When the war broke out in 1914, the churches were asked if they would deliver telegrams to servicemen’s families from the Australian Imperial Forces. Church leaders readily agreed that they were the best people to bring such news; a decision many of the clergy would regret.
The Rocks and Millers Point was a working class area and the vast majority of the residents were Catholic. The local Priest, Father Jean-Pierre (Peter) Picquet was tasked to bring the Catholic families in the area the bad news of dead, missing or wounded fathers, sons and brothers.
Father Picquet had been at St Patricks, which still stands on the corner of Grosvenor and Harrington Street, since 1880. He was well-loved, and had married, baptised and buried many of the community.
His presence may very well have helped soften the blow to the many families who lost their loved ones. Mrs Leahy in Upper Fort Street lost her son Edward, who died of wounds in February 1917. His file contained a telegram asking Father Picquet to “Please inform and convey deep regret of their Majesties the King and Queen and Commonwealth Government in the loss that she (Mrs Leahy) and the Army have sustained by the death of soldier.”
For those families whose religion was not covered by the local churches, it was up to the local police to deliver news. The sight of a policeman at the door was terrifying enough for most women at the time, but when they brought a telegram telling of their loved one’s death it must have been almost unbearable.
Regardless of who brought the news, or how well loved they were, by the end of the war women would actively avoid the priests and not answer their doors. There were many stories of women fainting when they saw the priest or minister coming down their street.