RE­SPECT FOR OUR HEROES

Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREW POTTS an­drew.potts@news.com.au

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..

Pic­ture: SCOTT POWICK

Sgt Car­leanne Cullen, David Bell, Adam An­tonini and WO2 Owen Trevor­row ready for the re-en­act­ment.

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