Originally known as Armistice Day, Remembrance Day services are held on 11 November at 11am at the Memorial. It is not known when the first such service was held at the Memorial, but it would have been in the 1920s.
In the Windsor and Richmond Gazette of 5 November 1926, the Gazette noted the Hawkesbury Council resolved to purchase and lay a wreath at Windsor and another at Riverstone.
The Gazette of 4 November 1927 reported Windsor Council has decided to commemorate Armistice Day – Friday next, November 11 – by placing a wreath of poppies, the emblem of peace, on the war memorials at Windsor and Riverstone, within the municipality.
The 2019 Remembrance Day service was the largest seen in the town for decades. There were approximately 200 people in attendance, a mixture of local residents, students and visitors to the town for the special event being the centenary year of the War Memorial.
Residents of Riverstone woke to a beautiful, crisp, clear morning on Saturday 9 November 2019. At 10.30am, around 500 people gathered at the Memorial, to witness a rededication ceremony which acknowledged the centenary of the Memorial, and the fighting spirit of generations of the Riverstone Community.
It was a sunny day, but just like 100 years ago, a breeze kept the temperature down for the hour long ceremony, something appreciated by those gathered, after recent hot, windy days.
The Order of Service printed in this Journal provides an outline in simple black and white words. What it cannot capture is the emotion and spirit of the day. Every person who spoke at the ceremony had either served or a connection with men and women from their families who had served. It was the same for people who came to observe. Many were directly connected to the men listed on the Memorial. All came to pay their respects.
Leading up to the service a town crier spoke about the ceremony to come. He too had a family connection to military service.
Young people played an important role in the Cenotaph 100 ceremony. The Riverstone Girl Guides welcomed people and handed out Orders of Service. Three Guides stood patiently near the Memorial holding wreaths.
The part of the ceremony called simply “Names of the Fallen” was extremely emotional and reduced many to tears. As the name of each man listed on the Memorial was read out, a school students came out of the crowd and walked into the railway station, symbolising the path taken by the men as they left for war.
Bugler Phil O’Neal played a beautiful rendition of the Last Post, each note pitch perfect, another emotional moment for those present.
After the service many gathered at the Memorial, perhaps seeing it with fresh eyes. A bronze plaque to record the event will be cast and attached to the sandstone near the Memorial.
Photographer Warren Kirby organised to take a photo of the crowd, placing a camera in a vantage point similar to that where the original unveiling photo was taken 100 years earlier by Ernest Griffin. We hope it will be around in another 100 years for people to study and admire.
Afterwards, people went to the nearby Town Centre car park. There they looked at print outs of some of the Cenotaph 100 Facebook posts, along with old military vehicles and heritage cars, which were part of the “Rev up Rivo” display.
It was a day that those present will not forget. Riverstone at its finest and proudest.
On Monday 4 November Sue, Mike and Rosemary were guests on the Norwest Educational Chat Show hosted by Craig. The show was summarised in a Facebook post the next day.
On Monday night 7-8pm the SWRFM 99.9 station hosted the regular Norwest Educational Chat Show. Craig Laffin from Norwest Christian College, welcomed three special guests, who had much to say about Riverstone and Cenotaph 100, the 100th commemoration of the Riverstone War Memorial. Sue, President of the Riverstone & Schofield District Chamber of Commerce, Mike the Secretary of the Chamber and Rosemary, Co-ordinator of Riverstone Historical Society & Museum, shared information about the many sacrifices made by Riverstone’s community during many wars, both serving members and families.
The Riverstone War Memorial, unveiled in November 1919 was one of the first in Australia after WWI. The 32 names on the memorial reflect service, patriotism and sacrifice. On Saturday 9 November at 10.30am the War Memorial will be re-dedicated in a service attended by James Griffin MP, Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment an d Veterans, Tony Bleasdale OAM Mayor Blacktown and a wide range of community representatives and the general public. NWCC Concert Band will play the Australian National Anthem and more NWCC students have important roles.
Rosemary spoke about her recent book which tells the story of each of the 32 men whose name appears on the memorial. She related accounts of several of the men during the radio show. Sue spoke of the ‘Warm Heart’ of Riverstone people. This was certainly evident as Rosemary, Mike and Sue spoke about Riverstone. Their passion was contagious for listeners.
The November 2019 open day at the Riverstone Museum featured a display of artefacts from the First World War. Craig Laffin organised the display and spoke about the history of the items. The artefacts were collected from the battlefields years ago by his parents.
Craig uses a small part of the collection to teach school students about the war. The key feature being that the students are allowed to handle the items. They are also encouraged to think about what the story of each item might be.
Craig gave a fascinating talk, intertwining stories of his own life and experiences, with those of the artefacts. The story of “Shrapnel Charlie” captured the attention of the audience and Craig has written the following article especially for the Journal.
