Students Consider Going Off To War

Primary and secondary students in Catholic schools responded enthusiastically to a diocesan-wide invitation to reflect on what it means to go ‘Off to War’.

This was the title of a writing competition which presented students with a series of black and white images and asked them to respond in poetry or prose. "'Off to War’ was an effective way of commemorating the centenary of the Gallipoli landing and also satisfying requirements of the English syllabus for primary and secondary schools and the History syllabus for secondary schools,” said Education Officer at the Catholic Schools Office, Carmel Tapley.

“Students wrote in a number of forms – story, poetry, diary and historical recount – and entries showed clear evidence of detailed historical research as well as imaginative and empathetic thinking.”

Competition judges, former editor of The Newcastle Herald, Roger Brock, and Aurora editor, Tracey Edstein, were impressed by the quality and depth of creativity displayed, particularly by the winning writers in each section.

"Apart from the standard of the writing, I was impressed with the winning authors’ depth of understanding of the Anzac legend," Mr Brock said.

"Whether telling their stories through the eyes of soldiers on the battlefield or their loved ones at home, the authors conveyed the different emotions evoked by the 'spirit of Anzac'."

The winning writers are:

Stage 2 (Years 3 and 4)

Sienna Isaac of St Benedict’s PS, Edgeworth

Stage 3 (Years 5 and 6)

Apryl Hamall of St Therese’s PS, New Lambton

Stage 4 (Years 7 and 8)

Liam Fairweather of St Peter’s, ASC, Maitland

Stage 5 (Years 9 and 10)

Olivia Stephenson of St Catherine’s Catholic College, Singleton

Highly commended are:

Stage 2 (Years 3 and 4)

Charlotte Jackson of St John the Baptist PS, Maitland

Jye Richardson of St John the Baptist PS, Maitland

Stage 3 (Years 5 and 6)

Zach Farthing of St John the Baptist PS, Maitland

Flynn Watson of St Therese’s PS, New Lambton

Stage 4 (Years 7 and 8)

Joe McFadyen of St Peter’s, ASC, Maitland

Ellie Hicks of St Catherine’s Catholic College, Singleton

Stage 5 (Years 9 and 10)

Isabelle Quilty of St Paul’s HS, Booragul

Taylah Reijn of St Catherine’s Catholic College, Singleton

Congratulations to all these gifted students, especially the section winners! Olivia Stephenson’s entry is published here and the other winners have been published at

Off to War by Olivia Stephenson

I gave him your penknife, the one that your grandfather had given to you all those years ago when he left for India; I know you would have wanted him to have it. I gave him a new razor too, just like yours, fine bone handle and a proper steel blade. You mustn’t worry, it wasn’t much, and I had been keeping pennies in the tin above the pantry door for occasions like this. I wanted to give it to him for his birthday but now he won’t be here for it. Sissy and Alice will be real upset, you know how much they like birthdays.

I gave him the extra shirts from the cupboard, the ones made of thick cotton we know will keep him warm. I gave him some biscuits and a thick grey scarf I’d been knitting for Mama. And I gave him a hug to drive the very air out of him. He promised me he’d be careful; he’d do what the officers and the sergeants and the quartermasters told him. And he replied with a “Yes Mum” to everything I said, even when I wasn’t telling him what to do. We both smiled at that.

He promised to polish his teeth and keep his feet dry. He promised me he’d be safe and stay out of harm’s way. He promised he’d teach me some proper French words when he got back. Like some of those maids that work up at the manor.

That was only a month ago now, though it feels like a year. The house has got so very cold and the back gutter is starting to leak. The mould is growing in the kitchen again, near the stove like last winter, but I just don’t have the time to fix it.

Yesterday a man came to see me, which was strange; there don’t seem to be many men around the streets these days. All official looking he was with his cap and stripe down his trouser leg, and a moustache like a couple of hammers joined at the handle. He asked me my name and if I lived here.

Fancy that!

Then I knew something was wrong. He held a white envelope, and stared straight into my eyes with a distant look, said he was very sorry. I was about to talk but my mouth was suddenly dry. When I took the envelope, he touched his cap like a soldier, turned smartly on his heel, and left me alone in the doorway.

There was a typed letter inside the envelope, signed by a Captain Fraser, and it said that Billy was missing in action, presumed dead. What does that mean?

I haven’t let go of that envelope since yesterday.

And now you’ve both gone and winter is coming. Every part of my body aches from crying. My mind is a whirlwind of confusion and the night fills my mind with all the questions I know I may never find the answers to. The girls are doing alright, I think. They get their strength from you, you know. Without it, I don’t know where we’d be. But Sissy and Alice and me, we’ll be OK, please don’t you worry about us.

Sleep well my darling; I miss you so much. Look after our boy if he’s with you, and if he’s not lying there beside you, then promise me you will not stop searching until you find him.

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