An Anzac story

Students, including David Atkins (far left) at Menin Gate, Belgium.

Ten NSW high school students, recipients of the 2012 Premier's ANZAC Memorial Scholarships, travelled to South Korea, France and Belgium to pay their respects to those who fought for their country, and those who died.

The following article was written by Caringbah High School student and ANZAC scholar David Atkins and recounts how he spent Anzac Day.

The fields and woods of Flanders are green and quiet now, but as the 10 of us stood in the small Toronto Avenue cemetery surrounded by the graves of Australians not much older than us, the reality of what had happened here almost 100 years ago hit home.

This year I was one of 10 NSW Premier's Anzac Scholars who had the privilege to visit the sites of the great battles in French and Belgium Flanders. We visited a number of Commonwealth cemeteries with row on row of white crosses, we spent a day in uniform living the life of a soldier, found parts of artillery shells and even an unexploded grenade but the visit to Toronto Avenue late on Anzac Day was probably our most moving experience.

This cemetery holds the graves of just 78 of the nearly 60,000 Australians who lost their lives fighting in the 'Great War' but it sits alone at the end of a muddy lane and is not often visited. We laid crosses on the graves and tried to imagine what these young men had endured so far from home.

This visit was the second last in a very long and very emotional Anzac Day. The dawn service was in Polygon Wood where the Australians fought so hard for a few metres of ground in 1917, we then visited the massive Allied cemetery of Tyne Cot where graves cover a whole hillside.

At 11am we assembled at the Menin Gate in Ypres. This gate is a memorial to the 50,000 who died without a known grave; it stands guard on the road Australians marched down as they headed for the front line. My great-grandfather walked this road in 1917 with his second division mates.

I was one of the two from our party selected to lay a wreath at the end of the ceremony.

I was proud to do this wearing my grandfather's medals. In World War 2 Pa flew with Bomber Command and then into France dropping supplies to the Resistance. I wore his Australian medals and the Croix de Geurre awarded to him by the French for 'exceptional gallantry and devotion to duty'.

We thank the Premier for providing the scholarship and our tour organisers and accompanying teachers for their help and support.

The experiences we gained will stay with us for a lifetime.

Photo: Students, including David Atkins (far left), at Menin Gate, Belgium.


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