Ivan Synnaeve was an extraordinary man. Born in 1953 but crippled from a work accident in 1991, he and his wife Marie-Claire, lived on the outskirts of Ypres in Belgium. Ivan adopted an impossible mission; to return to their homelands, the British Empire troops who had lost their lives on the Western Front in WWI. Ivan especially strove to return our 50,000 Australian soldiers who had perished in Belgium and France. Ivan lived all his life on the Western Front and every day passed Commonwealth Military Cemeteries, reminders of the brutal frontline and heard stories of the foreigners who had come from the other side of the world to help free Belgium from German invaders.
Obviously actually returning our war dead was impossible. But Ivan had a dream which came instantly to mind as he passed a toyshop in 1996 and saw kit to make lead soldiers from moulds. He could return our war dead as model soldiers of AIF (Australian Imperial Force) Diggers. A legend was born in that moment, for until his death in March 2012, Ivan created thousands of model Australian soldiers, which came back to Australia via countless grateful Aussies.
The lead for the soldiers came from the bags of shrapnel balls which were given to him by Belgian farmers. Hundreds of millions of shrapnel balls were blasted over the WWI battlefields; small lead balls which exploded in the air from artillery shells and shredded men and horses. Battlefield farmlands still turn up military fragments; human remains, equipment, unexploded shells and countless shrapnel balls. Hence Ivan’s nickname.
I last visited Shrapnel Charlie in April 2006. I led a group of 27 senior students from Nagle College, Blacktown South, on a history study tour to Europe; in Ypres we met Shrapnel Charlie and Marie-Claire. Shrapnel Charlie made his models in a back garden hut. He sat in his wheelchair and with no safety equipment, melted the lead balls to a fiery bubbling liquid. He poured this into moulds. When cooled the Australian soldier models were released from moulds and hand painted. To our eyes it was terrifyingly dangerous but Shrapnel Charlie’s face lit with pleasure and pride in creating more diggers to return to Australia.
He and Marie-Claire came to dinner in our motel. Australian model soldiers were presented to each girl and teacher. We solemnly promised to return our diggers to Australia. They were later used in an Anzac Service at Nagle College. At one time John Howard our former Prime Minister was presented with model diggers and he also solemnly promised to return them to Australia.
Shrapnel Charlie Australian soldier models were shown to visitors who came to Riverstone Museum on Sunday 3 November 2019. The story was told of their origin. Cameras flashed. People looked in awe. Small painted figures displayed on a table – each a poignant reminder of service and sacrifice.
Ivan, Shrapnel Charlie, earnt for himself an indelible reputation and record as a friend of Australia. When I look at my collection of Shrapnel Charlie diggers, tears invade my eyes. I think of the men and women who served and sacrificed for Australia in WWI, I think of both my grandparents – soldier and nurse, I think of Shrapnel Charlie working diligently for years in his hut and dignified Marie-Claire, greeting Australian visitors to her home. Shrapnel Charlie is now passed into legend but his legacy is eternal, so long as even one model digger remains, like mine, on a shelf in my study.
It was almost by chance that the events to commemorate the centenary of the War Memorial/Cenotaph came about.
Blacktown City Council had released a Town Centre Masterplan for the Riverstone Town Centre. The plan was to move the heart of the town to Market Street, away from the historic Railway station curtilage. The Masterplan quote, “Riverstone had no heart” incensed Riverstone Chamber of Commerce members Sue Hunter-Lawrence and Warren Kirby, who were charged to provide the business communities response to the plan.
Meeting to discuss the Chambers response to the Masterplan, titled “Riverstone in Review”, Warren showed Sue a cracking photo he had recently captured of the sun setting behind the War Memorial. There was no doubt that this photo would feature in “Riverstone in Review” outlining the hidden beauty of Riverstone.
Sue approached Rosemary to discuss “Riverstone in Review”, where she proudly pointed out the Cenotaph photo, and how it magically captured the essence of Riverstone. When Rosemary mentioned that the Cenotaph would turn 100 this year, Sue said it was our obligation to commemorate the centenary, the strength of our community and cement the Railway curtilage as our heart.
The Chamber formed a sub committee consisting of Sue Hunter-Lawrence, Mike Shervington OBE, Warren Kirby, Craig Laffin OAM, with Rosemary Phillis coming on board from the Riverstone and District Historical Society Inc.
The Chamber had three goals for the commemoration:-
Recognise the Cenotaph as Riverstone’s heart;
Create a sense of community in our growing town;
Raise the profile of the Riverstone-Schofields RSL sub-Branch.
Sensing the importance of the occasion, the Chamber reached out to Blacktown City Council, the Riverstone RSL sub-Branch, and Legacy who came on board as partners.
Local businesses, the Riverstone Memorial Club, Macs Hire, Barker Plumbing, Riverstone Business Park, Simplly Fin Wiz, ResponseRE, Reuben Real Estate, Michelle Rowland, Bruno’s Barbers and Ztronics provided support as sponsors,
The main event was the rededication of the Memorial on Saturday 9 November. Although this date was a day after original date of the 8th, it was decided to hold it on a Saturday, to allow the maximum number of people to attend.
Following the rededication, plans were made to recreate a fundraising cricket match from 1914, when a team of local men played against a team of local women. The logistics associated with this event resulted in it being postponed to a future date.
In an effort to activate the local shopping area, Blacktown Council hosts car displays, at an event called “Rev Up Riverstone”, on the second Saturday of the month.
