History will come to life next year for three Blacktown teenagers selected for a life-changing experience.
Ebony Turton from Glenwood High School, Emily Potloka from Plumpton High School and Alison Gamsby from Rooty Hill High School are among 20 NSW students who will tour battlefields in France and Belgium as part of the Premier’s Anzac Memorial Scholarship.
Alison, 14, said her own family’s military history made the prospect even more special for her.
“I’ve always been interested in history. It’s something that I can’t really explain,” she said.
“You have to remember this actually happened. It’s not some story in a book. It’s real and you can be there and visit and commemorate.”
The Whalan teenager said it was important for students today to remember the sacrifices of fallen soldiers.
“Without them, we wouldn’t be here. We might not even be alive without them. They gave their tomorrow so that we could have ours and I think that’s really important.”
Alison applied for the opportunity with an emotive poem she wrote inspired by The Ode (see below).
Rooty Hill High School history teacher Yasodai Selvakumaran said the student was chosen by a panel including St Marys-Mount Druitt veteran Vin Cosgrove and 2014 Anzac scholar Clare Da Silva, a graduate of the school.
“It’s amazing that history students from all different schools get to actually travel overseas and see where this history has been in terms of Australia’s military past,” Ms Selvakumaran said.
“They actually travel with a historian, so it’s training them to really see the work historians do and the importance of commemoration and ongoing reflection, and how history is always being rewritten with new stories being uncovered.”
The 20 students will travel to Flanders in Belgium to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Hamel on July 4, 2018, and witness other significant Australian battlefields including the Ypres Salient, Passchendaele and the Somme.
Veteran Affairs Minister David Elliot said the journey would be something the students remembered for the rest of their lives.
“This is a life-changing educational opportunity not just for the 20 winning students, but for their peers and teachers, who will be able to draw from the first-hand learning experience of the Anzac scholars when they return to their classrooms,” he said.
‘Lest We Forget’ by Alison Gamsby
They shall grow not old, for too many never made it to their twenties, let alone their thirties or forties. The family men, perhaps veterans of the Boer War just a decade and a half earlier, the school leaver, stockmen and factory hands barely old enough to drink or vote. So many, so willingly, so young and so strong just like the newfound nation they left behind. To fight, to die, or to come home changed forever for King, Empire, Australia.
As we that are left grow old, moaning and whining about how hard life is; there is no internet here! They had interlocking fields of machine gun fire to advance through. They had mud and death and mud and blood and mud. And yet they advanced. Every time.
Age shall not weary them, for they are all gone now. Those who remained in some far-flung but never forgotten field. Those who come home; to a land fit for heroes where there was no job, no prospects and if they could foresee the future; another way. To end all wars. Just like the Great War they had just one.
Nor the years condemn. For who are we to condemn them and their time? Or to contemn; to treat with disregard or contempt. Without them, so many years ago, there is no us. Today. Judge not, lest ye shall be judged.
At the going down of the sun, night begins. A night filled with terror, noise, shrieking shrapnel and the doubt, the not knowing whether you’ll see the sun rise again, glinting off the sheaf of bayonets preparing to advance. Again.
And in the morning, the barrage will roll ahead. The rum in the tea will steady the nerves. Hands shook, hands shake, one last thought of home; of mum baking scones, of dad smoking a pipe, of little sis dreaming of a pony to ride in the top paddock. “OVER THE TOP!”
We will remember them. We must; for they are us and we are them.
They lived, laughed and left us a legacy.
Lest We Forget.