Prior to the Great War, Peterborough was one of the busiest single-track railways in the world.
The locomotive depot worked around the clock, with men employed in all aspects of the rail industry – everyone from drivers and engineers to clerks and cleaners. When war broke out, well over 100 men enlisted from the depot, including the three Hass brothers whose names appear on the depot’s honour roll.
The unusual scroll-shaped honour roll hangs in the diesel shed at the Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre in Peterborough.
Meticulously hand painted, it is thought to be the work of railway painters at the Islington workshop, who had decorated the similarly designed Cockburn Honour Roll.
The original location of the honour roll is believed to have been the barracks, but with the decline of the depot in the 1970s it was placed in the town hall until its removal to the present site in the 1990s.
Reverend Peter Hass was a pastor at the local Lutheran church who had to publically defend his family background and the integrity of his three sons.
A number of letters were written by John Taylor of the All-British League to the Petersburg Times, hinting at a perceived disloyalty to the Empire and Peterborough.
Assertions were made that the Hass brothers were disloyal to Peterborough, passing themselves off as Australians of Danish parents when they enlisted in Adelaide.
In reply Reverend Hass wrote that he was born in the Duchy of Schleswig, when it was in union with Denmark. When Schleswig was annexed by Prussia he went to America and took citizenship.
His three sons were born at Greenville, Wisconsin. In 1906 he immigrated to Australia to take up a ministry and became ‘a naturalised subject of the King of England’.
Two of his sons had enlisted in Adelaide, but not out of disrespect for Peterborough.
Egon had to have a final medical examination in Adelaide and enlisted there; Albert had enlisted while there on a holiday.
In the northern autumn of 1917, the Hass family’s lives were changed forever. On the night of 20–21 September they lost their eldest son, Albert, in the Battle of Menin Road in Belgium.
Ten days later their youngest son, Egon, was seriously wounded. Then their middle son, Walter, was killed at Passchendaele Ridge on 12 October.
The pressure to eliminate all things German caused sixty-nine South Australian towns with German names to change or anglicise them under the Nomenclature Act of 1917, and Petersburg became Peterborough.
From the Steamtown Heritage Rail Centre, 1 Telford Avenue, Peterborough SA, 5422
Printed with permission: Department of Veteran Affairs, Anzac Portal, anzacportal.dva.gov.au