Seizing the opportunity to support the Cenotaph Commemoration, the Committee approached the Council events team, to focus the “Rev Up Riverstone” event, on military related vehicles.
The decision was made that a commemorative plaque should be placed at the Memorial. The job of designing and supplying the plaque was taken on by Blacktown Council. It was also decided that funds should be raised to have a pair of bronze boots should be cast to be placed at the Railway Station/Memorial to represent the path taken by so many men and women who enlisted and served their country from the district. For most of the major campaigns servicemen and women would have left and returned by train. The aim will now be to raise sufficient funds to have the ‘boots’ installed by Anzac Day next year.
Rosemary and the Riverstone and District Historical Society’s role was to publish a book on the history of the Memorial, including details of each of the 32 men whose names are listed. The book, “The Riverstone War Memorial”, was printed by Andrew Southwell at Copyprint.
The Chamber or Commerce decided that memorabilia for the event (with funds to go to the bronze boots), would be a specially brewed and bottled beer and stubby holders. The beer was brewed by Hart and Hound who operates a boutique brewery in a building on the old Riverstone Meatworks site in Riverstone Parade.
A Facebook page called Cenotaph 100 was created to allow communication about the centenary. Mike undertook the huge task of preparing a daily Facebook post for the 100 days leading up to the rededication ceremony. He wrote about the men on the Memorial, military related items and interviewed a number of the local RSL sub-Branch and residents.
Sue had the role of finding sponsors and the challenging task of contacting local schools and community groups to invite them to be involved. The results were impressive. Most local schools were keen to be involved and the Riverstone Girl Guides were keen to help out in any role that they could.
Craig is the Development Officer at Norwest Christian College. He organised for the school band to play the National Anthem and students to take part in the ceremony. Craig also promoted the event on his community radio program and hosted members of the Committee on his program on Monday the 4th and 11th.
Warren is a professional photographer. His major roles were organising digital images for artwork, and the historic recording the event, especially the creation of an image of the crowd at the ceremony on the 9th, to recreate the image from 100 years before.
The Riverstone War Memorial was unveiled on Saturday 8 November 1919. It was one of the earliest in the state. Prior to January 1919 there was a Government restriction on the amount of funds that could be collected for a war memorial. When the restriction was lifted, a Committee of local residents took on the task. The Committee appears to have consisted of Councillor J. J. Pye, H. L. Lawson (Secretary), Ald. H. R. Reid, Ald. C. A. Jeffery, Mr. W. Wiggins, Mrs. Crisp and other ladies. These people had been active undertaking patriotic duties such as fundraising, organising farewells and welcome home events.
The Committee obtained permission to build the Memorial on Railway Land and decided on the design (which was similar to an obelisk at Wilberforce). They raised the required amount of £100 and organised to have it installed. Their dedication and energy was amazing.
Raising the funds had its challenges. With the outbreak of the Pneumonic Flu, authorities restricted public gatherings, to try and curtail the spread of the disease. Despite the challenges the Committee raised the necessary funds and had the Memorial constructed in nine months.
The Memorial was designed and constructed by George Cook of Kingsley and Co, monument masons at Windsor. It was installed in the first week of November 1919.
The Memorial was officially unveiled by Mr. R. B. Walker, M.L.A. The ceremony started at 3.30pm. It had been an oppressively hot day, but as the service progressed, the sun went behind clouds and a gentle cooling breeze came from the south. 
The event was described in great detail in the Windsor and Richmond Gazette of 21 November 1919. The attendance said to have been “extremely large”. Music was provided by the Riverstone Brass Band; returned soldiers formed a guard of honour, under the command of Lieutenant F. F. Hayward. Speeches were made by the chairman, Councillor J. J. Pye; Mr. R. B. Walker, M.L.A.; Colonel J. J. Paine, V.D.; Councillors Page and Lalor; Lieutenant Hayward; Alderman H R. Reid; Cadet Morgan of the Salvation Army; Reverend Setchell and Mr Lawson representing the Memorial Committee. The last post was played during the service and proceedings brought to an end with the playing of the National Anthem. The service must have been a long one, but given the gravity of the occasion, most appropriate.
The unveiling of the Memorial was significant enough to be mentioned in The Sydney Mail newspaper of 19 November 1919. The paper featured two photos taken by local photographer Ernest William Griffin, a returned serviceman. The Gazette commented that from the position the photograph was taken ‘the big section of the crowd was not shown’. 
Over the years improvements were made to the Memorial. A fence was built around to protect it from passing traffic. A wooden flagpole was initially installed, later being replaced by metal ones. In 1966 a major renovation took place. The upgrade was to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the R.S.L in Australia. The work was conducted for the Riverstone-Schofields RSL sub-branch by monument mason J. H. Sondermeyer.
The work involved raising the monument and utilising sandstone in the design of the base and surrounds; restoring and raising the Memorial; removing the small wire fence, installing low rise sandstone steps and attaching a small wrought iron gate, symbolising the rising sun with a small eternal flame plaque, in front of the memorial.
