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ONE MAN’S QUEST TO HONOUR OPs WHO FELL

A few weeks ago, Craig Sandford emailed Old Paradians Central from London to advise that he would shortly be making a pilgrimage to France and Belgium.

Craig wrote to ask if the association could possibly provide him with the names of those Old Boys of the College who lost their lives there through the course of the War to end all Wars.

“If you do have that listing of OP vets that served on the Western Front, I can then cross-check against the Commonwealth War Graves Commission listings, and hopefully be able to stop at the relevant cemeteries whilst taking some friends to view the various battle sites,” Craig wrote.

True to his word, Craig visited memorials in Fromelles, Le Hamel, Menin Road, Pozieres Windmill and Villers-Bretonneaux, and found what became of 12 Old Paradians who paid with their lives in World War I – Raphael Bradley, Richard Cahill, Thomas Cashman, John Flynn, John Houlihan, Patrick Lynch, Eric McClelland, Hector McFarlane, Francis Sheahan, John Smith and James Tevlin.

Craig has since forwarded his photographs of the final resting places of these young men. One such man was 20 year-old Richard Nicholas Cahill, who on July 24, 1916 died in Boulogne Hospital of gunshot wounds to his chest and forearm suffered five days previously in the Battle of Fromelles.

Richard, who was promoted to Acting Sergeant on the day of his death, was interred at the Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, in Plot 8, Row A, Grave No. 141.

In part two of this interview, Craig explains his motivation to honour those who gave their tomorrow so that we may have our today.

 

2017 found me thinking a bit more about being away from home, and I remembered watching the dawn service at Villers-Bretonneux on the ABC several years back. Carmel and I had visited the Australian memorial there on a previous holiday in France, and I thought about driving along the Western Front and being surprised at the sheer number of cemeteries – let alone the number of graves within each of them. I struggled to try and understand what these soldiers would have been experiencing, so far from home, but with a comfort of having the familiarity of other Aussies around you. I decided to attend this year’s dawn service partly to honour them, but also to experience another connection with travelling and ex-pat Aussies.

I haven’t found any direct family connection to the veterans of WW1, but being in the presence of so many who had fallen and the various monuments around France listing the names of those who had made the ultimate sacrifice made me think of the honour boards back at Parade. When a friend from Darwin asked to visit some of the battle sites their family had fought at during a trip to Europe, I wondered how much detail we had of those listed on the boards. An enquiry to Tony De Bolfo uncovered that a significant amount of work had been performed by his mother in capturing details of old boys that had fallen at the Western Front. I thought my visit to the area would be an ideal time to capture some images of where they had been laid to rest, or mentioned on honour boards when their bodies had not been identified or recovered.

I have now visited the Somme Valley three times, and driven along the Belgian and French parts of the Western Front a couple of times. The first time, I remember being surprised to see German War Cemeteries, but naturally there are at least two sides to a war, and of course all sides suffer tremendous losses. The impressive part to recognise is that the German and the other Central Powers cemeteries are managed with as much care by the French as the Commonwealth and Allies’ cemeteries.

Not long into any trip to the area is a strong feeling of being overwhelmed by the sheer number of cemeteries. Some are relatively small, and only contain a 100 or so graves, others – particularly back in the larger towns behind the front where the hospitals would have been based - the graves number in their thousands. It doesn’t take long for your mind to then grasp the hundreds of thousands of graves that are here.

Such thoughts prompt feelings of regret at the sheer waste of the world’s youth, some anger when you read about some of the battles that were almost designed to fail, but then some pride in those who made the decision to travel to the other side of the world and defend the Belgians and French from invasion. It is also amazing to see the respect given by both the Belgians and French to those who came. Towns like Villers-Bretonneux honour not only those sacrifices made by those who fought, but then also the post-war efforts to rebuild their town. Victoria - as a state – funded the rebuilding of the town hall and church, and Victorian school children raised the funding to rebuild the primary school. Such pride is then tempered when then also noticing that some buildings and memorials bear the scars of damage received when fighting in the Second World War surfaced in the area.

Finishing the trip left me contemplating what could have been if I had have been born in a different era. How different would have those old boys who signed up been from me? Were they looking for a bit of adventure? Were they fascinated by the different cultures they experienced in those travels? What were their dreams for their lives before the war broke out? Unfortunately some of those dreams weren’t realised. Recognising those old boys in a small manner has been an honour. I hope establishing a record of their lives and final resting places gives us all an opportunity to reflect on their actions, and remember to live our lives to the full.