Launch of the 'The Local Fallen' memorial banners

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The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

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Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

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15 March 2024

I want to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet today, and pay my respect to their Elders past and present.

I also acknowledge all those who have served, or continue to serve our nation in uniform, and the families who support them.

Jim Commins was born in Orange in 1875, and is one of the 40 veterans featured on these banners.

A bright lad at his studies, Jim worked for the Dalton Brothers Department Store, whose building still stands on Summer Street.

Jim was 41 when he enlisted for service during the First World War, making him one of the older men to serve in the trenches.

Jim was attached to the 24th Australian Infantry Battalion in France, and took part in a major assault on the occupied town of Bullecourt.

On 3 May 1917, alongside many other Australian and British troops, Jim’s battalion attacked the town, meeting stiff resistance and heavy machine-gun and artillery fire.

To this day, the Battles of Bullecourt stand as some of the bloodiest in our history.

Although successful, by the time the Germans surrendered their position, 10,000 Australian lives had been lost.

Jim was among them.

But in the chaos of conflict, no-one knew what became of him; he was originally reported as missing in action.

It would be another eight months before his identification tags were found, and his family learned his fate.

It is difficult to imagine going through the motions of life, day in day out for months not knowing what became of your son, husband or father fighting so far from home.

Resisting a sinking dread, and then having that faint hope extinguished in an instant when the news finally arrived.

It is a cruel blow tens of thousands of Australian families experienced.

In my role, I’ve travelled to towns across of our nation. And no matter where you go in Australia, every community has one thing in common: a memorial honouring those who served and their fallen.

On each memorial are etched the names of those who served our nation and sacrificed their lives.  

They stand as an enduring reminder that no corner of our country has been untouched by war.

Orange’s cenotaph stands not far from here in Robertson Park. 

Flanked by two bronze servicemen, the memorial lists 244 names of soldiers, sailors and aviators – those from the Orange community killed in conflicts from the Boer War to Vietnam.

Names, etched in white, adorning dark stone.

And behind each name is a story of service and loss. 

Behind each name is a family who mourned that loss for the rest of their life – some still to this very day.  

Jim Commins’ name is in the first column on that memorial. 

Above Jim’s name is that of his brother Francis, who was also killed in Northern France in March 1917.

Each loss tears a terrible hole in a family.

Their absence keenly felt at every big celebration and small family dinner for decades to come.

And even for those who return, war lingers in other ways.

‘Dad never spoke about the war’, became a common refrain for many families.

Veterans silently did their best to pick up their lives while carrying physical wounds and injuries and psychological pain, which they felt they could not share.

For veterans and families wars always carry on, old memories remain.

As significant and reverent our memorials to our fallen and service men and women are there is always more we can do to remind our generation of the sacrifice of so many from across our nation so that we can live in freedom today.

Orange City Council is doing more to honour the fallen and to remind us that the freedom and liberties we enjoy today is due to their sacrifice.

These banners honour 40 local veterans who lost their life in war.

In the lead up to Anzac Day, they will be displayed along the city streets. 

I congratulate Orange City Council for this important initiative to highlight the stories of those from your city who served our nation.

From our vantage point, the events of the past may seem distant. 

The names of sons, fathers, brothers, uncles; reduced to anonymous lists carved in stone.

But when we put a story to the name, we can start to grasp the gravity of what happened, how whole communities were impacted, and still are. 

In part, the new banners unveiled today put a face and a story to those who served and died.

They take the names from the memorials and bring their past to life.

Locals like Henry Suttor, who served with the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in Vietnam.

A keen athlete from a young age, Henry was a member of his school’s rowing eight and a champion rifle shot.

After school he moved to Orange, spent time as a jackeroo, met and fell in love with his future wife Suzanne, and started a heavy earth moving business. 

Following the economic downturn, Henry enlisted with the army in November 1967 as a way to earn a steady income. 

Henry excelled during his training, was named best recruit and swiftly promoted to lance corporal.

Renowned for his work ethic and easy-going manner, Henry became a highly regarded member of his company. 

He arrived in Vietnam in February 1969, but returned to Australia five months later to meet his new-born daughter, Sarah. 

Upon redeployment, Henry took part in Operation Kings Cross, a reconnaissance and ambush operation, during which Australians had several contacts with the enemy.

On the morning of 16 November, Henry’s platoon entered an enemy bunker system and came under fire so heavy they were forced to ground.

Despite this, Henry crawled to an outlying bunker and called back that he was going to grenade it in an attempt to draw the fire off his mates.

He pulled the pin, but as he rose to throw it, he was shot twice in the chest. 

As he fell, Henry released the grenade, which detonated, killing him instantly.

Henry’s life and service stands as a symbol for so many Australians in war.

He was from the country, just 26, a new father, doing his best to look out for his mates.

The stories of Jim and Henry and the other veterans profiled on your new banners, are repeated many times throughout our history. 

They’re stories of decent people in awful conditions standing up for our nation. 

Each person ordinary in their own way, driven to extraordinary deeds of service and sacrifice. 

Today, it is for us to remember that service.

And to remember families like Sarah’s and Suzanne’s, who lost their fathers, husbands and sons, and endured that loss for the rest of their lives.

In the lead up to Anzac Day, these banners will be, a visual reminder of what your community lost in the service of our nation.

They will put a face to the fallen, and will bring their past into our present.

And in doing so, help our younger generations to learn more about our wartime history.

I congratulate the City Council and the Orange RSL on this wonderful initiative and wish you all the best for your Anzac Day commemorations.

Lest we forget.


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