Anzac Day 1917 was celebrated at Cobar Public School with the unveiling of a Roll of Honor which listed the names of former pupils who had enlisted for World War I.
Among them was Corporal Christopher Askew. At the time the teachers, pupils and local dignitaries at the ceremony didn’t know that Cpl Askew had just been recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM).
On April 2, Cpl Askew, at great risk to himself, had rescued a party of Australian soldiers pinned down by German gunfire.
For his great courage, he was recommended for the DCM on April 17 and awarded the medal in May.
He was not the only former Cobar Public School pupil to be honoured that year.
On May 3 and 4, Samuel ‘Mick’ Amourous was a runner, carrying vital messages through heavy shell and gunfire.
For this, he was awarded a Military Medal. It was no fluke – a year later, he was awarded a Bar to his Military Medal for further bravery.
On the same day that Mick Amourous was dodging bullets, George Benham, a 43-year-old shearer from Cobar, was wounded four times but stayed with his gun and kept back a German advance.
He also received the Military Medal.
Later that year Alex Lilley and Tom Ryan, both miners from Nymagee, were each awarded the DCM.
Alex was a stretcher bearer who repeatedly, under direct gunfire, went out into no-man’s-land to rescue the injured while Tom single-handedly rushed and captured a German machine gun.
Cpl Jim Carroll, another on the school’s Honor Roll, successfully led his section against a strong enemy position and received the Military Medal. Notifications of awards were always sent to the next-of-kin. Jim’s was sent to his only relative, his younger brother Joe, also a serving soldier. But by then Joe was dead – he had died of wounds in hospital in London.
Chris, George, Alex, Tom, Mick and Jim all returned to Australia and Cobar, but Chris and George were the only ones who remained in the area. George, who had been badly wounded and had his right leg amputated, struggled to make a living. Chris took up a soldier settlement block where he lived for the rest of his life. His modest headstone in Cobar cemetery makes no reference to his medal.
Tom lived and worked in Condobolin.
Alex lived in Queensland, dying there in 1959, while Jim went to Sydney. Jim returned to Cobar for the town’s anniversary celebrations in 1969, when he donated Joe’s bronze memorial plaque and a scroll to the museum.