One major addition included the installation of a marble panel commemorating the men who died during the Second World War. The names came from the timber honour roll located at the local RSL club. The names were as follows: L. G. Bagot, N. S. Davies, G. Grainger, R. M. Leeson, J. H. McNamara, W. Parkes, R. B. Ratcliff and W. Whitehead.  A. Belshaw’s name was added later. The other major addition included having the names of various military conflicts cut into the sub-base; ‘1914-1918’ on the front; ‘1939-1945’ on the back; ‘MALAYA – KOREA’ on the right and ‘VIETNAM’ on the left.
Around the early 1980s the curtilage around the Memorial was enlarged, paved and a concrete edging and protective bollards were added.
The Korean War marble panel bearing the name of Patrick Green was added sometime between 1991 and 1993.
In 2001-2002 the concrete bollards were replaced by sandstone ones and new square shaped planter boxes were installed either side of the memorial surrounds.
In 2013 larger 7.5 metre flagpoles were installed, and the small gate at the front was removed and the ‘Lest We Forget’ plaque set into sandstone paver in front of the memorial.
Around 2015 improvements were made to the Memorial surrounds. Small pavers replaced with larger pavers. Two sandstone bollards removed from the front and access ramps incorporated into the front and back of the paved area.
In loving memory of William ‘Bill” Whitehead. To my Aunty Mavis: for her insight into Bill’s early life. Although she was young then, her memory of these events is still very vivid.
A posthumous big thank you to Percy Hunt: for his voice recordings of his memories with Bill when they were POWs. This provided me with valuable insight into Bills military life.
Thank you to the 2/19 Australian Infantry Battalion.
William (Bill) Whitehead was born at 7 Ermington Street, Botany on the 31 December 1923. Bill was the eldest son to Henry and Lilly Whitehead. Not much of Bill’s younger life is known as his siblings that are with us today were too young to really know him.
Bill attended Schofields Public School. The photos on the following pages show things that Bill had done during his young life. Barely seven years after his school photo was taken, he enlisted in the Australian Army.
William enlisted in the army on the 23/8/1941. On his enlistment papers, his date of birth was registered as 31/12/1921, instead of his actual date of birth, 31/12/23, thus raising his age to 19 years and 8 months instead of 17 years and 8 months.
From the day of his enlistment he went straight to four months of basic training at Dubbo, with the 8th Training Division only coming back to Sydney for treatment of illness and leave.
He was granted pre-embarkment leave from the 1/12/41 to the 9/12/41. During this time, he returned home to visit with his family.
His sister Mavis recalls events some events leading up to his enlistment and departure;
During this time, a going away party was held at the Riverstone Picture Theatre for Bill and the other boys that were going off to war. This was a big night for her as it was the first time she had gone out at night. Bill was to leave the next day to re-join his unit in Dubbo where he was to await deployment.
Bill’s mother Lilly told his sister Mavis later in life that she had asked Bill why he wanted to join the Army. Bill said to her that it was because his Grandparents lived in England, and they were under attack by the Germans. Bill felt like he was sitting in Australia doing nothing to help and decided he would join in attempt to assist.
Bill and 3500 soldiers left Sydney on the 10/01/1942 onboard the ocean liner RMS Aquitania, bound for Fremantle and then onto Singapore. The Aquitania was escorted by the HMAS Canberra and the HMAS Vampire. The convoys designation was the MS2. While in Freemantle, Bill was AWOL from 1400hrs on the 15th until 1100hrs on the 16th of January. He was promptly fined two days’ worth of pay for his misconduct. The convoy left Fremantle later that day and headed to Ratai Bay. The convoy arrived at Ratai Bay on the 20/1/42 where the Aquitania was anchored. On 21/01/42, the men were transferred onto seven smaller, Dutch ships. They became the MS2A convoy and were transported under escort to Singapore.
On the 26/1/42, Bill and 649 other men were sent to Jahore Bahru to reinforce the 2/19th Battalion. They had suffered heavy losses and was in disarray after its gallant action in the battle of Muar. Mateship was a very important to all soldiers and the ability to trust those close to you with your life. Bill had this with his mate Percy Hunt. They had met in Dubbo during basic training and Percy summed up their mateship;
“My friend Billy Whitehead and I were put into A-Company that afternoon. A flight of 27 Jap bombers were flying high above us in perfect arrowhead formation and heading south to do their daily bombing raid on Singapore City. One of the planes let go of a bomb and we could hear the screaming sound of it as it dropped down towards us. I noticed Bill bend his back as if he was going to dive to the ground. He didn’t of course, but one of the older members of the Battalion said as the bomb struck away from us a bit, “What sort of men have they sent us this time. They mightn’t be much good to us in another action.” He had seen Bill appear to “duck” as if towards ground. I said to him, “Mind your own business and leave him alone.” I then said to Bill, stick with me and you’ll be alright, take no notice of what he said to you. I realised then that I had stood up in defense of Bill, who was still only 17 years old as if I was his big brother. I was 23 years old at this time and I would have liked him to have been my younger brother. Our friendship never faltered during the rest of the time we spent together as really good mates.”
