We've lived in this area now for 19 years and many times on my early morning walks through Ashfield park I would find floral wreaths at the battlefield monument in the centre of the park, but never knew when the service was held.
Back in April 2010 I was on my way through the park heading for coffee to Summer Hill, later than my usual walk time, when I came across the service in progress. It seems there is always an Anzac memorial service in Ashfield Park on the Sunday before Anzac Day.
This year I attended the service hoping to connect with the Australian World War One Descendants association for my WWI project, but they weren't there this year. Nevertheless I stayed for the service.
A young man from Ashfield Boys High School gave the Anzac Memorial Address, and it was the most moving speech about Anzac Day I have ever heard. I happened to be standing next to his Principal Dwayne Hopwood and with tears in my eyes I asked if I could speak with young Jordan Nicolopolous after the service.
Jordan had written his speech himself. He and other students were researching the names on their WWI Honour Board at the school. He chose to write about Francis Hocking. Jordan gave permission for me to reprint his speech in its entirety....so here in his words are why we remember all those who served in the Great War for Civilisation!
Good morning everyone. It is such an honour to have the opportunity to speak at such a significant occasion.
Just over a hundred years ago, on the 22nd September 2016, a young local Enfield man was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions on the Western Front. This medal is the second highest Australian military honour after the Victoria Cross. The young man's name was Francis Hocking and despite the century of time that separates us there are some things that he and I have in common. Both of us are highly patriotic Australian young men from the local area. Both of us were students at Ashfield Boys High school, although our school was called Ashfield Superior school back then. Both of us have grown up in a world of political uncertainty, global tension and international threat.
However, the similarities between us end here. At the age of 16 I am comfortably pursuing an education in Year 11. Hocking at the very same age enlisted as soon as the authorities would accept him in those early euphoric months of World War One. I have chosen to mention Francis Hocking today because his story is representative of so many soldiers and is the reason why we are all gathered here this morning. For me, he is more than just a name on the WW1 honour board in our school hall. He is an example of why, over 100 years on, we still remember.
Hocking was awarded his medal for saving countless lives. At considerable risk to himself he organised the ammunition parties to facilitate the feeding of ammunition to keep the enemy at bay during a retreat. His actions ensured the gun crews could remain focused on covering the retreat of the last troops from the communication trenches before it was overrun by the enemy. Even after this act of bravery Francis Hocking ran back out, exposed to gun fire, to rescue one final wounded soldier, dressing his wounds and placing him in a position of safety. On that fateful day in July, 1916, Francis Hocking was the last soldier to leave the trench.
I can’t possibly stand before you today and claim to understand the suffering and sacrifice that people like Francis Hocking and all those involved in war have endured over the past 100 years. I have no doubt that this is also a common truth for many of us here today. ANZAC Day marks a special day in our country’s history as we remember and appreciate the bravery of ordinary Australians, who sacrificed their lives for a greater purpose.
However, many weren’t men, many were still children, often younger than me and I cannot possibly fathom the fear that gripped them or the bloodshed they witnessed. Unfortunately, war remains a common occurrence and it comes with the highest cost, the cost of life.
I cannot imagine being separated from my family and friends, to be taken half way across the world with the lingering feeling that my life could end at any moment. Yet, this is what happened to thousands of young men. They were transported to a place where sounds of war consumed them, where everything was drowned out by the cacophony of gunfire and explosions. It is safe to say, many of our returning veterans still bear the wounds of war, whether physically or psychologically. I know that days like this can sometimes unearth painful memories for the returned. And it is a reminder to the nation, that returning soldiers cannot simply return to their old lives as if nothing happened and that the least we can do in return is to support our heroes.
Despite the century-long gap that lies between then and now, the very fact that I am speaking to you is evidence that the ANZAC legacy has lived on and endured over the decades. The ANZAC spirit dwells within anyone who calls this land home and it is this bond that makes this day move us in ways we cannot describe.
The very fact that young people such as myself can acknowledge and hold reverence to the heroism of our soldiers today, in a different century and a different world, is evidence enough of the ANZAC spirit of courage, endurance, duty, patriotism, comradery and mateship.
The freedom that we, as a nation, boast to the world was sorely won. As easy as it is to take our prosperity and comfort for granted, we must remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we may truly, fully and freely live. It is a blessing that I am not able to understand and account for the horrors of war. Hopefully, thanks to the actions of our forefathers, I may never need to. As part of the ANZAC legacy it is therefore our responsibility to ensure in every way, shape and form that the generations ahead will never need to either.
And so, we pause today to acknowledge all current and former members of our defence forces, and we pay respect to those who served and to those who did not make it home.
I cannot even begin to comprehend the experiences of our ANZACS. All I can say is thank you. Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for your strength. Thank you for your courage. Their names will not be lost to history; their bravery will never be discounted. We will forever be indebted to them but most importantly, we will always remember.
Lest we forget.
Ashfield Boys High School