The Malvern Town Hall

August 4th, 2013 | Photos, Sunnyside, Web Gilbert

To recap briefly, my interest in the sculptor Web Gilbert stems from my fascination with the life and works of the Australian poet C. J. Dennis. Both Dennis and Gilbert were beneficiaries of the extensive largesse of Garry and Roberta Roberts, renowned patrons of the arts, and both spent time at the Roberts’ “Sunnyside” retreat in the Dandenong Ranges. It can be assumed they were good friends – at least for a time.

This online biography of Web Gilbert is extremely helpful:
http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gilbert-charles-marsh-web-nash-6377

Amongst many other things, it tells us that Gilbert was responsible for the marble sculpture at the Malvern Town Hall.

However, you will not find Gilbert’s name mentioned on this sculpture. Instead, there stands the name of Paul Montford, an English born sculptor.

Gilbert died suddenly in 1925. At the time of his death, he was working on an Anzac memorial to be erected at Port Said, Egypt. It was completed by Paul Montford. Can we assume, then, that the Malvern Town Hall statue was also completed by Montford after Gilbert’s death? To support this theory, the statue is dated 1930, well after Gilbert died.

Towards the end of WW1 the Roberts’ oldest son, Frank, enlisted in the AIF. Frank was the live-in manager of “Sunnyside”, and was married at the time, to Ruby. Furthermore, Ruby was pregnant. Eventually, she would give birth to a girl, Nancy.

There was no pressure on Frank Roberts to volunteer for service. Single men were expected to enlist, but not married men. Nevertheless, he felt it to be his patriotic duty.

Web Gilbert was by now living in London, and Frank spent some time staying with him before heading off to the Western Front.

Tragically, Frank Roberts was killed at the Battle of Mont St. Quentin, about a month before the signing of the Armistice. He never got to see his daughter.

This battle was one of General Sir John Monash’s most famous victories, and the sculptor, Web Gilbert, was commissioned to make a statue to commemorate it. Gilbert wrote to Frank’s father, Garry, telling him that he planned to model the soldier in the statue on Frank. However, the historian Peter Stanley has suggested that, for whatever reason, this may not in fact have actually happened.

The statue at the Malvern Town Hall is very interesting. On the left a young mother sits cradling a baby. On the right, a soldier stands, in full uniform, with face down. Am I drawing too long a bow to suggest that the figures on the left are Ruby and Nancy, and that on the right Frank?

Or is the sculpture really by Paul Montford after all?

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