Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Mail Newspaper Column - Memorials to the Fallen - 20 April 2021

A century ago the families of the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges were coming to terms with grief and heartache that consumed them in the aftermath of the First World War.

The diggers who had survived were home. Nearly 160,000 of them had been injured.

62,000 had been killed.

Our local communities built memorials inscribing each of their names. Cenotaphs, avenues of honour, memorial halls were completed in lasting memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

In Mt Evelyn, the Avenue of Honour was planted in 1918 and 1919. The cenotaphs in Yarra Glen and Yarra Junction were unveiled in October 1921. Lilydale’s cenotaph was officially unveiled in 1922, as was Warburton’s. In Healesville, the Memorial Hall was opened in 1924 and many other towns and villages followed suit.

For the loved ones of those killed there was no gravesite to visit. These memorials, scattered across our communities, were the only connection to their lost sons, brothers, husbands, relatives and friends.

From that time on, generations have gathered in quiet respect on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day to pay tribute to those first Anzacs and all who have followed them.

It was during the battle of Pozieres in 1916, that a mortally wounded Australian soldier asked Charles Bean, Australia’s official war historian this question:

“Will they remember me in Australia?”

Hearing this, Bean resolved to ensure that the finest memorial to our fallen Anzacs would be built after the war. He was later instrumental in the establishment of the Australian War Memorial.

The Australian War Memorial lists every name of every Anzac that paid the ultimate price. Every afternoon there is a last post ceremony dedicated to the story of a single serviceman who was killed.

As we reflect in the lead up to Anzac Day this coming Sunday, I am reminded of what Charles Bean wrote after the war: “What these men did, nothing can alter now. The good and the bad; the greatness and the smallness of their story; it rises, it always rises, above the mists of time …… a monument to great-hearted men; and, for their nation, a possession forever.”

If you are near a cenotaph during the week, take the time to pause and read the names of those who lived in your town who gave their lives so that we could remain young and free.

My annual primary school Anzac Essay prize has been renamed the Don Parsons Memorial Anzac Essay Prize in honour of the former Lilydale RSL President, the late Don Parsons who passed away last year.

The topic this year is ‘why are war memorials significant to local communities?’

A committee will judge the entries this week and the winner will be announced prior to Anzac Day.

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