RUTHERGLEN RSL
CENTENARY OF ANZAC STATUE

DEDICATION 18 FEBRUARY 2017

THE HONOURABLE DR BRENDAN NELSON AO
DIRECTOR OF THE AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL

 

With a sense of awkward humility, abiding reverence infused with overwhelming pride, we pause here today.

We do so as free and confident heirs to a legacy born of idealism, forged in self-sacrifice and passed now to our generation.

On these grounds of the Rutherglen Memorial Park, we come not only to dedicate this statue but to pay tribute to a century of service by the Rutherglen RSL sub-branch. 

We gather in renewed commitment to one another, our nation and the ideals of mankind in the hope of a better world.

On the 4th of February 1921 the Argus reported a similar event held here on 30 January 1921.

Another doctor, John Richard Harris, then a Member of the Legislative Council rose “in the presence of a large assembly” to dedicate this Rutherglen Memorial Park and the cenotaph before us.

Having served with 1 Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps in Palestine, he surveyed the raw emotions and inconsolable grief in the many faces before him. They too had come to remember and honour.

Dr Harris said, “The Memorial would forever keep green the memory of the 116 men whose names were on it”.

Among that audience were two men - both veterans, both damaged. 

George Slow and Herbert Bevan had conceived and driven the foundation of the Rutherglen RSL sub-branch a century ago. They gave everything of themselves for the repatriation of returning men and for this Memorial Park to be established.

Every nation has its story.

This is our story.

We were 4.5 million people when the cataclysm unfolded in August 1914. 

One million men were of an age that could serve. 

From a nation that twice said “no” to conscription, 417,000 did volunteer. We sent 330,000 overseas. 

A series of largely catastrophic military battles ensued until the stunning leadership of General Sir John Monash of the Australian Corps in 1918.

Exhausted, we emerged victorious - but inconsolably mourning 62,000 dead. The deeply divided and embittered nation remained true to its democratic principles as we lived with another 60,000 who would die within a decade of their return from the war.

It is tempting, human beings that we are, to settle for the broad brushstrokes of our history; headlines, popular imagery and mythology. 

Our comfortable lives breed easy indifference to individual sacrifices made in our name, devotion to duty and to our country.

At 3.26 am on Thursday the 9th of March, ten letters a metre high will be projected onto the front of the Australian War Memorial. Immediately below the Byzantine - inspired dome above the tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier. 

They will form one name, visible down Anzac Parade toward the parliament: MCLAURIN A. M.

“Archie” McLaurin was one of Rutherglen’s finest.

A vigneron, active member of the Vine Growers Association and the Victorian Mounted Rifles and Militia, he was elected to the Rutherglen Shire Council in 1906. Such was the respect for him, the Shire held his seat on Council open for him during his war service.

Archibald McLaurin was 47 years old when the First World War broke out. He volunteered immediately and commanded C Company of the 8th Light Horse. He landed on Gallipoli in May 1915.He was one of the Rutherglen men of the 8th Light Horse who charged at The Nek in August 1915.

As part of co-ordinated attacks to break the stalemate, the light horse was to attack Turkish positons in the northern part of the Anzac sector at 4.30 am on the 7th of August.

There would be four waves of 150 dismounted men each. The Victorian 8th Light Horse would go in the first two waves and the 10th Light Horse from Western Australia, would form the third and fourth.

The commanding officer of the 8th Light Horse was Alexander Henry White, a 33 year old maltster from Ballarat. He loved the men of the 8th and volunteered to lead the attack.

Philip Schuler was the correspondent from the Melbourne Age who observed and recorded what happened.

White shook hands with his fellow officers and stepped down into the trench.

The Australians had to advance only 20 to 60 metres to the Turkish lines. However, the artillery bombardment largely went over the Turks and finished early.

In the eerie silence as the Turks tested their machine guns and rifles, White stood on the fire step,  watch in hand and said, “Men, you have ten minutes to live and I will lead you”.

When the whistle blew, they all went over. Schuler recorded White advancing only ten paces before he fell.

Archie McLaurin was in the second wave. In the melee he was shot in the forehead, lying wounded amongst the dead and dying. Both waves were shot to pieces.

The Western Australians of the 10th Light Horse formed the third and fourth assaulting waves. The men filing into the trench for the third wave took a last look at photos of wives and loved ones, removed wedding rings and personal keepsakes and attached them to the inside of the trench.

