Three civilians by the names of Edward Kirkby, Walter Hannam and Reginald Wilkinson have been honoured on a new plaque in Sydney’s south, recognising their involvement as the signallers who played an integral part in the first successful military wireless signal transmitted in NSW.
Sutherland Shire Council supported a grant application by the Shire Military History Club to secure NSW Government funding for the creation of the plaque and co-hosted the unveiling event on Thursday morning.
Around 80 guests attended Veno Street Reserve in Heathcote as the commemorative plaque was unveiled by Sutherland Shire Mayor, Councillor Carmelo Pesce, Member for Heathcote, Lee Evans, representatives from the Shire Military History Club and a descendant of Edward Kirkby.
In 1910, the Australian Army experimented successfully with sending the wireless signal from an overhanging rock ledge near Waterfall to a tent near Heathcote railway station. Prior to this, the Army used flags (semaphore) or Morse code by light flashes (heliographs) to send signals.
George Taylor, then a Lieutenant in the Army Intelligence Corp, was interested in how technology could assist during war and was determined to prove the value of wireless signals in notifying troops of impending threats and enemy movements.
With no wireless skills himself, Taylor decided to call in the expertise of Kirkby, Hannam and Wilkinson to conduct the test during an annual artillery camp at Heathcote.
“Today is an important moment in our local history, where we can formally acknowledge the important role these three skilled civilians played in sending the first military wireless signal in NSW,” said Mayor Pesce.
“The hard work of these men will now be recognised, alongside Lieutenant Taylor, for many years to come and Council is proud to have supported this initiative of the Shire Military History Club and Kirkby family.”
The NSW Government provided $1,800 to the Shire Military History Club as part of the 2018-19 Anzac Community Grants Program to assist with the production of the plaque.
“A total of $50,000 is currently available for projects across the state through the recently announced 2019-20 Anzac Community Grants Program, and this plaque honours the gentlemen who successfully demonstrated wireless communication signals in Morse code to a group of senior officers attending the 1910 Heathcote artillery annual encampment,” said Mr Evans.
A single plaque already exists at the Veno Street Reserve Memorial, recognising Lieutenant Taylor.
Clive Baker, President of the Shire Military History Club, said the club was proud to help give recognition to everyone who was involved in this historical event.
“The addition to the current memorial to include recognition of the civilians involved in this event was raised by Brian Kirkby, a descendant of inventor Edward Kirkby, and the club supported the project by raising the extra costs required for the plaque,” Mr Baker said.
“Our local members, including Frank Purvis and the late John Risebow, did significant research for this project and we would like to see more descriptive plaques for Sutherland Shire, to help residents recognise the local military history and the sacrifices made by our past residents.”
The 2019-20 Anzac Community Grants Program, which closes on 11 November 2019, provides grants of up to $2,000 for projects that recognise Australia’s military service, educate a new generation and support the NSW veteran community.
Community groups, RSL sub-branches, schools and councils across New South Wales are encouraged to apply.
“It is important the service and sacrifice of current and former NSW military personnel and our Anzac heritage, is remembered and protected in the community,” Mr Evans added.