Saturday, April 28, 2012
Got woken at 2.45 am for the drive to Nobby's Beach which is the site of the Newcastle Dawn service commencing at 5.30 am with the march beginning at 5.10 am. About 300 veterans on parade, mostly Vietnam vets. Told there were 7,000 there paying their tribute but couldn't get a real handle on that as it was too dark and cold, boy was it cold with the wind whipping off the Tasman. Generous tribute paid to NZL by the main speaker, the Lord Mayor of Newcastle. At the conclusion of the service the gun(s) on Fort Scratchley fired four times; the first in tribute to the fallen and the next three in honour of the three services. As that happened a large bulk carrier was leaving the port and passing about 500 meters directly below the Fort. Hope they told the Captain of the Ship what was happening otherwise he could have been having kittens. Interesting footnote. On 8 June 1942 a Japanese Submarine shelled Newcastle until it was driven off by the guns from the Fort. Didn't know that.
Couple of observations. Clearly in Oz they still defer to the monarchy. At the start of the service the choir sang 'God Save the Queen'. Notable however that very few joined in. Quite different from NZL where protocol has it that GSTQ is only played in the presence of Royalty or when the Governor General is present. Thought it a bit pointed and in bad taste that at the end of the service and on the very large TV/Video screens scattered about appeared the advert 'Proudly sponsored by XYZ Funeral Services' ... comforted by the fact that only the good die young, I'm safe.
After breakfast and with the sun shining headed off to Wangi Wangi on the shores of Lake Macquarie where I was to be the guest speaker. Wangi is a relatively small place and I was expecting a crowd of a couple of hundred at best. Not so. The Parade was headed by an RAAF contingent, followed by a Pipe Band, followed by Veterans followed by 35 WW2 vintage vehicles loaded with old Digs. Heading the vehicles was General MacArthur's (Australian) Staff Car beautifully restored followed by a Bren Gun carrier (which I had never seen in the flesh before), assorted half tracks, jeeps, 'Puddle Jumpers' and a whole lot more. I guess the march was about 1 km long and up a hill which would have tested some. All along the route there were people waving and clapping and when we got to the RSL where the service was held I was amazed to see the crowd had swelled to about 1500.
The service itself was relatively short and moving. Pretty special for me as a classmate from my Officer training days, Peter (Skeeter) Hines, is remembered on their memorial as KIA in Vietnam. The local Federal Member, Minister Greg Combet, was represented by his Chief of Staff (he was in China) while the Mayor of Lake Macquarie City was also present. Gave my speech which seemed to be well received and was presented with a Gallipoli Medallion by the President of the Wangi RSL. Later in the day I was surprised to be made an Honorary Member of the RSL. Following the speech I was taken aside by Minister Combet's CoS who asked me to confirm the information she had that the NZL Government was offering any WW2 veteran wanting to attend one of four WW2 70th Anniversary Commemoration events and who was fit enough to travel, return business class airfares to the event (Africa/Italy/Guadalcanal/DDay) plus escorts plus medical support plus accommodation food and incidentals. I was able to do that that; she said it was an extraordinary generous gesture and Australia would be hard pressed to match it.
Then it was into the RSL. A tight fit. All the kids present (and there would have been 500 at least) got a bag of goodies plus free drinks while for veterans it was free drinks all day. Full meal service supplemented by a continuous BBQ. The RSL itself is in a superb location and the grass stretches down to the lake front where the Club has a jetty and mini (soon to be expanded) marina. From 1.00 pm through to 4.00 pm what is reputably Australia's biggest 2 Up School was in session with relatively large sums of money changing hands (2 UP is only legal on ANZAC Day) .... and then in an 'interesting' gesture to sobriety the bar was shut at 4.30 pm and the Club 30 minutes later. Everyone seemed to go home pretty happy.
ANZAC Day Oz style ... same but different and hugely enjoyable.