Remembering Anzac Day from the beginning
In April, 1916 the first Anzac Day was held in the Ovens Valley to commemorate the landing on Gallipoli on April 25, 1915.
The withdrawal of Australian and New Zealand forces from Gallipoli had occurred on December 20, 1915 but that could not conceal the pride and amazement of the public on the home front for the stories of skill and daring shown by the Anzacs.
On April 27, 1916 the ‘Myrtleford Mail’ reported on Anzac celebrations at Gapsted State School, which was also celebrated across the nation’s schools, on the first anniversary of the Gallipoli landing: “A program laid down by the Education Department was carried out. ‘ The Recessional’ and ‘O, God Our Help’ were sung. ‘ The Last Post’ was recited by Bessie McKeown and addresses were given by Messrs J. Courtney, W.I. Munro, T. Wallace, E.R. Cousins and Head Teacher (Mr. G.B. Denton). All paid tribute to the gallantry of our brave boys at the now famous landing and pointed out to the children some good lessons to be learned from the event.... discipline, duty, self effort, patriotism and the debt we owe when they come back to us. Saluting the Flag and singing of ‘God Save the King’ and ‘God Bless Our Splendid Men’ completed the celebration.”
Early in World War 1, a flagpole was erected by Mr Jack Milne at the corner of Myrtle and Clyde streets on a vacant plot outside the post office, using timber supplied by Mr Denis Toner snr.
Conveniently, this flagpole was opposite Mr Milne’s nearby carpentry and undertaking business and on news of a war casualty, he would cross the road and raise the flag to half mast. (This is where today’s custom of acknowledging a local citizen’s death originated).
This site was subject to inundation when rain fell and was named “Lake O’Grady” or “O’Grady’s Swamp”, after Charles O’Grady JP, a Bright Shire councillor and publican at the Buffalo Hotel.
Following the cessation of hostilities in November, 1918 and the return of veterans, a public appeal got underway in 1919 to erect a war memorial as part of the Australia-wide “War Memorial Movement”.
This appeal would continue into 1922.
Some discussion occurred about the final location of the monument; one suggestion was for it to be at the “People’s Park” in the vicinity of Prince and Duke streets.
This park was eventually named “Memorial Park”.
In June, 1922 a Progress Association meeting chaired by Cr O’Grady adopted a motion that “the memorial be located near the post office and got on with at once”.
Advertisements were placed in the ‘Argus’, ‘Age’ and ‘Myrtleford Mail’ newspapers inviting lodgement of a design for a soldier’s memorial at a cost between 350 and 450 pounds.
In August, the memorial design was displayed in the front window of HF Lowerson’s store.
Collectors were appointed to canvas the community to cover a 90 pound shortfall of funds and by mid-October a list of the 28 fallen and 143 other enlistments was finalised.
On May 3, 1923 the Myrtleford Mail heralded:
“THE SOLDIER’S MEMORIAL: IMPRESSIVE UNVEILING CEREMONY, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25”.
It reported “People gathered near the reserve at the post office last Wed. afternoon to witness the official unveiling of the beautiful monument. At a cost of 450 pounds, the memorial is a work of beauty and a fitting tribute to those who left here to assist Britain and her allies. Designers and contractors were Corben & Sons, Clifton Hill. It is constructed of undressed Harcourt granite. The soldier is beautifully carved of white Italian marble, as is the list of the fallen and other enlistments. The choir was accompanied by Miss Onley on the organ and the town band. The memorial committee consisted of Cr. J. Smith, J.B. Robertson, C. O’Grady JP, A.J. Croucher, J. Milne, T. Williams, Rev. A.M. Harrison. On the platform for the official opening were Col. W.H. Scott, Hon. A.A. Bilson MP, Cr. J. Smith, Fr. J.J. Kennedy DSO and G.A. Osmond. A firing party of returned soldiers was present, including A.D. Lowerson, VC”.
In 1923, a kurrajong tree was planted by Joseph Rothery in memory of his daughter nurse Elizabeth Rothery, who died on return from active service on June 15, 1918.
In 1926 a fence was built around the memorial to protect it from wandering stock and a new flagpole was erected by Mr Tom McGeehan in 1936, at the request of the Progress Association.
On April 23, 1954 memorial gates were unveiled and dedicated by Mr AK Bradbury, MLC.
One granite pillar records “To all who served 1939-45 War” and on another are the 10 names of “Those Who Made the Supreme Sacrifice”.
On the centre of the gates are the words “Lest We Forget”.
In more recent times, other changes to the memorial precinct have occurred.
Another new flagpole in 1983 was followed by installation of a memorial clock commemorating service in Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, the Middle East and other engagements.
A plaque “Australia Remembers, 1945-1995” acknowledged the 50th anniversary of the end of World War 2 and April 23, 2015 saw the unveiling of the magnificent statue of Sgt Albert David Lowerson, VC.
Today, the A.D. Lowerson Memorial Square at the heart of the town speaks of a 100 year history of service and sacrifice, indeed a significant place. “Lest We Forget”.