A detailed and emotive collection of memorabilia honouring the life of WW1 soldier George Thomas Rivers will take pride of place in a planned display in the foyer of Tenterfield’s Soldier’s Memorial Hall. The collection was formally placed into the safekeeping of the Tenterfield RSL Sub-branch during Remembrance Day proceedings.
George Thomas Rivers was a young soldier in the 3rd Battalion WW1 who died in France on April 11, 1917, his 24th birthday.
George was born in Tenterfield in 1934, the youngest of four children along with Marion, John and Ruth born to Mabel and William (Bill) Rivers. Bill had a menswear business for many years and both he and Mabel were much involved in community.
They lie in the cemetery in Tenterfield along with a sister and other relatives, as does their son John who served in WW2.
The younger George Rivers was named after his late uncle, and he and his wife Helen together with other family members have visited soldier George's grave in the Commonwealth War Graves on the outskirts of Rouen, France a number of times.
On the 100th anniversary of his death, Helen and her son made a special visit to Rouen to take flowers and play a recording of The Last Post for soldier George and the many others nearby.
“The war graves there are beautifully maintained but I do not think ceremonies are ever held there the way they are in other major WW1 memorial cemeteries,” Helen said.
“This was our personal tribute.”
Over the years and from various sources (especially Tenterfield relatives), Helen has collected and collated two large folders resulting in a comprehensive record of soldier George’s service from enlisting, training, transport, engagements, leave, to the last letters written to his mother, sister and brother in which he says they are going out of the trenches and in four days he will be 24.
Included are many official documents, letters, post cards to and from family and friends, photos, mementos , medals and his ‘dead soldier’s kit’ with its bits and pieces of treasures including what is believed to be a live German bullet.
During the Remembrance Day presentation, George described how as young boys he and his brother came across the beginnings of the collection in a suitcase in a shed and asked his father about it.
“One day I’ll tell you the story,” his father had told him, but that day never came. More recently the contents of that suitcase have been added to.
“The items came to us as jumbles of papers and mementos over years from sheds, outdoor laundries, trunks,” Helen said.
“It is a very poignant documentation of a young soldier's service and death and the bonds with those left at home.
“He was not an eloquent, educated young man. I believe he was a stockman on Tenterfield Station, however reading the letters he wrote to his mother and brother, seeing his little treasures as he lived and died among such horrors about which he never complains, never fails to be deeply moving.”
Helen said as she and her husband advanced in years she believes it is important that such an insightful and emotive collection finds an appropriate home to honour George Thomas Rivers as a Tenterfield boy, a courageous soldier and as a source of military history.
“The family members who gathered in Tenterfield at the weekend to be present at the official presentation after the Remembrance Ceremony were very impressed with the service and the welcome given to the family,” she said.
The Sub-branch have received official approval for the new display case, and is seeking funding under the Saluting their service grants program to supplement monetary support already committed by the RSL. The Rivers display will be partnered with another collection donationed by Vicky Schroder concerning the war service of her grandfather Earnest Randolph Lyons, including postcards to his mother and other family members and a WW2 German gas mask still in its cannister.