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11 November 2021
This Remembrance Day, Australians will again, in our respected tradition, observe one minute’s silence at the eleventh hour.
We will pause to honour those who served, suffered and died in war and armed conflict.
As we do, many of us will recall the iconic elements of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra – those features we’ve either seen in person or on our televisions: the Pool of Reflection and the Eternal Flame, the Hall of Memory and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the cloisters containing the bronze panels of the Roll of Honour that records more than 100,000 names.
The Australian War Memorial is a national symbol of duty, sacrifice and loss.
But it is by no means our only place of commemoration.
Across the nation, war memorials – large and small – can be found in almost every city and country town.
This Remembrance Day, I will be thinking about the memorial in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia – the gold mining town where I was born.
The Kalgoorlie Fallen Soldiers’ Memorial is a welcoming sight when you arrive at the Kalgoorlie railway station.
It was erected by Kalgoorlie’s citizens and unveiled in 1923.
A single bronze statue of a First World War soldier in the ‘on guard’ position sits atop a granite column.
A plaque contains the words of The Ode.
And there is a simple inscription: “To Our Glorious Dead”.
At the column’s base on four cornered wings sit marble lions.
Local memorials provide communities with a profound and intimate connection to the past.
Residents carry the flame of the memories of the fallen, keeping them alight for future generations.
Kalgoorlie’s small memorial is a place of association for many Australians who served in the Boer War, the two world wars and the Korean War.
This includes more than 300 soldiers who fought in World War One.
Like local memorials around the nation, Kalgoorlie’s reminds us of the faces and stories behind the fallen.
One of those faces was Private George Hamilton Bennett.
George attended the Kalgoorlie Central School prior to taking a job as a clerk at the local Commercial Bank.
He enlisted in 1915 at the age of 19, becoming part of the 28th Australian Infantry Battalion and saw his first action on Gallipoli.
After the withdrawal of Australian forces from the Turkish beaches, George was among the first contingent of Australian soldiers to head to the Western Front.
No doubt the marksmanship he developed at the Kalgoorlie Rifle Club was noticed by his commanding officers, as George was attached as a sniper to the 7th Brigade.
On the 8th of April, only 18 days after he arrived in France, Private George Bennett was killed in action at an observation post.
It was the first morning Australian forces went into the trenches at Armentières.
The poignancy and tragedy of Private Bennett’s death is evoked by the words of his mother.
On the circular sent to her seeking details of her son’s death, Mrs Barbara Bennett noted, “As far as known [he was the] first ‘Anzac’ to fall in France”.
Private Bennett is buried in France, commemorated in Kalgoorlie, and immortalised in name on panel 112 at the Australian War Memorial.
On Remembrance Day 2021, he will be in my thoughts.
As long as Australians remember our fallen – as long as we keep carrying the flame – we will never forget who they were.
And if we never forget who they were, and the values for which they fought and died, we will have a guiding light as we venture forth into the future.
Lest we forget.
LINKS TO IMAGES
Private George Hamilton Bennett
Kalgoorlie Fallen Soldiers' Memorial
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