Historic letters reveal a Ballan love story

Mark Latchford signing a copy of Letters to Lily Vale. (Supplied)

By Oliver Lees

Visitors to the Ballan RSL were treated to the book launch of ‘Letters to Lily Vale’ earlier this month, which explores the story of Australian military icon Ernest Latchford’s service during World War One, and his romantic connection to the town of Ballan.

On February 21, more than 40 attendees packed out the RSL to hear from Mark Latchford, Ernest’s grandson, who wrote the book and travelled to the shire from New South Wales specifically to share this story with the community.

The book draws on letters sent from Ernest Latchford to his fiance, Linda Dehnert, while he was serving in Europe during the great war.

The book’s title is a reference to the Dehnert family’s farm, Lily Vale, where Ms Dehnert was living at that time.

“When I was a teenager, my grandmother died. So I went home to Melbourne and found her garage was full of trunks,” Mark said.

“In those trunks, was every letter he wrote to her as a girlfriend, a fiance and a wife.”

As he transcribed each of the letters, Mark gained a clearer understanding of his grandparent’s relationship, and unearthed some unique facts about Ernest’s time in the service.

In 1919, Ernest was the only Australian to travel to Siberia, where he trained Russians who fought against the Blsheviks during the Russian Civil War.

Following the war, Ernest moved to New South Wales where he trained the next generation of service men and women. Latchford Barracks, located eight-kilometres east of Wodonga, is named in his honour.

Mark said he was particularly happy to be able to return to Ballan to share his grandfather’s story, because he’d discovered the town was such a crucial part of his family’s story.

“No matter whether my grandfather was writing from the mud of Passchendaele, the sand of Persia, or the snow of Siberia, he was always reminiscing about life on the farm,” he said.

“He wrote of walking along the creek or going into town to the church. Despite all the horrors, he was always thinking of Ballan.”

Letters to Lily Vale is available for purchase online.

Details: bit.ly/3CclB05