The Free Press (Corowa)
25 April - Rutherglen Rutherglen’s strong Anzac spirit
The Rutherglen and district community certainly ensured the Spirit of ANZAC remains strong with reported record crowds at both the 6.00am Dawn Service and the 10.00am Commemorative Service.
The two services attracted estimated crowds of 300 and 600 people respectively, the latter following the traditional march before Covid last year from Main Street to the Memorial Gardens.
“It’s the largest crowd I’ve ever seen here – it gets bigger every year,” 82-year-old retired Nationals MP Ken Jasper AO told The Free Press.
Rutherglen R SL President Craig Williams was delighted to see such strong community support for “a National Day of remembering those who have saved our country”.
“We especially remember the men and women of the Australian and New Zealand Defence Forces who have paid the supreme sacrifice in time of war,” Mr Williams, in his third year as president, said.
“From World War 1 until today the Spirit of ANZAC lives on. We must continue to maintain their sense of commitment, courage and perseverance to get through the tough times, and the need for us all to look after each other is probably greater now than at any time in the past.”
Master of Ceremonies Peter Graham OAM introduced Rutherglen High School captains Miranda Pleming and Dharma Kotzur who mentioned Australia was celebrating a century of Royal Australian Air Force this year.
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) marked 100 years, on March 31, 2021, of service since its adoption of the Royal title in August that year.
In 1911-13, the Australian Aviation Corps was born, the forerunner to Australian Air Force, based at Point Cook – the Victorian base synonymous with military aviation in Australia.
The school captains spoke about remembering a Rutherglen-born hero from World War 11, John Hudson Wilkinson, a pharmaceutical chemist, who enlisted as a soldier.
“On the 2nd of September, 1940 he joined the Royal Australian Air Force as a pilot in Unit number 83. Attached to a Pathfinder Squadron, John Hudson Wilkinson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in March of 1944. He was promoted soon after, reaching the rank of Lieutenant,” Dharma and Miranda said.
“Unfortunately, as many do during war, our local pilot lost his life fighting for the allied forces. John Wilkinson had flown many missions between 1940 and his final mission in 1944.”
Loud applause was given to the school captains, as was given to guest speaker, former local girl who attended primary and secondary schools in Rutherglen, Robyn Funston. Her father Geoffrey Charles Piper enlisted in the RAAF on 6th December 1941 after joining as a reserve on the day he turned 18. He became a Pilot Officer 410373 and served in the South East Asia Air Command flying from India to Burma, Rangoon, Changi and Kanchanaburi.
Unlike John Wilkinson, Geoffrey Piper returned home, on January 2, 1946, after three years of Active Service, but didn’t expect to.
In a magnificent address, Robyn summed up her dad’s story: “Geoff was a young boy – who became a man during this time – who was brave enough to pilot a 65,000 pound aircraft with 7,000 pounds of bomb on board, with ten other young boys for up to fourteenand-a-half hours and thousands of miles of enemy land and return to marry his sweetheart. They continued to dance with each other until Dad’s passing in 2005 at the age of 82.
“The motto of the one-hundred-year-old RAAF is ‘Per Ardua Ad Astra’ – Through difficulties to the Stars’ and I give thanks to the RAAF for keeping us safe for the last onehundred years.” “Absolutely marvellous” was how MC Peter Graham described her address.
Reverend Graeme Wells from St Andrews Uniting Church displayed his singing talent, leading the way with Abide with Me, retired Lance Corporal Doug Ramsay delivered the ANZAC Requiescat and RSL Women’s Auxiliary Vice President Tracey Cullen recited the Lord’s Prayer. Wreaths were laid by at least 10 organisations, and a Peace Flame was placed by Rutherglen Primary School students Katie Fischer and Ryan Taborsky.
“We had about 300 for the Dawn Service, an extremely good roll up,” the RSL Sub-Branch President said. “It was good to have (Senator) Bridget McKenzie lay a wreath and Graham Stewart from Deniliquin play the bagpipe.”
Two wonderful renditions of the New Zealand and Australian National Anthems were performed by locals Celine Forster and Katie Hurley to close Rutherglen’s memorable service.