THE Wonthaggi community has once again embraced Anzac Day with hundreds of people attending a dawn service and morning ceremony.
People of all ages recognised the day in strong numbers across the two services, with regular attendees of the dawn service saying it was the biggest ever on a freezing morning.
People who braved the icy conditions were then treated to a gun fire breakfast back at the club.
The morning service, which began with a march from the Graham Street RSL Club to the McBride Avenue cenotaph, was also well attended.
“It was a great day. It was great to see so many young people there and a good contingent of Vietnam veterans there as well,” Wonthaggi RSL president David Weekes said.
“We had a guest speaker, Reverend Barry Smith who is also the RSL Chaplain and a poem read by veteran Nigel Coutts.
“After the morning service, we had light refreshments and two-up was played at the RSL with at least 200 people in the RSL – it was absolutely packed and it was great day.
“There were a lot of volunteers helping in the background. Without their help the day wouldn’t happen.”
Mr Weekes also thanked the Bass Coast Shire Council, Wonthaggi CFA, SES, Police, Scouts, Girl Guides and members from HMAS Cerberus who participated in the morning service.
“And also to Wonthaggi Bunnings who supplied lighting equipment for the dawn service and the small wooden crosses in front of the flags.
“Those white crosses were an old tradition which we have just brought back – each cross represented a name on the cenotaph,” Mr Weekes said.
The Wonthaggi RSL is already preparing for the 100th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli next year.
More photos are available on the Wonthaggi RSL Facebook page.
Loch students pay tribute
THE senior students from Loch Primary, along with those from Foster, attended the Legacy Schools’ Anzac Service at the Shrine in Melbourne last week.
Sponsored by South Gippsland Legacy and coordinated by Sue Loughridge, a bright sunny day enabled the students to participate in the activities in perfect conditions.
Student leaders Lexie Jobling and Hayden Wallis proudly represented Loch with the laying of a wreath at the eternal flame.
On Friday at the local Loch Anzac service the students were again heavily involved with Keeley Johnson reading a moving poem, Noah Wright raising the flag and Georgia Lightowler and Jarrah Standish laying the wreath.
The rest of the student population was also involved through making wreaths in their Cooperative Learning Groups.
These were prominently displayed on the walls of the old Post Office.
Lanterns light the way
AN EXTRAORDINARY event took place at the Loch Memorial Reserve last Thursday night.
Conceived months ago, it was the brainchild of two young Loch women, Helen Cronin and Dianne Jones, who planned to create an event for the town’s kids: a lantern walk past 14 memorial plaques on Anzac Day eve.
The plaques lie at the base of the oak trees that circle the town oval. Each records details of the life and death of a World War Two serviceman or woman.
A ‘Lone Pine’ commemorates the lives of 50 casualties from World War One. To Loch newcomers enjoying a walk around the oval, the names on each plaque might mean little. But not so for people born and bred in the district.
When local identity Greig Barry read about the event in the Sentinel-Times, he contacted the organisers.
He put them in touch with Garry Knox, author of ‘Reserved Space’, a booklet on the reserve and the people remembered there, and Vietnam vet, Tom Loughridge and his wife, Sue, both Legacy members.
The two women were already working with Geoff Birnie, a Memorial Reserve committee member.
The group had two weeks to prepare.
By 6pm on the night of April 24, there were over 250 children and adults milling round, lanterns lit, waiting in the chilly darkness for the event to begin.
Then the roll call started.
Lanterns lighting the foliage above, they stood beneath each tree and looked and listened as each serviceman and woman in turn was brought to life.
A torch illuminated a young face, youth captured forever in a 70 year old photograph.
They hear his name, John Loh; the location of the family farm – Loh’s Road. They learn where he went to school, that he played for the Loch footy team.
And as newcomers listen, the district’s names take on new meaning. Colliers’ Road, Henry’s Road, Loh’s Road: names which might be just any names were named for a family, a farm where a loved son was born, grew up and dreamed his future.
Out of the crowded darkness comes a member of this long dead boy’s family – a grandson, distant cousin or niece – stooping down to lay a wreath. They all have someone; each soldier is connected to family and district still, all those decades on.
Some of those present last Thursday travelled from Melbourne to lay a wreath.
The connections ripple out to include everyone.
They listen to the Last Post and Reveille and see the empty chair at the family table, the furrow not ploughed, the absent voice on the school committee – these rents in the fabric of family and community life; a collective loss.
On that chilly night last Thursday, we truly did remember them.
500 attend penultimate Korumburra dawn service
WE’RE told that next year will be even bigger but the numbers who turned out for the 99th observance of Anzac Day at Korumburra last Friday will be hard to top.
President of the RSL Sub-branch, Kevin Moon, said he estimated the dawn crowd to be a record at around 500 and the numbers who turned out for the 10am service later was also a record.
“I’d like to thank all the parents for making it possible for all the school children to attend,” he said at the dawn service, after a moving rendition of the national anthem’s two verses by the choir from the Korumburra Primary School.
