on the project, to ensure the best possible outcome for these special objects.
Council obtained a quote from specialists Barnes Construction & Joinery, experts in timber conservation and repair, to undertake the physical conservation work. Council was successful in applying for a CWMF grant to contribute to the cost of the works.
Council also had a Condition Assessment and Treatment Report prepared by Melanie Fihelly Conservation for each board. The comprehensive reports included detailed photos of the boards and a catalogue of damage and issues to be addressed. While most of the items related to the flood damage, others included damage caused by old screw holes, graffiti, and paint splatter.
The close-up inspection of the lodge memorial conducted by Ms Fihelly also revealed an intriguing piece of the board’s missing history. The word ‘Woodburn’ had been painted over the top of previous wording that read ‘William Halkett’, indicating the board was repurposed at some stage. It may have originally belonged to the William Halkett Lodge, in nearby Broadwater, which had been established by 1906.
The nature of the damage and the type of conservation to be done required that the boards be dismantled, and the pieces worked on separately. The work undertaken included repairing the damaged/warped timber, restoration of the gold lettering, and the application of shellac coatings on both boards.
The finished pieces have been completely restored, while retaining their shape, decorative features, and colouring. Now rightfully re-erected inside the Woodburn Memorial Hall, these stately honour boards will continue to recognise and remember those who have served and continue to be a treasured part of the history of the Woodburn community.
The Community War Memorials Fund provides grants of up to $10,000 to support the repair, protection, and conservation of community war memorials across the state, including specialist heritage advice and physical work.
For more information and to apply, click here.