RESPECT FOR OUR HEROES
FROM a re-enactment ceremony featuring authentic uniforms and military equipment to a grandson clasping cherished postcards from war, residents across the Gold Coast and Tweed will tomorrow come together to mark Remembrance Day.
IT is Christmas 1916 and the wind is cold on the Western Front in France.
In the trenches, Lance Corporal Richard Swain receives a lifeline to the home he misses so terribly.
In hand is a pair of postcards, bearing images of an Australia far away – a blackand-white image of Drummoyne in NSW and a colourful drawing featuring a kangaroo and kookaburra.
The young Digger, just weeks into his 17th year, eagerly turns over the cards and reads.
“To my dear son, with love and best wishes for Christmas and the coming new year. Your ever loving father. God bless you, my son,” says the message.
Another message arrives from his brother Bill.
“To dear Dick. Wishing you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. From your loving brother Bill. Just to remind you of home.”
These heartfelt messages from home, along with patriotic messages about fighting for king and country, were short but they kept a young soldier going amid the horrors of combat.
More than 100 years later, Richard’s grandson Mark Swain, a fellow combat veteran, reads the words of his ancestor ahead of Remembrance Day.
“I’m getting a little bit upset here,” an emotional Mark admits as he looks down at the faded writing on the century-old, waterstained cardboard.
“It’s hard to know what would have gone through his head when he got these, but it’s clear he would have missed his family and home.
“What kept him going were his mates and the mateship they had and this is a tradition which continues today.
“We often forget about the parents of the soldiers who gave their lives, the mothers and the fathers. These people should be remembered too.”
Richard “Dick” Stewart Swain was born on March 25, 1899, and enlisted in February 1916, concealing his age to allow his entry to the armed forces. Military records show he arrived in France later that year after training in Egypt.
On May 14, 1917, he was wounded in the final days of the second battle of Bullecourt. Surviving this, he returned to the front only to be wounded again, far more severely, in early June 1918.
According to a telegraph sent to his mother, the young soldier received a “bomb wound” to his back and chest, which penetrated deeply into his torso. He survived the wound after a fellow soldier dragged him through noman’s land to safety, something that later caused him “severe” abdominal pains while recovering in hospital.
These wounds would mark the end of Lance Corporal Swain’s service, after which he returned to Australia and was medically discharged.
This service left deep wounds for the young veteran, who dedicated much of his life to working with other returned servicemen as the founding president of Bundeena RSL.
Mark Swain, who enlisted in the Australian Defence Force in 1981 and served until 2004, says he has fond memories of his grandfather, who died in 1976.
“He never talked about his service but I started going to Anzac Day when I was a twoyear-old with my father and grandfather,” he says. “Sometimes he would take his shirt off and have a dip and you would see those wounds he still carried from the war.”
After his death, the old Digger’s precious mementos
from the war lay forgotten in a suitcase for 16 years until 1992 when his son Ernie, a World War II veteran and Mark’s father, died.
Born in 1922, Ernie served in World War II, seeing action in the Middle East and New Guinea while his brother, Richard, survived time in Changi Prison at the hands of the Japanese Army.
Letters from this generation of Swains also survive today.
Lance Corporal Swain’s World War I letters were discovered by Mark, who said it brought home to him the isolation from family that veterans of the First World War experienced while serving.
“When I was serving overseas in East Timor we could communicate by picking up a phone and even though we still wrote letters, they would arrive home the next day,” he said.
“It is a shame I never had the opportunity to sit down and talk to my father but I now understand a lot of why he was the way he was, because of my own similar experiences.
“These letters and touches of home are the things that keep you going.”
Tomorrow Mr Swain will stand alongside his friends and comrades and pause at 11am to mark a century since the Great War ended on November 11, 1918. As The Last Post plays, his thoughts will turn to his father, his grandfather and his own mates.
“This day means 100 different things to me,” he said.
“The way I see it is that if we do not remember our past we will have no future and Australia has a rich history as well as stories which are yet to be told.
“I think about my mates and the people I served with, but it’s also important to listen to the young guys.”
SERVIICE:: Veteran Mark Swaiin wiith photos of hiis grandfather Riichard Swaiin and father Erniie,, fiightiing iin Riiencourt near Bullllecourt iin May 1917,, and (riight above) postcards sent to Riichard Swaiin on the Western Front duriing Worlld War II..
Sgt Carleanne Cullen, David Bell, Adam Antonini and WO2 Owen Trevorrow ready for the re-enactment.