The 2/19th began a fighting withdrawal to Singapore island on the 30/1/42. The Japanese began landing troops on the 8/2/42 and after some fierce fighting, the allied forces surrendered on the 15/2/42. Bill and the other Australians were taken prisoners and placed in Changi. Bill was then marched to Selerang Barracks where he arrived on the 17/2/1942 and was reunited with Percy who had been ill. They slept on a concrete floor with only ponchos for covering.
The Japanese required prisoners for work parties engaged on projects in Singapore. Bill worked on road projects such as the road around McRichie Reservoir and a new road from Dunear to Slim Road via Adam Park. It wasn’t long before prisoners were being dispatched from Singapore to other projects where prison labour was required.
While at Slime Road camp the Prisoner of War (POWs) received word that 600 men were needed to leave Singapore for another work detail. They were to become C-Force. The selection process was alphabetical, starting with A and continuing until the required number was reached this. For this job, the cut off was the letter R. Bill realised that his best mate Percy and he were about to split. To this point they had been together through thick and thin.
Percy sums up how they felt when he left;
“On Saturday morning, the 28th November 1942, the “C-Force ” work party formed up on the nearby golf course near our camp at Sime Road. Lorries arrived to take us away, so we each said our goodbyes to our friends who were to be left behind and I am not ashamed to say that tears came to Bill’s and my eyes as we gave each other a last big hug in our farewell parting, (That was a treasured moment for me when at War’s end, I heard of Bill’s fate in Borneo). As the lorries pulled away, we waved back until we were out of sight of the camp”.
I have found nothing of Bill from November 1942 until March 1943 when he embarked with E Force for Borneo on the 29/3/43 on the steamer DE KLERK. There were 500 Australian and 500 British POWs on the ship. The British were dropped off at Kuching and the Australians were sent to Berhala Island (North Borneo), however in early June 1943 they were moved to Sandakan. When Bill arrived at the camp in early June, conditions were harsh work had commenced on the airstrip and the men were brutalised. The camp was meant to hold 200 prisoners but there were 2000 Australians and 750 British POWs housed there. Food rations in the camp were 17 ounces of rice per person, per day. If you worked on the airstrip you received a 485g tin of rice at lunch time.
Work on the airstrip continued through 1944 until January 1945 when all work was stopped because of heavy bombing of the airstrip. This was when the Japanese decided to march the prisoners to Ranau some 160 miles (256KM) from Sandakan. These marches became known as ‘The Sandakan Death March’. Bill was part of the first march which left on the 28th of January and consisted of 455 men in nine groups. The men on this march were deemed by the Japanese to be the fittest of the POWs and able to carry the 44lbs of Japanese supplies and machinery to Ranau.
Bill lost his life on the 15th of February 1945 during this first march.
Bill joining the army and subsequent death had a profound effect on his family, friends, his mother Lilly and his mate Percy. Even though Bill was to die on the third anniversary of the event that was to make him a POW (The Fall of Singapore), the family were not to learn of his death until August 1945.
Bill’s sister Mavis recalls the day when the news of bills death arrived;
“It was a Saturday in August 1945 when the postmaster, Mr Browne of Schofields, arrived at the family house with her father Thomas (who had been at the cricket) and they delivered the news of Bills death”
Percy never lost contact with Bill’s family. He would regularly visit his mother, Lilly and send her letters for the rest of her life.
In April 2011 James (Jim) Whitehead Snr made the trip to Sandakan to honour his brother Bill’s sacrifice. Jim was 80 years old. Accompanying him on this journey was myself, his son, James Whitehead Jnr, grandson Lachlan Lawless, nephew Kevin Whitehead and great nephew Eric Whitehead. We attended the dawn service at the memorial in the Sandakan POW camp. It was a very emotional day for us as no one from our family had ever visited the site. We then visited the Labuan War Grave Cemetery where the Australian service men that lost their lives at Sandakan are buried. I am not sure if he is buried there or still lays on the track where he died, however his name is on the Honour Roll there.
Bill only saw 20 days of active service and spent the remaining three years of his life in captivity. He was starved and brutalised, but his sacrifice will not be forgotten.
A M Belshaw’s name is inscribed on the War Memorial in Riverstone. Who was he and how does he fit it into Riverstone’s history?
Arthur Maurice Belshaw was born in Sydney on 10 April 1924, the youngest son born to Robert and Florence Belshaw. Known as ‘Artie’ he grew up in Rosebery and was passionate about flying and planes and was a member of the Air League. After leaving school Artie trained as a carpenter.
His RAAF records show that he had to obtain permission from the Department of Labour and National Services to leave his employment at Butler’s Air Transport before enlisting. Permission was granted and he enlisted on 22 July 1942, aged 18 years and 3 months. The records show that he was 5 feet 5 inches tall, his complexion medium and had dark blue eyes and dark hair. His occupation was a Carpenter Rigger, with two years experience in aircraft assembly. At the time he was living with his parents at 19 Durdans Ave Rosebery.
