A tiny community in Queensland’s Scenic Rim bears a largely unknown story of terrible sacrifice made 100 years ago, where almost every family paid a price.
The town of Maroon suffered one of the greatest losses of any community in World War I, with 40 per cent of the men enlisted from the town never returning.
After decades of generations not wanting to talk about the war, the district has now come to peace with its past.
People from Maroon commemorate the 17 men from the town who were lost in World War I. (ABC News: Laura Gartry)
Ahead of the centenary of armistice, the town is bonded by the tragedy of war, with the next generation bringing the story to life.
‘They were the youth’
Australia’s population was less than 5 million when war broke out in 1914.
Out of the small population, 416,000 men enlisted, 60,000 were killed and 156,000 were wounded, gassed or captured.
Almost no community was left unscathed by the trauma and loss caused by the Great War, but Maroon was one of the hardest hit.
Out of the 35 families that lived there, 42 men joined up and 17 were killed from the small dairy district.
Eight sets of brothers and numerous cousins set out and many did not survive.
Australian soldier George Slatter, originally from Maroon, was killed in France in WWI. (Supplied: Slatter family)
Descendant Peter Slatter said “they were the youth”, and the loss had a huge impact on the local workforce and farming community.
“This was before mechanical help, the properties were being run by them virtually,” Mr Slatter said.
Dozens of relatives of the lost men of Maroon, including the Harvey family, still live in the area.
Maroon resident Raymond Harvey stands in front of the town’s honour board. (ABC News: Laura Gartry)
Five of the eight grandsons from the local pioneering couple never came home.
“They were just kids, weren’t they? In their 20s. I can’t believe it. The terror they faced,” descendant Raymond Harvey said.
“Terrible, but I guess with those big families they just had to move on.”
Australian soldiers George Slatter and Jock Pender dressed in their uniforms before WWI. (Supplied: Slatter family)
Former member for Fassifern, ET Bell, told the town in 1916: “Maroon has responded nobly to the Empire’s call and has sent every available man that could be spared”.
The gallant record of courage and sacrifice impressed the former commander of Australian and New Zealand troops during the Gallipoli campaign, General Sir William Birdwood.
When Sir William opened the town’s memorial in 1920 he told the shattered district “I have heard nothing to equal the splendid record of Maroon”.
“The town was devastated by it, the town is still devastated by it, in the way they have kept the memory of those 17 men alive,” Geoff Whittet from the Boonah RSL said.
The local honour board was made by a father whose son was the first from the community to die, George Rose.
The school today only has eight students, but when there is an event to commemorate the fallen, upwards of 40 locals turn up to support the kids.
Principal Shaan Eldridge said he was “blown away by the community support and the comradery”.
Six students from Maroon State School honour the town’s lost diggers. (ABC News: Laura Gartry)
“They shared that terrible sacrifice and great tragedy, and they rallied together and I think that continues to this day,” Mr Eldridge said.
The students have been working hard to learn the stories of the lost sons of Maroon.
“The people that went to war they are very special to the community,” student Roland Wilson said.
“We know all the people that lost family were very sad.”
Student Leon Tankey said, “it’s like we are losing part of our family, they are part of our community, like family to us”.
While the rest of Australia may not know their story, the people of Maroon are determined the next generation of locals will never forget.