War connections St John's Canberra

Lest we forget...

When the Great War began in Europe in 1914, the first officer graduates of the recently established military college of Duntroon were joined by men from the surrounding pastoral community of Canberra who enlisted to serve overseas in support of the Empire.

St John’s Church, standing on the Limestone Plains since 1845, soon came to provide a much needed community focus for people grieving for those lost in a conflict on the other side of the world. The Church and its Churchyard became, in effect, Canberra’s first memorial to the Great War.

First World War soldiers St John's Canberra
Remembrance Garden Reid Canberra

The remembrance garden at St John's (on the Amaroo Street side of the church) commemorates the many thousands of ANZACS who returned from the First War and who lived out their lives in Australia, especially the forty-three who are buried in the St John's Churchyard.

World War I War Memorial
Anzac grave Ernest Murray

An Anzac who was a member of the first landing party at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 rests in our churchyard. Ernest Murray also fought on the Western Front. He returned to Australia and for the rest of his life suffered from the effects of gas poisoning.

The memorial, situated on the north-western side of the church’s outer wall, is dedicated to the 60 local parishioners who lost their lives during World War I (1914-1918). The parishioners included locals from around the area, as well as staff and officer cadets from the Royal Military College (Duntroon). One of the fallen listed is Major General William Throsby Bridges, the founder of Duntroon College and the firstcommander of the Australian Imperial Force. -  Self Guided Military Memorials in the National Capital (National Capital Authority)


Shards or fragments of stained glass found in the ruins of churches on the battlefields of the Somme - which were carefully gathered and carried back to Canberra in 1918 - now form two windows in St John's Church.


The windows were constructed by glazier Robert Briton, of Kingston, with the glass believed to be more than 200 years old.


Their rescuer, Captain Frederick Greenfield Ward, had witnessed firsthand the destruction of churches in the villages of Doignes, Flers, Beugny and Bapaume.

Reverend Ward was the incumbent minister of St John’s at the outbreak of war and knew many of the Duntroon cadets who attended his services. He enlisted in October 1915 and sailed on the transport ship Beltana for Egypt.


In June 1916 he embarked for France and as Chaplain to the 30th Battalion his duties would have been onerous, particularly when the battalion came under fire. He was continually requisitioned by Brigade Headquarters to read burial services, in different locations and in all sorts of weather.


He kept up the morale of the troops, provided spiritual guidance and comforted the wounded and sick. Throughout the freezing winter of 1916–17 he was instrumental in administering kitchens providing hot soup and drinks to the men, even when he was under heavy fire.

His service file states his actions were recognised by Sir Douglas Haig with a Mention in Despatches in March 1917 for his work at Waterlot Park during November and December 1916. His later work at Delville Wood, Bapaume and Bugny was recognised the following September with the award of the Military Cross.


The citation in part reads ‘although under heavy shell fire he never failed in administering to the comfort of the troops ... The untiring energy and devotion to duty displayed by this Officer during the winter campaign in the Somme, won for him the admiration of all ranks’.

In ill health he was evacuated to England in May 1917 and following surgery he was invalided home and discharged from the army in January 1918.

The windows were Reverend Ward’s parting gift to St John's when he left the parish in 1929.

stained glass window St John's Canberra

Major-General Sir William Bridges was mortally wounded at Gallipoli on 15 May 1915. He is seen here lying-in-state in St John's on 3 September 1915 before being buried on Mount Pleasant.

Second World War Remembrance Book

A memorial which records the names of Canberra Anglicans who served in the Second World War are recorded in this hand-printed book. It is housed in a shrine which was a gift from Lady White and her family, in memory of Sir Cyril Brudenell Bingham White, Chief of Staff of the Australian Military Forces, who lost his life in an aircraft crash near Canberra in 1940.

Regimental colours St John's Canberra
Regimental colours St John's Canberra

The regimental colours on the left were presented to the Corps of Staff Cadets at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, by Queen Elizabeth II on 17 February 1954. The colours on the right are the original colours of the 3rd Infantry Battalion, the Werriwa Regiment, a unit that has had a long association with Canberra and the region. The silk Union flag was presented in 1919 by King George V to all Australian infantry battalions that fought through to the end of the First World War.