On enlistment he was allocated to Trainee Group V. Four months later, on 5 October 1942 he was re-mustered to Armament School in Hamilton for a six weeks course on armaments. On completion of this course he was appointed to the staff at the armament school. During this time, in March 1943 he was promoted to LAC, Leading aircraftman. Artie transferred to 3BAGS in Sale, Victoria, a Bombing and Gunnery School, and was awarded his Air Gunner’s Badge in July 1943. Four days later he was appointed to 3 OTU, the RAAF operational training unit at Rathmines on Lake Macquarie, the training centre for Catalina Flying boats.
In December 1943 he was appointed as a member of an aircraft crew and paid as an Acting Sergeant. From 18 to 30 December 1943 he was granted pre embarkation leave.
After a short eight day posting to No. 1RPP (Reserve Personnel Pool) based at Aitkenvale in Townsville he received his final posting in January 1944 to No 43 Squadron, where his role was that of an armourer on Catalina aircraft. Artie’s records show his first operational sortie was on 27 January 1944. During his posting he was involved in four strikes and attacks, seven other operations. He had undertaken 96.55 operational day hours and 61.55 operational nights, with 35.25 other hours down.
The last operational sortie Artie was involved in was on 21 April 1944. By then, the 43 Squadron was based in Darwin and undertook long range operations. The RAAF Casualty File for Arthur Belshaw reveals that he was one of nine crew on board Catalina PBY5A-24-53, one of seven Catalinas on a mission to a secret target. Their plane was observed to have been hit by enemy fire and exploded on the water about half a mile from land. Further explosions resembling exploding ammunition followed, the fire burned for about twenty minutes. There was intense searchlight and anti aircraft opposition experienced. The casualty took place at 0400 hours on 21 April 1944.
An Australian radio intercept recorded a radio TOKYO transmission that a long-range Flying Boat from AUSTRALIA had been shot down on the night and over the target on which A 24-53 was operating, at “Balik papan” but was no report on the fate of the crew.
The family were advised by telegram of the crash and that their son was missing believed killed. They were left in a state of limbo, not knowing, but believing that he may still be alive. His mother wrote to the Casualty Section in early 1945 seeking news on her son. The response letter dated 28 January 1945 advised that “in the absence of any definite evidence regarding your son’s fate, action to presume his death should not be taken” and that he could be a “prisoner of war or captured by friendly natives”, allowing them to continue to believe he could still be alive.
In 1945 The Sun newspaper 25 April reported on the Dawn Service in Sydney: 35,000 at Cenotaph at Martin Place in Rain for Dawn Service…. Some took up their position in Martin-place before 9 pm. Among the early arrivals were Mrs F. Belshaw, of Rosebery, whose son, Flight-Sgt Arthur Maurice Belshaw, has been reported missing, believed killed, in the Pacific.
After the war ended, the HQ Australian War Graves Group team started working on the case of the missing airmen. A vital part of the investigation were declarations by two Dutch Prisoners of War that they had been ordered by the Japanese to bury the bodies of seven airmen brought in by the Japanese after a plane crash. Their information allowed the graves to be located. Arthur’s body was eventually identified using dental records, his clothing (overalls and rubber shoes) and most importantly witness reports that at the time of the burial he had been wearing a ring with the initials A.B. engraved on it. (The casualty section having written to the family in May 1946 advising of their investigations requesting to know if their son possessed such a ring. His mother confirmed that she had given her son a ring before he went away, it was in fact for his birthday. She also wrote that the family “still hold hopes of seeing him again” believing Artie may be alive, against all odds.
It was not until October 1946 that the family were formally advised that their son was now known to have lost his life on air operations on the 21st April, 1944. The letter detailed that
Your son’s aircraft was shot down in Balikpapan Bay. The bodies of seven members of the crew were recovered and were buried by the Dutch Salvation Army officer in the Civil Cemetery at Balikpapan. One of these was wearing a gold signet ring with the initials A.M.B….both the Salvation Army Officer and another Dutch prisoner who assisted in the burial were quite definite about seeing the ring and the initials on it and were able to indicated definitely the grave in which the person wearing it had been buried, …. Your son’s body has, therefore, been identified and reburied in the War Cemetery and Balikpapan…
Artie’s final resting place is the Labuan War Cemetery in Malaysia. His headstone reads:
HIS DUTY FEARLESSLY AND NOBLY DONE EVER REMEMEBERED.
The Riverstone connection came about when the Belshaw family moved from Rosebery to Lot 12 Melbourne Road Riverstone by mid-1946. The family consisted of Artie’s parents, Robert Belshaw, and his wife Florence. Robert Belshaw was born in County Down in Ireland in 1886 and the family migrated to Australia in 1889. Robert married Florence Amelia Ponting in Sydney in 1906. In the family, he was known as ‘Rob’ and for most of his life his occupation was recorded as a carrier or labourer. The couple had five daughters and three sons born in Sydney between 1907 and 1923. Their eldest child, Doris had died when she was only eight, from appendicitis.