It was also noticeable how knowledgeable the kids are of the ceremony with many of them joining in with “lest we forget” after the famous excerpt from Robert Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’ was read by Mr Moon.
The crowds stood respectfully under the autumn trees in the Queen Street Park while Anglican Minister Reverend Jenny Ramage read her prayer for peace, while Alicia Cruickshank played ‘The Last Post’, while the flag was dropped to half-mast and while Rod Cook laid the first wreath on behalf of the RSL.
And they crowded into the scout hall afterwards for a well-earned breakfast after such an early start.
San Remo service returns
THE handful of community members behind the resurrection of San Remo’s Anzac Day service had expected no more than a few dozen locals to pay their respects at the town’s cenotaph last Friday.
Boy, were they wrong!
Well over 100 people gathered in the foreshore reserve’s dappled shade late in the morning to be part of the first Anzac Day service in San Remo in a decade.
Guest speaker, Bass MP Ken Smith, delivered a stirring oration which included a vivid and haunting re-telling of what it must have been like for young soldiers landing on the shores of Gallipoli 99 years ago.
Newhaven College captain Nicholas Hakansson was also invited to the microphone, speaking of how captivated he was when, as a young teen at a Swedish school, he first heard the story of the Anzacs.
“I may not be from around here, but I was welcomed here, thanks to the Anzacs,” Nicholas told the crowd with a grateful smile.
Retired journalist and long-time San Remo resident Jane Ross, who played a leading role in organising the service, said she felt it was important a public observance of the day in San Remo returned.
She said many older residents and parents with young children may have found it difficult to travel to services at Cowes or Wonthaggi.
“It looks like we’ve struck a chord,” she noted, gazing out at the large gathering.
Ken Smith said he felt honoured to be part of the ceremony in the town he has called home for the past 15 years.
“I just thought it was fantastic when I heard it was starting here again,” he said.
“San Remo is big enough to be able to have its own ceremony.
“I won’t be an MP next year but I might get involved to help organise the next one.”
Organisers are hoping to include a short march for next year’s ceremony.
A day to remember
MANY recognise the sombre strains of the Last Post, and the hopeful reveille.
At the Leongatha Anzac Day Service music was a central part of commemorating the day.
The South Gippsland Shire Brass Band led the march down the main street, the last post and reveille sounded and the music continued in the Memorial Hall.
There were contemporary Anzac songs sung by the brilliantly voiced Paddy Lanigan accompanied by Dorothy Warren on the piano, the excellently led brass band, and the beautiful South Gippsland Singers who sung a very touching song about Ernest Shackleton and his crew.
After two years stuck in the Antarctic Circle, Shackleton and his crew were conscripted or volunteered for WWI.
The Anzac Day commemorations in Leongatha were among the largest yet, with a strong presence of young people, boosted by Cubs, Scouts and Guides who also marched.
The Dawn Service was also the largest in memory, again with many young people attending.
Tom’s story finally told
IT TOOK 45 years for Vietnam War veteran and Loch local Tom Loughridge to share his story.
He shared his awful experiences at the Leongatha Anzac Day commemorations.
While technically not an Australian citizen, having migrated to Australia from Northern Ireland as an 11 year old, Tom Loughridge was required to register for national service as a British subject.
His birthdate was called up and Mr Loughridge was conscripted into the Australian Army.
After 10 weeks’ rookie training, he was transferred to Townsville.
“I was content to see out the rest of my service in Townville as the government of the day had said no more national servicemen would be sent to Vietnam,” he recounted.
“But in the midst of planning a wedding, we were informed a battalion would be going to Vietnam.
“So, 10 years after arriving in Australia, I was on another boat for a very different, and life changing experience.”
Soon after arriving in Vietnam, Mr Loughridge and his company were sent out to an isolated base as a listening post and to disrupt supply trails from Saigon to the south.
The battle Mr Loughridge recounted saw heavy casualties on both sides.
It was with tears in his eyes and voice cracking with emotion he described the death of two great mates.
“All the training in the world could never prepare a soldier for knowing that your mates have died,” he said.
In the 26 days of the Coral-Balmoral battle, Australia lost 25 men and over 100 were wounded.
The base was eventually abandoned.
After 339 days serving in the Army in Vietnam, Mr Loughridge was finally sent home.
It was with mixed emotions. Mr Loughridge explained that he came home – happy to be coming back to loved ones, but sad to leave his other ‘family’ in Vietnam.
“When we came home we were instructed not to say where we had been or what we had seen,” he said, touching on the isolation Vietnam veterans felt.
“It was only through the encouragement of another veteran that in 1987 I marched in the ‘Welcome Home’ parade.
“The horrors of that war will stay with me forever, as will the comradeship that we had.”
Mr Loughridge has since worked tirelessly to keep the comradeship alive with returned servicemen.
He was the first president of the Loch RSL in 1976 and has been the Legacy group president for three terms.
He is also a life member of the RSL.
While it took Mr Loughridge 45 years to share his story, his service and the sacrifice of his mates will now never be forgotten amongst the 500 or so people who attended the Anzac Day service.