War takes, breaks... Never gives back

Guest speaker at this year's Anzac Day service in Stawell, Vietnam Veteran Bryan Nicholls of Ballarat. Picture: MARCUS MARROW.

Guest speaker at this year's Anzac Day service in Stawell, Vietnam Veteran Bryan Nicholls of Ballarat. Picture: MARCUS MARROW.

STAWELL - Around two hundred people turned out on a picture perfect morning to commemorate an event in our nation's history that was far from picture perfect and occurred far away in a distant land.

Stawell residents stood side by side in solemn remembrance to mark the 99th Anzac Day at the War Memorial.

For many, the day had started long before the 11am service with returned service men and women and their family and friends braving cold conditions for the traditional 6am dawn service.

That was followed by the Gunfire Breakfast at the Stawell Entertainment Centre and returned service men and women, along with interested members of the community marching down Main Street to the cenotaph led by members of the Stawell Brass Band.

2014 is a significant year for Australian military anniversaries, March 1 marked the official end of Australia's active 12 year involvement in the Afghanistan war.

Guest speaker, Ballarat Vietnam Veteran, Bryan Nicholls said this year also marked the first year of the centenary of World War One.

He highlighted the courage and commitment of two men from Stawell in his attempt to convey the importance of the day to the gathering.

One of those was 26-year-old Trooper John Currie Cumming, who enlisted in the first AIF on July 28, 1915 in Stawell and was killed in action, in Beersheba on October 31, 1917. His remains rest at the Beersheba War Cemetery.

Mr Nicholls said it must have been heartbreaking for a recently widowed mother to see her only son leaving for war, but she wasn't alone.

"Mothers like Helen Cumming in most instances packed their son's bags, watched them march into camp and sail away and never saw them again," he said.

Sydney John Folkes was just 21-years-old when he and younger brother George enlisted in the first AIF on April 4, 1916.

Sydney won a military medal, and was recommended for a bravery award before he was killed in action on October 1, 1918, six weeks before the end of the war.

He is buried in the Prospect Hill Cemetery, Gouy, Aisne, France.

"Both were local men who answered the call for God, King and Country. They went away to a foreign land to never see home again," Mr Nicholls said.

"These young men, who in the main were aged between 19 and 26 years were the flower of a generation which was wiped out in countries so far away.

"Gallipoli really is a profoundly moving place to visit, it is an extremely powerful experience to be there and to be reminded of the 8,200 Australians who sacrificed their lives on the wind swept ridges on the other side of the world."

Mr Nicholls said Australia is a far better nation because of their service and sacrifice, and that each of the people who are named on the Stawell cenotaph along with countless others have proved mobility and grandeur doesn't belong to nations and empires alone, but to those who serve the nation in a quiet but efficient and effective way.

"We all need to remember that war takes and it never gives back. It breaks bodies, minds and hearts and all of this lasts forever," he said.

"Those of us who have been called to fight know this most sincerely, but peace is far better than war and peace is certainly worth fighting for.

"We should never forget the meaning of these events and what it has done for us all today."

Following the address by Mr Nicholls wreaths were laid on behalf of several groups and organisations.

They included the Stawell Branch of the Returned and Services League, Northern Grampians Shire Council, Stawell Police and Fire Brigade, Stawell 303 Army Cadet Unit, Stawell Laurel Club, Stawell Airforce Association, Stawell and District Residents Association, Stawell Rotary Club, Stawell Secondary College, 502 Primary School, Stawell West Primary School, St Patrick's Primary School, Stawell Red Cross Auxiliary and Skene Street Special School.

The primary school choirs joined together to lead the crowd in the first verses of the Australian national anthem, God Save The Queen and New Zealand national anthem.

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