It is not known why the family chose to move to Riverstone however it may have been due to the availability of employment at Riverstone Meatworks. Also Artie’s sister Florence, and her family had been residing in Riverstone since 1942. Florrie was married to John William ‘Bill’ Leach and the couple relocated to Edward Street, on the corner of Railway Parade, Riverstone, after the Japanese Midget Submarine attack on Sydney Harbour. They were accompanied by their children Joyce (Nichols), Fay (Priora) and Johnny. Bill’s brother ‘Bert’ and his wife Dot, also resided on a block in Loftus Street. Their mother Lillian had apparently owned land in Riverstone but never lived there.
By 1945, Maud, younger sister of Florence Belshaw, and her husband Jack Hanlon, were also residing in Melbourne Road, Riverstone.
After the war, Artie’s brother Lenny and his family also moved to Riverstone, living in Melbourne Road until the 1960s. Lenny was blessed with a fine physique and was a talented football player. In the 1950s he played in Riverstone’s A grade team and was often mentioned for his prowess in the local papers. Sisters Phyllis and Lily lived for a time at Riverstone before their marriages. Lily moved to Riverstone with her husband Tom Ryan. Phyllis married Clarrie Davis in 1949 at Windsor but they moved to Toronto.
The softly spoken Irishman Robert Belshaw, had rheumatic fever sometime during his life, which damaged his heart. He was admitted to Windsor Hospital but died from rheumatic heart disease, aged 62 years. The family version is that he never recovered from the loss of his youngest son in such tragic circumstances, and died from a broken heart. The family were very close and were devastated with the loss of the patriarch of the family.
After Rob’s death, Flo continued to live in Melbourne Road. Her sister Maud lived next door. Daughter Flo and husband Bill lived close, just a short walk diagonally through the bush. Bill Leach was jack of all trades and through his life he had been a carpenter, shearer and labourer. Bill with his brother Bert, constructed their small cottages, using a great deal of recycled materials. Bill used to bring the material up on the train and get the train drivers to drive slowly on the bend near Edward Street and he would throw the material off the train and then get off at Vineyard and walk back and pick it up. During the 1940s and 1950s Bill cultivated a lovely vegetable garden, including peas. He would sell these to the Stacey family who used to deliver vegetables in their truck around Riverstone. At one stage he helped deliver soft drinks but his main job for many years was working at Villawood Textiles, which later was relocated to the Riverstone Meatworks. It was at the Textiles that his daughter Fay met her husband, John Priora.
When Flo Belshaw’s granddaughter Joyce Leach married Ern Nichols in 1953, she welcomed the young newlyweds into her cottage for several years until they were able to afford their own home. Joyce and Ern eventually purchased the block next door and Maud with Jack, moved to the bottom block of Flo’s, facing Edward Street, building a small basic one-bedroom cottage.
In the mid-1960s Flo’s eldest surviving daughter Edna, with her husband Arthur Green, moved into the house in Melbourne Road. In her old age, she suffered with heart disease and died in 1969 from a heart attack, aged 82.
When the family moved to Riverstone, they requested to have Artie’s name inscribed on the monument in Riverstone, even though it was recorded on the Rosebery monument. Recorded out of order, it was added after the WW2 monument was established so that the family could commemorate their son, brother and uncle in their new home of Riverstone.
In 1878 Benjamin Richards founded the Riverstone Meat Works. The company flourished and when in the 1930s Australia suffered from the Great Depression men flocked to Riverstone seeking employment. By the 1940’s there was full employment in the town and families were settled and their futures guaranteed. From these men descended the sons and daughters who made Riverstone the strong town it is today the Rivo boys and Girls. Historically the first families of Riverstone.
Steam trains disgorged the meat workers in the early morning some rushing up the road to be picked up for a day’s work on the gate. Those who had already settled in the area rode their bicycle through the gate to the shrill sound of a siren which timed their shifts for 24 hours.
I went to school in ‘Rivo’ in the 1940’s and mingled with the sons and daughters of these stalwart families. Now, as an octogenarian, I try to relive those memories of when I mingled with the Rosas, Jennings, Strachans, Shields, Wheelers, Freemans, Podestas, Schofields, Banks, Floyds, Neils, Freemans, Guntons, Mills, Sandilands, Nichols, Follets, Shepherds, Crouch, Cartwrights, Doolans, Lewis, Stacey, Bottles, Hilton, Donohue, Bradleys, Tozer, Tracey, Willis, Cook, Britton, Woods, Watton, Rumery, Davis, Mangold, Leach, Phillis, McNamara and Anderson. Truly some of the first families of Riverstone.
Every morning we walked to school, the boys never seemed to wear shoes and had the freedom of stepping in puddles or kicking stones along the way. Some of the more glamorous 6th Class girls sported a pair of their older sisters’ “wedgies” however we girls with more conservative mothers were made to endure the indignity of lace up shoes with socks. School was the impressive grey building on the corner of Garfield and Piccadilly Roads proudly announcing on the front its heritage as 1928. A large asphalt assembly area at the rear of the building gave access to the weather sheds, the bubblers, wash basins and the lavatories which were emptied each week by the dunny truck. The entire facility was surrounded by vacant land Piccadilly Street, was still a dirt track and main sport in the playground for girls was hopscotch, fly, hop step and a jump and basketball later known as netball.
