Rocky lads bring Western Front home for Armistice cen­te­nary

Rocky group keep mem­o­ries alive

The Morning Bulletin - - FRONT PAGE - MICHELLE GATELY michelle.gately@cap­news.com.au

SPE­CIAL SIG­NIF­I­CANCE: Rock­hamp­ton’s 9th Bat­tal­ion AIF Liv­ing His­tory Unit, rep­re­sent­ing Aus­tralia dur­ing French First World War ser­vices at Mou­quet Farm, were given spe­cial per­mis­sion to en­ter by the grand­son of the owner who had evac­u­ated dur­ing the First World War. Left to right: David Bell, Lyn­don Moor­house, Ron Stehn, Chris Withoos, Ja­cob Withoos, Stephen Bell. Find out what’s so spe­cial about the flag they’ve brought back for to­mor­row’s Armistice Day ser­vices on

USU­ALLY dust isn’t a good thing, but the fine layer cov­er­ing the Aus­tralian flag which will fly at a spe­cial Armistice Day ser­vice to­mor­row car­ries a spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance.

The al­most im­per­cep­ti­ble ad­di­tion to our flag is the re­sult of a two-week trek in the foot­steps of Aus­tralian dig­gers by a group of Rock­hamp­ton men ded­i­cated to keep­ing the mem­ory of those fallen troops alive.

The dust of the Western Front was car­ried back by the mem­bers of the 9th Bat­tal­ion AIF Liv­ing His­tory Unit af­ter its jour­ney through French vil­lages and spots of sig­nif­i­cance from the First World War.

To­mor­row, the group will carry out the an­nual Re­mem­brance Day ser­vice at the John Leak Mon­u­ment on Huish Dr.

This year there is added sig­nif­i­cance, with 2018 mark­ing 100 years since the sign­ing of the armistice be­tween Al­lied and Ger­man forces to end World War I.

The Liv­ing His­tory Unit is still on a high af­ter its tri­umphant jour­ney to Eu­rope, trav­el­ling at the in­vi­ta­tion of the French gov­ern­ment along the Western Front.

The group has be­come well­known around Cen­tral Queens­land for its painstak­ingly de­tailed ap­proach to hon­our­ing our dig­gers.

It has be­come a main­stay of the Emu Park An­zac Day dawn ser­vice, and it was a vi­ral photo of its ri­fle vol­ley which se­cured their Euro­pean trip.

A Vic­to­ria Liv­ing His­tory group, which was ap­proached by the French gov­ern­ment for the Au­gust 2018 cen­te­nary com­mem­o­ra­tions, sug­gested the Rock­hamp­ton troupe for the tour.

Liv­ing His­tory Unit’s David Bell said both the of­fi­cial cer­e­monies and off-duty ac­tiv­i­ties were un­for­get­table.

The group was part of of­fi­cial cer­e­monies in Fromelles, Pheas­ant Wood, Pozieres, Mou­quet Farm, Hill 60, Poly­gon Wood, Pass­chen­daele, Menin Gate, Bel­le­court, Villers-Bre­ton­neaux, Ypres, Peronne, and Ver­dun.

The Ver­dun re-en­act­ment made in­ter­na­tional head­lines, with the Liv­ing His­tory Unit among 18 na­tions rep­re­sented in the re-cre­ated mil­i­tary en­camp­ment.

The cer­e­monies were held in Au­gust to take ad­van­tage of the Euro­pean sum­mer, but were held to mark a cen­te­nary of the end of the war.

En­tire vil­lages were wiped out and hun­dreds of thou­sands of sol­diers were killed in the 10month bat­tle at Ver­dun, the long­est in World War I.

It is es­ti­mated 60 mil­lion shells were fired be­tween Feb­ru­ary and De­cem­ber 1916.

The vol­un­teers did not reen­act fight­ing out of re­spect for the peace which these bat­tle­fields now sym­bol­ise.

“By no means, have the peo­ple of Bel­gium or France for­got­ten what hap­pened over there,” Mr Bell said.

“They all in­stantly recog­nised the slouch hats.

