Remembrance Day and the Fryer Library

There is an enduring connection between the Fryer Library and a family from a small town in Queensland whose sons served in World War I. On this Remembrance Day, we remember these young men, their family, and the sacrifices they made.

Library named in honour of former student

John Denis (Jack) Fryer was just 27 when he died in 1923 of tuberculosis brought about by wartime service. He had served in World War I, along with his three brothers Charles Fryer, William Fryer, and Henry Fryer.

The Fryer Memorial Library of Australian Literature was established in 1927 in memory of Jack. Read more about Jack Fryer and the Fryer Library in The Fryer Story

Remembering old friends

A history of the Fryer family and their experiences during World War I is recounted by Melanie Piddocke in her book, Remember Me to All Old Friends. The book includes a foreword by Fryer Librarian Simon Farley:

The hardships experienced by the Fryer family during the dramatic years of the First World War were not unique to them alone. They were far from the only family to lose loved ones in a conflict that would result in 40 million casualties worldwide. In Australia, the entire nation was traumatised by loss on a scale that is hard for us to understand a century later.

As Curator, Military Collections at the State Library of Queensland I was privileged to read many original letters and diaries of soldiers and nurses who served during the Great War. Those who did not make it home would leave families and communities bereft and broken hearts that would never heal. My own Great Grandfather, from Blackall in Central Queensland, survived his war service on the Western Front but was badly wounded and left with deep scars.  

What does make the story of the Fryer family exceptional is the existence of the Fryer Memorial Library at the University of Queensland. The Library was founded in 1927 by Dr Frederick Robinson to honour student and soldier John Denis Fryer whose life and experiences you will read about in the pages that follow. It is a beautiful place of manuscripts and rare books devoted to scholarship. Supporters, including the wonderful Friends of Fryer, have helped to ensure the Library’s literary and historical collections are now among the finest in Australia.

In the lead-up to Anzac Day in 2016, I was honoured to visit Lieutenant Fryer’s family home and his final place of rest. His headstone also records the death of his brother Charlie who was killed in action at Bullecourt on 5 April 1917. At that peaceful little bush cemetery in Springsure I could not help but think of the final sentence of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights…“I lingered round them, under that benign sky… and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” After all he had been through, John had come home to rest.

The ancient Romans in their Justinian Code, describe the archive as, “that place where deeds are deposited so that they may be a continuing memory of that to which they attest.” I am grateful to Dr Melanie Piddocke for publishing this important history based on original archival documents that formed the foundation of the Fryer Memorial Library of Australian Literature. Sacred to the memory of John Denis Fryer. May his name always be associated with light, learning, and peace.


Plaque at Springsure Cemetary (Supplied: Simon Farley)
Simon Farley next to Jack's grave in the Springsure Cemetary, 2016 (Supplied: Simon Farley)
Roll of Honour at The University of Queensland, St Lucia, showing the name of John Denis Fryer (Supplied: Simon Farley)

John Denis Fryer Papers

The Fryer Library houses a collection of primary source materials relating to Jack Fryer. The John Denis Fryer Papers include correspondence, school and university records, and photographs, as well as papers, commissions, and badges relating to his military service in World War I. The collection also includes papers relating to the establishment of the Fryer Library as a memorial to Jack Fryer, and some associated family correspondence and papers.

Items from the collection can be viewed in the John Denis Fryer Papers on UQ eSpace.


Last updated:
11 November 2021