On the front wall of one of the weather sheds was attached the hand rung bell which was rung six times a day. It was always a privilege usually awarded to the boy who sat up the straightest when it was announced – “time for the bell” – to run from the class room across the asphalt area up the two steps to the weather shed and belt hell out of the bell.
More strenuous and active sports were indulged in across the road from the school where the Riverstone pool is now located. I remember quiet plainly, there stood on the corner of Market and Piccadilly streets, one of the largest trees in the district. It was here the girls played Rounders and Vigoro. This land was traversed by a creek and on the other side of the creek the boys played football, cricket and an all-in game of chasings.
In the 1940s one sport brought the town together and that was football played on a Sunday afternoon on the football field surrounded by the trotting track with a few wooden seats placed around the sideline fence. In the early 1950s cars began to appear and a proud girlfriend could always be spotted sitting on the bonnet of a newly purchased Holden. Sometimes the sideline was more exciting than the game, especially when Mrs Britton brought down the opposition with her umbrella, if they looked like threatening her son Lesley. In 1976 football united the town again when Riverstone High School University Shield team successfully played their way through to the Grand Final only to be defeated by Tamworth.
Sixty years later most of those early Rivo boys of the 40s and 50s are gone, however it was my privilege to be able to talk with Robbie Shepherd – Secretary and Life Member of the Riverstone Football Club after 30 years of service from 1962-1992.
Robert (Robbie) Shepherd was born on 29th November 1940 the son of Ann Marie Reilly and Garnet James Shepherd. He attended Riverstone school then on to Parramatta Junior Boys High which later changed the name to Macquarie Boys High. On completing his Intermediate Certificate his father obtained a job for him at the meat works on the mutton board, dressing out sheep and lambs. This job entailed gutting the animals for which he was paid the equivalent of $2 a beast. Robbie decided the job was not for him so he left and obtained a job at the Clyde Railway workshop however the conditions were not much better, as he was constantly working in steam and smoke and lasted only two days!
Finally, he in 1957 he saw in the Jobs Vacant Section an advertisement for an Apprentice electrician with the Commonwealth Dept. of Works at the RAAF base at Richmond. He started his Apprenticeship and later moved to the Navy base at Nirimba where he spent 5 years. Now a qualified electrician he transferred back to Richmond as Senior Leading Hand. He worked as Operations Centre Manager in Artarmon and retired in 1989 back at Richmond. Robbie did not play football but as a dedicated worker behind the scenes 1962 he stood beside such Riverstone sports leader as Basil Andrews, Eric Gunton, Michael Petro, Lyle Cunich, Georgie Simpson, Mick Shield and Dessie Cartwright.
One of the most revered personalities of Riverstone has always been Dessie Cartwright who sadly passed away in 2018. Dessie was everything which epitomises a Rivo Boy. Born and bred in Riverstone, worked at the meat works and played football all his life. I was able to discuss Dessie’s early life with one of his sisters, Blanche Buchanan, a member of our Historical Society. I also drew on Clarrie Neal’s Football Book, to pick up details of Riverstone Rugby League Club.
Born in Riverstone on Christmas Eve 1933 he was eldest child of six girls and two boys born to Magdalene Rose (Anderson) and Alfred Francis Cartwright. His father Alfie Cartwright better known as “Stumpy” was a skilled leather worker his clients travelling from around NSW to have their harness made and/or repaired by Stumpy.
The highlight of Dessie’s his life was his marriage to Dawn (Doreen) O’Brien on 6th February 1960 in St. John’s Catholic Church Riverstone and he naturally held his wedding reception in the Riverstone Footballers hall (now demolished).
Dessie attended Riverstone school then went onto Richmond High, waiting only until he was 15yrs old and able to leave school, which could not come quick enough for him. He started work at the Meat Works as soon as he turned 15 and worked as a slaughterman in the Mutton House rising through the ranks to Foreman
Clarrie Neal, in discussions with Dessie records, “the 1950s was a golden era for Riverstone Club winning A grade and A Reserve Premiership in 1956 coached by Bobby Hobbs. Training was a serious business in those days after training Mick Woods would boil up a large pot of meat extract for the boys.” Dessie played his first game of organised footfall in 1951 as a 17-year-old and began a lifelong association with the club, playing and coaching juniors. He was elected President in 1969 and held the position until 1973. He was awarded Life Membership of the Club in 1973.
He and Dawn with their four children Patricia, John Peter and Janette settled in Dingle Street, Riverstone where Des, a keen bird fancier, spent many hours in his back-yard aviary breeding and raising Canaries, Budgies and Finches. Sadly, they lost their son Peter in an accident. His children and grandchildren have also excelled in the sporting field. His daughters introducing him to Netball and John has carried on his father’s love of football. As a Netball coach for his daughter Patricia, many a Saturday on the sideline, I was advised on team strategies.
Riverstone in 40s and 50s was a small close-knit community, then a town where workers knew the security of having a job for a life time, sons following fathers and uncles into a job at the ‘works’. Hard working men and women who established history in a small community which must never be allowed to fade into suburbia. A town where some 80 years later I proudly recall Rivo Boys.