The port city of Albany on Western Australia’s southern coast, 420km from Perth, has a strong sense of its own identity and, perhaps more keenly than any other Australian community, feels the weight of an ANZAC heritage that pre-dates the Gallipoli landings in 1915.
The First Anzacs
On 1 November 1914, thirty-six transport ships, escorted by three naval warships, departed from King George Sound with nearly 30,000 Australian and New Zealand troops, bound for the battlefields of the Western Front. It was Australia’s first and single-largest convoy of troops. For many of them Albany was the last sight of Australian soil and the local residents who lined the shores to bid them farewell. This first contingent was diverted to Port Said in Egypt for further training, and was joined soon after by a second convoy of just over 12,000 volunteers which had departed from Albany on 31 December 1914. The vast majority of the troops who sailed on these first two convoys were destined to take part in the Dardanelles Campaign. What these first Anzacs achieved at Gallipoli helped to forge the national identities of Australia and New Zealand and began a tradition that endures to the present day.
The Lighthouse Girl
Fay Catherine Howe, daughter of the lighthouse keeper on Breaksea Island at the mouth of King George Sound, was a beacon of hope for the troops on board the convoy ships. Adept in the art of signal communications, 15-year-old Fay relayed messages via semaphore flags or Morse code to the troops from their loved ones as the men waited to set sail. She would then send their replies in Morse code via telegraph and undersea cable back to Albany, where they were printed as telegrams. The ‘Lighthouse Girl’, as she came to be known, was the last point of human contact many Diggers had with their loved ones, and inadvertently became a cherished symbol of home. Although they never met or even spoke directly, her efforts inspired an untold number of soldiers to write postcards to her from the Front. She kept them all and responded to many but, sadly, they disappeared after Fay’s death in 1968.
The First Dawn Service
Arthur Ernest White enlisted in 1916 and served as an Army chaplain with the 44th Battalion until his medical discharge in 1918. After his return to Australia, he became the Rector of St John’s Anglican Church in Albany, where he delivered sermons in remembrance of locals who lost their lives in the Great War. At 6.00am on 25 April 1930, in what many believe to be the first dawn service held in the country, Padre White celebrated a Eucharist with parishioners at St John’s before laying a wreath at the nearby war memorial and leading a procession up a bush track to the top of Mount Clarence. Here, they watched as a boatman cast a wreath into the waters of King George Sound. Today, the Padre White Trail follows the route of this pilgrimage to the lookout that also bears his name, where, each year on Anzac Day, thousands of locals and visitors solemnly gather for the traditional dawn service.