Brightlingsea Searching for Information on Anzacs Stationed There in WWI

Australian soldiers stationed in Britain during World War I caught the interest of quite a few English girls.

Residents Brightlingsea are looking for the descendants of local women who married Anzacs. Approximately 10,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers stayed in the area before heading to the front lines. Ann Berry of Friends of Brightlingsea Museum says that the visitors made quite an impression on the local ladies.

“They were these tall, suntanned colonials with funny accents,” she said. While the soldiers camped on the nearby recreation ground in the summer, they billeted with locals in the winter. Many became part of the family, literally.

“The soldiers found surrogate mums and very often girlfriends,” said Berry. “There were 36 marriages of Australians to Brightlingsea ladies, and of course, when the war ended the guys stole our ladies away.” Not all of the Anzac relationships ended in marriage. “The story goes that at the end of the war the Australian army sent around a couple of horses and a big wagon so that people could put in there anything the Australians had left behind,” she said. “A couple of girls tried to put babies in it.”

Brightlingsea is holding a carnival to celebrate 100 years since the Anzacs first came to the town. “They are remembered more with gladness than with sadness,” Berry said. The Brightlingsea Anzac carnival website has a list of Australians who married local women. Contact information for the museum is also there. The hope is that their descendants will reach out to the museum.

The Brightlingsea Anzac carnival website includes the names of Australians who married women from the town and contact details for their descendants to get in touch with the museum.

“What we’re trying to do is put together some short biographies of the guys to keep on the museum’s database,” said Berry. They’ve already started on the biographies using information available online.“You’re very lucky in Australia in that online you can find a lot of the servicemen’s records, quite complete, which hasn’t happened in England because ours got bombed and burned in World War II,” Berry said.

She said that there were still some descendants of the Anzacs living in Brightlingsea but others may be living in Australia with no knowledge of their connection to the English town.

“We thought how nice it would be if we could try and trace some of them who did not stay in touch with England just to see how they are, and how they’re getting on, and tell them that we remember them,” she said. Ms. Berry visited Horsham in Victoria on Anzac Day last year. She was “struck with a great kinship” when she found out how many of the Anzacs were born in Britain or had British ancestry.

“Not only were these guys sharing mud and blood with the British soldiers but DNA as well,” she said.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE