Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Roseville Memorial Club ANZAC Commemoration Service

Military Slouch Hat

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS ( Ku-ring-gai ) ( 17:22 :17 ): On 17 April 2016 I was honoured to be an invited guest at the annual Sunday Anzac commemoration service at the Roseville Memorial Club. Those present were treated to a thoughtful and touching main address by Miss Olivia Dudley, the vice-captain of Roseville College. Her words proved true to the line from the ode, "We will remember them". Olivia is a credit to her family and her college. She reassured us all that the great sacrifice Australia made between 1914 and 1918—in fact, the sacrifices Australian have made across the globe in pursuit of stability since the Great War—are not forgotten.

Olivia was joined on the day by trumpeter Lauren O'Hara, a year 12 student at Killara High School, who played the Last Post, and 14-year-old violinist Andrew Liang, from Ku-ring-gai Creative Arts High School at North Turramurra to whom I was first introduced at the corresponding remembrance ceremony last year. The ceremony was also honoured by the presence of the Roseville Scouts and Cubs via their leader Dee Cleworth. I thank John Whitworth, president of the Roseville Memorial Club, for his invitation.

The recent ceremony is part of a rich historical Ku-ring-gai link extending back to the original Anzacs. In the brilliant second volume of the World War I commemoration by the Ku-ring-gai Historical Society called Rallying the Troops, on page 89 there is a touching photograph of a proud father on a chair in his leafy backyard in Wahroonga, his two young sons seated on either side of him. One is in the Australian Infantry uniform of the day, happy and with a pipe in his mouth. His younger brother sits on the grass on the other side of their father and all three are staring at the old-fashioned camera for the family backyard shot taken in circa 1915. The family was the Cardews and the young soldier was called Thullier Lake Cardew. In those times this family scene was one of many thousands played out in every town across Australia as moments were recorded before sons—sometimes two or three in one family—were sent to battle in lands that many of these lads had not heard of prior to their departure.

The contribution quiet Ku-ring-gai and leafy northern Sydney made to that war effort was remarkable. Just a matter of months after that happy family photo was taken, Private Cardew, serial number 2793, would be a casualty of what stands as the bloodiest day in Australia's military history, the Battle of Fromelles. Some, like Private Cardew, had been thrust onto the Western Front forward line just three days after arriving on French soil, with only limited training in Egypt. Twenty-five-year-old Private Cardew of the 54th Battalion was one of the thousands of young Australian men cut down in the trenches or on the dreaded no-man's-land at Fromelles.

The Germans had flooded the trenches with water, leaving the Australian soldiers bogged in thigh-deep mud, effectively sitting ducks for the machine gun fire. Ku-ring-gai lost 10 young men in the 24-hour Battle of Fromelles and dozens more were wounded, but the effect on the then tiny Ku-ring-gai throughout World War I was massive. It is estimated that 1,600 young men with links to Ku-ring-gai served in the Great War. Of an estimated Ku-ring-gai population of 12,000 at the time, the contribution was huge—more than 10 per cent of the population and almost every single family was touched by the death or wounding of a member of their family who served in the Great War.

Ku-ring-gai's commitment in the theatres of war was exemplified by the 18th Battalion. The 18th Battalion, after an abbreviated training stint in Egypt, landed at Gallipoli and took on the enemy at Hill 60 on 19 August 1915, suffering heavy casualties. In fact, by January 2016, so heavy were the casualties within the 18th Battalion that almost half its number had been killed or injured. One of those was Private Raymond Smyth from Ku-ring-gai, killed in July 1916 at Villers-Brettoneux in France—one of our first to lose their life in that campaign.

To put a number on Ku-ring-gai's contribution to World War I does not seem right but, to put things into perspective, of the 42 soldiers from Ku-ring-gai who were attached to the 18th Battalion alone, just 30 survived—and when I say "survive" I mean they were alive but they were mentally tortured or incapacitated for the remainder of their lives. Ku-ring-gai's presence in the 18th Battalion was so significant that a decade after the Great War it was renamed the Ku-ring-gai Regiment, and it is recognised and revered to this day by way of the Pozières Cross in St John's Church in Gordon. Pozières in France is proudly a sister city to Ku-ring-gai.

In some battalions to which Ku-ring-gai contributed, the attrition rate was 25 per cent—double that of the Australian Imperial Forces during the World War I. I am sure all members in this place will agree that interest in and reverence for our significant war history has not diminished as the years have moved on. The fact that the last of our Great War veterans has now left us has not dampened the fascination, intrigue or respect for those who paved the way for the Australia we have today.