Harris brothers still remembered after 100 years

Rose and Kevin Harwick with their daughter Jackie Slyp and
master chainsaw carver Eddie Freeman in front of the new
sculptures at Magra this morning.

TREE carvings in memory of two Derwent Valley soldiers were unveiled at Magra this morning. The result of several years’ work, the memorial pays tribute to brothers William and Harold Harris who lost their lives in World War I.

The brothers have been immortalised in two sculptures by master chainsaw carver Eddie Freeman, of Ross, who has been doing similar work for more than 30 years.

The project has been driven by Jackie Slyp, a keen historian with a family connection to the brothers. With help from her mother, Rose Hardwick, she researched the soldiers and found $25,000 in sponsorship and grant funding to bring the memorial to fruition.

Guests at the unveiling this morning.

The sculptures replace two pine trees planted in the grounds of the Back River State School in 1920. Later called Magra State School before it finally closed, the building remains at the corner of Back River Rd and Saddle Rd and is now home to the Magra branch of the Country Women’s Association and the Magra Fire Brigade.

The trees were in a poor condition and required regular trimming as powerlines were later installed above them. As part of memorial project, the trees have been reduced to tall stumps to provide platforms for the new sculptures which have been created in each soldier’s likeness.

Sandra Hetherington from Norske Skog, left, Guy Barnett MHA,
Craig Farrell MLC and Brian Mitchell MHR.

Three of the four Harris boys (sons of William and Jane Harris, of Magra) enlisted for service in World War I, all serving as machine-gunners on the Western Front. William Henry Harris was killed in action on February 17, 1918, near Ypres in Belgium. His younger brother, Harold Norman Harris, died as a prisoner of war on September 9, 1918, following his capture at the Battle of Dernancourt in April 1918. Walter Harris returned safely home. The Harris boys were the step-brothers of Ms Slyp’s paternal great-grandfather.

Speaking at the unveiling, Veterans Affairs minister Guy Barnett said the Harris brothers, William and Harold, had enlisted together for service in World War I on the same day in October 1916. Both had served as machine-gunners and both died in 1918. A third brother, Walter, returned safely home to Magra.

Brian Mitchell unveiled the Harold Harris statue.

In June 1920, students of the Back River school planted two trees in honour of the Harris brothers, but after nearly a century in front of the old school, the trees did not have any recognition of their purpose and were in a poor condition.

Ms Slyp said the new carvings by Eddie Freeman respectfully and appropriately acknowledged the supreme sacrifice made by the young men.  Mr Freeman explained that the sculptures had deliberately been placed facing inwards towards the old school, with the men depicted reading and writing, rather than fighting. An interpretation panel sits between the two carvings to provide information about their purpose and the story of the Harris brothers.

Derwent MLC Craig Farrell was master of ceremonies for today’s event, introducing the guest speakers and acknowledging the supporters of the project.

New Norfolk RSL representative Phil Pyke and bugler
John O’Carroll from the Derwent Valley Concert Band.

State Member for Lyons and minister Guy Barnett gave a well-received speech about the Harris brothers and the state’s contribution to World War I, including a special mention of the three Victoria Cross recipients associated with the Derwent Valley: Walter Brown, Percy Statton and Jack Dywer.

He described the area at the old Magra school as hallowed ground. “The students in this school wanted to highlight and commemorate the memory of those two Harris brothers, and that’s what they did. So this is it, we are right here where they went to school,” he said.

Guests and officials after the unveiling of the carvings.

The Federal Member for Lyons, Brian Mitchell, acknowledged Mr Barnett’s interest in military history passion and mentioned the work of Derek Jones who designed the interpretation panel for the new sculptures.  He commended Jackie Slyp and Rose Hardwick on their idea to repurpose the two memorial trees, which had been nearing the end of their life. “This will ensure that we never forget these two boys who went to war and never returned home to this beautiful valley,” Mr Mitchell said.

Mr Farrell then called on Mr Barnett, Mr Mitchell and Sandra Hetherington, representing Norske Skog, to unveil the two sculptures and the interpretation panel. After this, Phil Pyke from the New Norfolk RSL recited The Ode of Remembrance (For The Fallen), and bugler John O’Carroll from the Derwent Valley Concert Band played the Last Post and Reveille. The official proceedings were then followed by lunch in the CWA rooms. 
The view of the sculptures and the old school from the road.

The Harris Brothers Memorial Tree Project has been financially supported by the state and federal governments and Norske Skog Boyer. Support has also been provided by the New Norfolk RSL Sub-Branch, CWA Tasmania, the Magra CWA, and remaining family members.

The same venue last weekend hosted the 50th anniversary of the Magra Fire Brigade.

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