“It was all na­tion­al­i­ties. It was in re­mem­brance of the sol­diers.

It wasn’t about the out­come re­ally, it was about what hap­pened.”

Ja­cob Withoos, the youngest Liv­ing His­tory Unit mem­ber on the trip at 19, told As­so­ci­ated Press at the ser­vice that ev­ery­one was gath­ered for re­mem­brance.

“War is never a good thing and we must en­sure it doesn’t hap­pen again. It’s great to have things like this so we can re­mem­ber the men who sac­ri­ficed them­selves in or­der to pre­serve free­dom, and defini­tively en­sure it doesn’t hap­pen again to any fu­ture gen­er­a­tion,” Mr Withoos said.

As mov­ing as these of­fi­cial oc­ca­sions were, Mr Bell said it was the lit­tle mo­ments such as play­ing cricket in a field off the mo­tor­way or singing Waltz­ing Matilda as they marched through French vil­lages that made the group feel even closer to the thou­sands of men who had over 100 years ago done the same with­out know­ing whether they would make it home.

Tens of thou­sands wouldn’t cel­e­brate a re­turn to Aus­tralia, and tens of thou­sands more would be listed as miss­ing, leav­ing fam­i­lies with no clo­sure and the heart-wrench­ing hope that their loves ones might one day come home.

Mr Bell said the visit to Pheas­ant Wood, where seven pre­vi­ously miss­ing Aus­tralian sol­diers were re­cently buried, was made all the more poignant when the group later saw the memo­ri­als to the miss­ing where those sol­diers’

‘‘

BY NO MEANS, HAVE THE PEO­PLE OF BEL­GIUM OR FRANCE FOR­GOT­TEN WHAT HAP­PENED OVER THERE. THEY ALL IN­STANTLY RECOG­NISED THE SLOUCH HATS.

DAVID BELL

names had been re­moved fol­low­ing their dis­cov­ery.

The group also stayed overnight in a trench re-cre­ated from the Christ­mas Truce, where it is said troops put down their weapons to sing car­ols and play sports.

Mr Bell said air­line lug­gage re­stric­tions proved chal­leng­ing for the group’s his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate uni­forms, but they didn’t even at­tempt to take their replica weapons know­ing what a has­sle it would be try­ing to get through cus­toms with ri­fles and bay­o­nets.

In­stead, Bri­tish liv­ing his­tory vol­un­teers brought weapons with them to France for the group to bor­row. Iron­i­cally, many of these turned out to be Aus­tralian firearms.

Mr Bell said the group were con­tin­u­ally im­pressed and amazed by the hun­dreds of peo­ple they met dur­ing the trip who were pay­ing homage to fallen sol­diers.

He said me­men­tos of all va­ri­eties could be seen in every ceme­tery, hon­our­ing the men who never made it home.

The Aus­tralian flag Capri­cor­nia MP Michelle Landry pre­sented the group be­fore they left was car­ried proudly through­out the jour­ney, and will to­mor­row re­place the one which usu­ally flies in Huish Dr in a nod to the group’s time abroad.

PHOTO: LIV­ING HIS­TORY UNIT

Photo: Liv­ing His­tory Unit

WE RE­MEM­BER THEM: Rock­hamp­ton's 9th Bat­tal­ion AIF Liv­ing His­tory Unit rep­re­sent­ing Aus­tralia dur­ing French World War I ser­vices at the 1st Di­vi­sion Me­mo­rial in Pozieres.

Photo: Liv­ing His­tory Unit

Rock­hamp­ton's 9th Bat­tal­ion AIF Liv­ing His­tory Unit rep­re­sent­ing Aus­tralia dur­ing French World War I ser­vices at Mou­quet Farm.

Photo: Liv­ing His­tory Unit

The group pre­sent­ing the Mayor of Ver­dun with an RSL shirt and pop­pies.

Photo: Liv­ing His­tory Unit

The unit en­joys a day out in Paris.

Photo: Liv­ing His­tory Unit

The Liv­ing His­tory Unit at Aus­tralian Me­mo­rial Park in Fromelles.

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