A labour of love

The son of a successful businessman, William Knox was raised at ‘Ranfurlie’, a stately home in East Malvern. Knox was educated at Scotch College, one of Melbourne’s most elite schools, and he gave his address as the Melbourne Club on his attestation papers, Melbourne’s most exclusive private club. But William Knox was also a man who made his own way in the world. Expected to fend for himself the moment his education was completed he struggled to keep his wife and child in a manner thought appropriate for middle-class society. Knox was not one of the idle well-to-do but a man of enterprise, integrity, and industry.

Bill Knox felt a deep obligation to serve in the war. But it was particularly difficult to leave his young wife and daughter behind him. Knox loved his baby, Diana. He carried a photograph of her always and addressed her as his ‘Bubby Kins’. In the close world of the trenches, he would stare at that image for hours on end willing it somehow to life.

Throughout the war, Bill Knox wrote to his wife Mildred on an almost daily basis. He described the horrors of the battlefield, the terror of the fighting, but also the love that sustained him in his ordeal. Mildred would read every letter time and again. And in 1916, at great risk and great expense, Mildred and Diana travelled all the way to England. They spent a few precious weeks with Bill on ‘Blighty leave’ from France and the three of them walked the pebbled beach at Bognor.

And then within a matter of months Bill was dead. He was killed in the push on Passchendaele in 1917. A lifetime of grieving lay before Mildred; like thousands bereaved by war, she would not marry again. Diana would grow up without a father – as would thousands of other children, in countries all over the world.