A TOTAL of 138 names are inscribed on the Sale and District Cenotaph.

It is a monument that tomorrow, on June 15, has stood in Sale for 100 years, memorialising sacrifice and reminding generations of the impact of war.

The literal meaning of the word Cenotaph derives from the Greek words ‘kenos’ and ‘taphos’, which mean ’empty tomb’. The portmanteau they become, though steeped in honour and pride, is a sobering reminder that many soldiers of war have never been laid to rest, nor have their families been afforded the opportunity to say proper goodbyes.

Local historian and author, Ross Jackson compiled the stories of soldiers named on the Cenotaph in his most recent book, Empty Tomb: The story of the Sale and District Cenotaph 1924-1949.

Mr Jackson wrote the town’s intention to erect a monument after World War 1 reflected “an urgent need to do something to acknowledge the debt lingered in the soul of a Nation in deep mourning.”

Almost immediately after troops of WW1 were returning home, the story of the Sale and District Cenotaph began. Avenues of honour, be that roads, parks, halls and honour boards, were popular forms of recognition. However, in 1919, when a Sale and District honour board was rejected at a Borough Council meeting because only a few people would see it in the council chambers, the community returned to the drawing board.

Another phenomenon was proliferating at this time, as Fallen Soldiers’ Memorials began cropping up.

By 1922, a Soldiers Memorial Women’s Fund was formed in Sale and began fundraising by door-knocking and hosting dances. The group of savvy women met once a month to devise strategies for raising money for a memorial. Donations were popular, and donors were invited to meetings known as Subscriber Meetings.

About a year of fundraising culminated in 28 designs for a war memorial, which were presented at a Subscriber Meeting on September 17, 1923. Among many styles, the statue of “the victory woman” was chosen.

The 20-foot-high Memorial was unveiled on June 15, 1924, originally taking a commanding presence on Raymond Street. It was later moved to its current location on McAlister St in 1963.

On June 16, 1924, the Gippsland Times published a lengthy tribute to the Fallen soldiers’ Memorial under the title ‘Lest We Forget’. It cost £900 to build using materials like granite, which supports the figure the woman carved out of “the best Italian marble”, the Gippsland Times wrote.

Large crowds, including returned soldiers, were reported to have attended the unveiling.

“The vicinity of the Memorial was congested with motor cars, the whole countryside turning out to pay tribute to Australia’s sons who had died in defence of their country.”

One hundred years later, the Sale Cenotaph stands on McAlister Street, where hundreds gather on Anzac Day mornings to remember Australia’s fallen.

Initially, the Cenotaph was unveiled without the inscription of soldiers’ names. Still, it was dedicated to those who fell in the Great War, as the dedication on the Memorial says. The inscription of names was another costly venture residents advocated for in the following years.

Of the 138 names inscribed today, 91 are listed as victims of WW1 (1914-1918) and 47 in WW2 (1939-1945). Mr Jackson notes soldiers’ names have been omitted and the criterion for inclusion is speculated, though it is certain many appear to have died in WW1.

May Hennessy, a nurse who trained at the Gippsland Hospital in Sale, is the only woman inscribed on the Memorial. Her name was added in 2020, a century after her death.

Soldiers were farmers, labourers, bank clerks, butter makers, butchers, architects, and one was a news reporter. The average age of those inscribed on the Cenotaph at their time of death is 25.6 years old; the youngest was 18.

Every name on every Memorial has a story behind it. While many of these stories are known only to friends and family, others remain untold. Some, however, are part of the history of significant events or actions. Such is the story of Lance Corporal Earnest Merton ‘Mert’ Harrap and his brother Private James Wilfred ‘Wilf’ Harrap from Willung.

The brothers were the eldest children of farmers George and Rose Harrap, and their story reveals that they stayed by each other’s sides from the day they enlisted until the day they died.

Initially dispatched to Egypt, they were both hospitalised with measles within seven days of each other. Shortly after, another hospitalisation for Mert saw his older brother Wilf revert to the ranks at his own request, in what was recognised as a common tactic for mates so they could remain together.

Three months later, the brothers sailed on the ‘Kinfauns Castle’ from Alexandria, Egypt, to Marseilles in France. Both were severely wounded in the Battle of Fromelles. They were transported to England to recover and, once they had, were granted leave. Records show Mert reported back 15 days later. His older brother Wilf’s records show he reported to the same place a day earlier. Mr Jackson wrote, “It is almost certain the two brothers had taken two weeks leave together”.

The pair returned to France, but on September 26, 1917, Wilf was listed as wounded and missing in action. Mr Jackson wrote that the correspondence between his father George and the Australia Imperial Force regarding Wilf’s status reveals the “grief and pitiful hope the Harrap family (clung) to”.

“To all my letters I have had no reply we are waiting in great despair for some definite news of our boy”, was written in a letter by George Harrap on February 18, 1918.

Wilf’s death was confirmed by a fellow soldier who described him as a “‘tall man about 5’10” in height, well built, about 26-years-of-age, known as ‘Wilfred’ and that he was in his Platoon at Polygon Wood when he was killed in action, just 10 yards in front of him.

While it is not clear if they were side by side, Earnest Merton ‘Mert’ Harrap, the younger of the brothers, was recorded killed in action on the same date as Wilf. Their remains were never recovered. They were 26 and 22-years-old when they died.

The Gippsland Times extends special thanks to Ross Jackson, the author of Empty Tomb, which informed much of the research for this piece.