Standing on the fire step, Trooper Rush turned and held hands with the man next to him as they said a prayer. He embraced his mate with the words that would become the epitaph for his headstone at Walker’s Ridge cemetery, “Goodbye, cobber. God bless you”.  He was 23 years old.

Of the 300 Victorian officers and men under White’s command in the first two waves, 153 died with him. Archie McLaurin was one of 80 wounded. He returned to the trench only when the order to do so had been given. He was the last man into the trench, ensuring that the remnants of his squadron got back in before him

Archie would, after his convalescence, go on to serve in the Middle East and then command the 8th Light Horse Regiment. Mentioned in Dispatches, he fought the Ottoman Empire all the way to surrender.

Then, only days after the Armistice, he contracted pneumonia from which he died on 23 November 1918. He was 51 years old.

Archie McLaurin is buried at the Beirut military cemetery. His epitaph reads:

HE DIED FOR FREEDOM AND HONOUR
DUTY NOBLY DONE

Australia’s official First World War correspondent and historian was Charles Bean. He landed with the troops on Gallipoli and stayed with them at the front through the entire war. He risked death often and refused evacuation when wounded.

At Pozières, France in July and August 1916 Bean was witness to 23,000 Australian casualties in just six weeks – 6,800 dead, five Victoria Crosses.

On the 31st of July he narrowly missed death twice getting to the very front. He returned and simply wrote in his diary, “Blackened men everywhere, torn and whole – dead for days.”

A mortally wounded Australian asked Bean, “Will they remember me in Australia?”

From there he conceived and subsequently resolved that at its end, he would build the finest memorial and museum to these men of the AIF and the nurses.

Amongst those “blackened men, torn and whole” were some whose names appear on the cenotaph before us.

Born in Rutherglen, Willian Colvin was a school teacher at Leongatha when the war broke out. Having enlisted, he went into the 8th Battalion and was in the second wave to land on Gallipoli of the morning of the 25th of April 1915. 

He survived the Gallipoli campaign. But he was one of 363 casualties sustained by the 8th Battalion at Pozières over five days of bloody fighting from the 23rd of July. He was 23 years old.

Although he hastily buried, the veritable moonscape described by Bean at Pozières swallowed his body which was never found.

His name is on the Australian Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux along with almost 11,000 others missing in France. He is on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial. Next to his name here on the Rutherglen Memorial is that of his brother George, who would die only weeks later from meningitis whilst in training camp.

This statue we dedicate today reflects the character of these men. It stands as a silent witness to names etched in perpetuity and the future they have given us.

Each of them, like each of us, had only one life – only one chance to use life in a way that might serve others and our nation.

They chose us.

Three great institutions emerged from the First World War - The Australian War Memorial, Legacy Australia, and the Returned and Services League.

There are three colours on the RSL badge proudly worn by its Rutherglen sub-branch members.

Red are the bonds of comrades forged and bound in blood.

White symbolises what must always be a “purity of motive”.

Blue reminds its wearer that they will always help another person – a mate “under any blue sky”.

That is our legacy.

This statue has been funded by cake stalls and raffles – the most important things in life always are. The RSL, Anzac badges, Lions Women’s Auxiliary, the Anzac Centenary grants and the Indigo Shire Council. The process of bringing everyone together to make this a reality reminds the next generation that what we need most - is one another.

As this statue forever looks upon the names of those before him – lives given for us, our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world through two world wars, Vietnam, East Timor and other operations – we are reminded of what we have lost and that which we have gained.

They have given us a greater belief in ourselves and a deeper understanding of what it means to be Australian.

They remind us of the truths by which we live as Australians and that a life of value is one spent in the service of others, irrespective of the cost to ourselves.

It is war that took these lives. It is war that gave us this park. 

But the paradox is that it’s not about war.

It is about love and friendship.

Love for friends and between friends.

Love of family and love of country.

It is honouring lives committed not to themselves, but to us - and their last moments to one another.

Almost a century on, their memory remains – “forever green”. 

The love showered upon that memory by the community of Rutherglen nourishes both it and us.

The wounded Australian digger dying at Pozieres asked if he would be remembered in Australia.

He was. He is. 

He always will be.

For we are Australians.

We are young and we are free.

Lest we forget.

Format:

Transcript

Date:

Saturday 18 February 2017

Speaker:

The Honourable Dr Brendan Nelson AO, Director