Each year I am invited to attend the Combined Newcastle Schools ANZAC Commemoration Ceremony held at the Civic Theatre. Whilst I am not always able to attend this annual ceremony, I certainly try to get to as many as I can.
The compelling aspect of this commemoration is the manner in which the students from the Catholic, state and non-government secondary schools in the city portray through drama and music the terrors, tragedies and futility of war.
This year, the theme of the ceremony focused on the upcoming centenary of the Battle of Fromelles, which was the first engagement of Australian troops on the Western Front in France in July 1916.
This battle featured the greatest loss of Australian lives in a single night with almost 2000 men losing their lives and over 3000 wounded.
The way in which the students portrayed the tragedy of Fromelles was spellbinding. There were 1400 mainly primary school students in attendance and there was not a sound from them throughout the hour long ceremony.
Most importantly this production reflected strongly on the utter devastation of war and its impact on the troops involved and on their parents and family members back in Australia.
This was made particularly relevant as present in the audience were family members of soldiers from the 30th Battalion of the 5th Australian Division which was made up mainly of men from Newcastle and the Hunter district. Many of these men had been listed as missing, believed dead as they had no known grave. The work of a former teacher Lambis Englezos in locating mass grave sites behind German lines in the battle fields and encouraging the Australian and British Governments to act on his discoveries has led to the identification of many of these Hunter men.
Lambis was present as an honoured guest and was visibly moved by the quality and realism of the students’ portrayal of this tragic piece of Australian history.
This annual commemoration provides senior students from the city’s secondary schools with an incredible leadership and educational experience which they then pass on to their audience of fellow students and community members through their creative and performing arts skills.
To all involved in the organisation of this superb recognition of the tragedy and senselessness of war, I extend my sincere congratulations.