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Lest we forget

Address to the Department of Education and RSL Teachers' sub-Branch Anzac Remembrance Service.

Mark Scott and Albie Woodhouse

Mark Scott with Newtown High School of the Performing Arts student Albie Woodhouse.

Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests.

Today we particularly welcome members of the Teachers’ sub-branch of the Returned and Services League. We also welcome the relatives and friends of teachers and departmental officers who served in World War One, World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Timor Leste, and other deployments and peacekeeping operations.

As we gather to commemorate the landing at Gallipoli; as we try to understand the ANZAC story, we don’t meet to glory in martial triumph but instead to reflect quietly, silently, on the names and sacrifices of ordinary people – teachers, office workers, tradesmen. Husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters.

In nearly every country town, we can find two things. A public school and a memorial to those who served in war. Often those who enlisted were those who worked in the school – and so often – those who had studied there. Adults and young men in the service of their country.

We read their names on the nation’s shared memorial and we read them on the hundreds of local memorials around the country.

The NSW Department of Education is the keeper of the memorials you see here in this room. For many years they were with us at Bridge Street – the ‘home’ of Education for over 100 years. Last year, we moved to our new home at Parramatta and our memorial boards were carefully moved to join us.

It was our sacred duty to ensure these memorials moved here to our new office Parramatta. They act as a constant reminder, a daily reminder of those who answered the call to service and those who paid the ultimate price in doing so.

Often when we look back, we think of the vast numbers. The number who served and the number who died. The scale can overwhelm. But the names on these walls continue to inspire pride in the courage and awe at the sacrifice of these ‘ordinary’ people. Behind each name is a story. Behind each loss is a tragedy, for family, for friends, for communities. For colleagues in the staff rooms. For students who remember their teacher.

When I run my eye down the lists of those who served, and the lists of those who did not return, I’m always caught by the repetition of surnames. You can stand in a park in almost any small town in Australia and see inscribed in stone the decimation of a family – too many of the same name and too small a town for it to merely be a coincidence.

‘Our’ boards also have their recurring family names.

The Wharton’s were brothers – they are together at ‘W’ - towards the end of the big board that commemorates NSW public school teachers who served abroad in the Great War.

Before enlistment, Harry had been teaching at Grosses Creek Public School, Leslie had studied at the Sydney Teaching College.

They embarked for the war together in October 1914 aboard the HMAT Suffolk A23. And war took both of them to Gallipoli.

In 1915 Les wrote an article home to the ‘Kookaburra’, the student magazine of the Sydney Teacher’s College:

You will have heard of our work landing under shrapnel fire, attacking with fixed bayonets up the precipitous spurs through the dense undergrowth. ... We were greatly split up. ... My brother, who led a bayonet charge, was shot down. My friend and I had great difficulty in getting him to the beach. The position was awful at that time. The stretcher-bearers were few and over-worked. They had to climb a bullet-swept ridge. My friend and I had taken down four wounded each; the fifth was my brother. However, we managed to get a stretcher and carry him to the beach, from whence he was removed to Alexandria by boat. He was in great pain, but was greatly relieved at seeing me, for he had heard that I was killed.

Since then he has gone to rest with the brave.

It’s almost too awful to apply any imagination to what those words mean.

The ANZAC story is one of hardship endured, of resilience, of self-belief and of sticking-together.

Today we commemorate the sacrifices of all Australians who served and died in war and on operational service past and present. Here at the Department of Education we especially recall our own dedicated soldier/teachers. We meet to remember those who served our country in many conflicts and crises.

And we remember:

  • Les, who helped carry five wounded soldiers to safety, including his own brother. Les who was later awarded the Military Cross for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’.
  • Harry, dying of his wounds but ‘greatly relieved’ to see that his younger brother was alive. Harry, who led a bayonet charge, whose father described him as ‘A fine athlete … ardent, over eager.’

Ordinary people and their extraordinary courage and sacrifice.

Lest we forget.

References

Henry Wharton:

Leslie Wharton:

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Mark Scott

About the Secretary

Mark Scott is Secretary of the Department of Education. He has worked as a teacher, in public administration and as a journalist and media executive. He is committed to public education and learning environments where every child can flourish.

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