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14th May 2015

Spirit of ANZAC

Premier’s Spirit of Anzac Prize 2015 – Ms Julie Henley

"What these men did nothing can alter now. The good and the bad, the greatness of their story will stand. Whatever of glory it contains, nothing now can lessen. It rises, as it will always rise, above the mists of ages, a monument to great-hearted men; and, for their nation, a possession for ever." CW Bean

It is only four weeks since I returned home from an inspirational 14 day study tour of Lemnos, Gallipoli and the Western Front as a member of the’ Premier’s Spirit of Anzac Prize 2015’.  In February this year I was honoured to be invited to Parliament House in Melbourne for this annual award as one of only two Victorian secondary school teachers (Mr Brendan Bawden from Damascus College in Ballarat was the other teacher for the tour) selected to accompany twelve outstanding Year 10 and 11 students, from schools across Melbourne and Regional Victoria.  Also joining us on this tour were Ms Sharon Knight (Member for Wendouree and Victorian Anzac Committee member), John Lord (retired Rear Admiral Australian Navy), Lee Webb (Vietnam veteran and Victorian Anzac Committee member), Rowena Vagg (Tour Organiser Department of Veterans’ Affairs) and Ms Rebecca Wheatley (War Historian Monash University).

Our group tracked the journeys of World War 1 nurses at Lemnos, discovered quiet war graves tucked away up green laneways in Mudros where tulips bloomed, wandered the coastline at Anzac Cove, walked through Polygon Wood, climbed the mounds of earth at Hill 60 and laid wreaths and sang the National Anthem at a ceremony at Belgium’s Menin Gate. We visited the Shrapnel Valley grave of Major Hugh Quinn, 15th Battalion, who was shot dead by Turkish forces, and commemorated the life of Private Hugh Brian O’Donnell, 11th Battalion, who was killed at age 16. We walked amongst beautifully tended Commonwealth War Graves and reflected on the terrible cost of war.

We felt the enormity and the personal loss of this conflict from many different perspectives; we visited cemeteries and memorials for Turkish, German, French, English and Canadian soldiers in addition to our own dear Australian memorial sites.  Each member of our party commemorated a fallen soldier at one of the many Commonwealth War Graves sites we visited across four countries.  It was a very intense and moving experience to walk in the footsteps of the Australian nurses and young men who had served their country so long ago. We made many new Turkish, Belgian, French and Greek friends along the way.

I found the graves and memorials of four soldiers, who were very important to my family, on the Western Front in France.  They included: Corporal Francis Patrick Greet M.M. (my grandmother’s childhood friend) whose grave was located at Reninghelst New Military Cemetery; Private Douglas Campbell Affleck (my grandfather’s dearest friend) whose name was recorded at VC Corner Australian Cemetery in Fromelles; my great uncle Private Charles Victor Henley who served at Gallipoli and then lost his life at Flers on the Western Front in 1916; and my husband’s great uncle Private Alfred Ernest Tuttleby both names are recorded on the wall at Villers Bretonneux.

Nothing can prepare you for the immensity of this experience and the overwhelming reality of the finality which resonates within you as you walk through the seemingly endless headstones and read the moving epitaphs recorded there by their loved ones: ‘Still with love our souls are linked’, ‘A life made beautiful by kindly deeds’, ‘Those who knew him best, loved him most’.  As a mother who loves her children deeply, these simple words moved me greatly.

It was truly a great privilege to be part of a group of like-minded individuals travelling to legendary WW1 sites to gain a better understanding of such a momentous chapter in our nation’s history.  Our Anzacs have not been forgotten; an amazing opportunity such as the ‘Premier’s Spirit of Anzac Prize’ continues to ensure that their story will go on beyond our next generation. My most sincere thanks go to our Premier, Mr Daniel Andrews for his ongoing support of this remarkable educational program. If you would like to learn more about my recent experiences I will be hosting an evening at Collins Books on Thursday June 11 from 6.30 pm.  Bookings can be made directly through Collins Books in Bairnsdale.  Lest We Forget.  Ms Julie Henley, Teacher ‘Australia At War’.