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Anzac Sunday

The landing at Gallipoli was on Sunday 25th April 1915. Many towns are choosing to hold a Remembrance ceremony on the day in addition to the Dawn services held on the date. Such a town is West Wallsend in New South Wales. On my arrival here on Sunday 22nd April I found that it had not changed much since I last visited 50 years ago.

Situated in the beautiful Hunter valley, it's origins, like so many surrounding towns, centred on the coal mining industry. A whole culture seems to have been plucked bodily from Wales in the UK and set into the Hunter valley to mine the rich lode of coal in the Newcastle seams. Nearby town names like Aberglassyn, Abermain, Pelaw Main, Stanford Merthyr and Aberdare provide witness to a strong Welsh presence.


  On Sunday, 22nd April 2001, a grey, overcast day, there was a special commemorative service to remember 1857 Hunter Valley coal miners and 2678 Hunter Valley men who served in France and Belgium during World War 1. As possibly every other town in Australia the people of West Wallsend, on Anzac Sunday were gathering to honour their own.

Newcastle-based military historian, David Dial, spoke of how 1348 Hunter men were drafted into the 34th Battalion (known as Maitland's own) and 1330 Hunter men in the 35th (Newcastle's Own). Among the many battles in which the battalions fought with distinction were Messines in June 1917, Passchendaele in October 1917 and Villers-Brettoneux in April 1918. He told of the recruiting drive called the 'Wallaby March' covering hundreds of miles across New South Wales.

The recruits marched from town to town gathering in number as they went and swelling like a river in flood. There was a passion, fervour and excitement at the chance of 'Defending the Empire'.
  Only the very fit lent themselves to this recruiting experience. And, fit they were; John Masefield, pointing out that the Anzacs had had no more than six months' training, wrote:
"They were, however, the finest body of young men ever brought together in modern times. For physical beauty and nobility of bearing they surpassed any men I have ever seen; they walked and looked like the kings in old poems, and reminded me of the line in Shakespeare, `Baited like eagles having lately bathed'."
The 'Roll of Honour" was read as a lone piper played 'Amazing Grace' and 'Waltzing Matilda' while around the Memorial page after page of names of those from the 34th and 35th Battalions were displayed. Against the name of each soldier who was killed in action (one in five) a small flag was embedded.
The ceremony concluded with a young trumpeter (perhaps 15 years old) playing the 'Last Post' and reveille. He was very nervous. I noticed his right leg shaking under his baggy trousers as he played. He did a sterling job.

All visitors were then invited into the nearby Worker's Club in West Wallsend for afternoon tea.

There were possibly less than one hundred people in attendance but the occasion was in no way diminished by such a small gathering.
It possessed the same degree of reverence which marks all the other ceremonies in towns, villages, hamlets and cities across Australia and New Zealand and in parts of Great Britain, at Gallipoli itself and at Villers-Brettoneux and many other parts of the world.
There is a respectful saying in Villers-Brettoneux, "Never forget Australia".

Lieut.General Peter Cosgrove, leader of the Australian peace-keeping forces in East Timor and Australian of the year for 2001 is quoted as having said about Anzac day: "It is now not the sole possession of the veterans, probably never has been. It's not the possession of the armed forces, although we are to some degree custodians of Anzac Day. It is where it ought to be and probably has been spiritually for generations, the possession of the peoples of Australia and New Zealand."

There are very few Australians indeed who would find quarrel with this statement.

John Woods 23/04/01