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Honouring Victorian lawyers who fought in World War One

17 October 2014

Memorial boardA large wooden honour board hangs proudly in the foyer of the William Street entrance to Victoria’s Supreme Court. On it, written in delicately-penned gold script, are the names of 159 members of the state’s legal profession who fought – and in several cases, died – during World War One. 

Until now, little has been known about many of these men, including the work they carried out within the legal system.

But to help mark the centenary of the beginning of WWI this year, and to acknowledge the many Victorian lawyers who fought alongside the Allied troops between 1914-18, biographies of these men have been written as part of the Stories from the memorial board (External link) online project.

Supreme Court Archives and Records Manager Joanne Boyd, along with project officers Nicole Lithgow and Wendy Atkins, have spent the past 18 months researching every name that appears on the memorial board. 

Crocker and the sphinxThe researchers discovered that Francis ‘Frank’ Murphy was regarded as one of Melbourne’s most promising lawyers when he enlisted for national service in 1915. 

Murphy is among 22 serving lawyers who never made it home from the Great War. The 28-year-old solicitor died soon after an enemy shell landed in the trench he was in at Pozières in the Somme Valley in France on August 22, 1916. 

Also killed on the front line was Captain Robert ‘Clive’ Crocker (pictured, middle row, fourth from right) who was admitted to practice law in 1913. He enlisted in the following year, aged 27, but when his unit landed in Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, Crocker was shot in the shoulder. Despite being operated on soon after, he succumbed to his injuries. 

Many lawyers who returned from the trenches went on to play leading roles in Australia’s legal system. In addition to becoming the head of naval intelligence in 1917, John Latham was knighted and went on to become the Chief Justice of the High Court. He also helped draft the Treaty of Versailles and was with Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes when he signed the peace accord at the end of WWI. 

8th Battalion in the trenches May 1917The researchers obtained information about the 159 men, along with photos of many of them, through the National Archives of Australia, the Australian War Memorial, the National Library of Australia as well as local historical societies, among many other resources. 

The project was made possible thanks to a funding grant from the Victoria Law Foundation.(External link)

The project team hopes descendants of the lawyers featured – as well as anyone else with information about them – will come forward so their biographies can be enhanced. 

More Supreme Court news

Read more about the project

Visit the Stories from the memorial board website (External link)

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