Sub Branch Museum Feature Story
A series of feature articles based on different items of memorabilia currently displayed in the Ballina RSL Sub Branch Museum will be featured here on Ballina Club Life Online
The Next Generation of the Ballina RSL Sub Branch
We recently caught up with 4 of the youngest members of the Ballina RSL Sub-Branch All four are locals, from Ballina or Alstonville, and as the ‘next generation’ of our RSL Sub-Branch they’ve had varied military experiences.
Peter Crossingham, the youngest at just 30, served in the army for 9 years. He travelled to East Timor three times between 2000 and 2005. In East Timor, he was involved in water patrols. He described his first trip to Timor as being ‘adrenalin-filled’ and a ‘big adventure’. However, things changed by the third time round. He said, “You go over there to do what you’ve been trained to do. Of course, once you’re there, it’s not what you expect. What I remember most about my third visit is the smell … and then counting the days until we could depart”. With a young family back home, Peter decided it would be best to return to civilian life.
Tony Grant served for 19 years in the Australian infantry and as a medic. He saw service in East Timor, Malaysia and Ashmore Reef Naru. Tony spoke of incidents from survival training in Malaysia and his experiences as a medic in East Timor... from giant monkeys descending upon his camp in the middle of the night … to helping a Timorese mother who had been badly brutalised. Medically discharged three years ago, he said that support from both his wife (also associated with the military) and his army mates was priceless.
Andrew Collinge has been in the Army for 16 years. He started in Sydney as an Assault Pioneer building bridges and has been in many different operations since, including the Ready Reaction Force set up after 9/11, Border Patrols and jungle warfare training. His service has taken him to Malaysia, Singapore and the Solomons. He was aboard the HMAS Ballarat the day it ran aground at Christmas Island and recalls the vast movement of the ocean near Christmas Island the day the tsunami hit. Andrew says his family copes well during his times away, but admits that it can be hard on the kids.
Darren Murnane has served part-time with the army over the past 15 years. Training exercises have taken him to various locations in Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. Such exercises see him away for around 2 – 4 weeks at a time. He called severe training exercises in the mountainous areas of New Zealand ‘enjoyable’ and gave a humorous account of hot meals dropped to the forces from a helicopter in Hawaii … they were authentic ‘KFC’!
Asked about the importance of the RSL Sub Branch and their reasons for joining, Peter, Tony, Andrew and Darren all strongly emphasised the “community” aspect and the irreplaceable bonds that exist between ex-service personnel.
The RSL is about carrying forth a legacy, it’s about learning and understanding, commemoration, remembrance and reflection. It’s about the tight community that is forged when one has served their country. Such mateship bonds were forged many years and wars ago … and similar bonds are still being forged today.
(pictured with Ballina RSL Sub-Branch President, Noel McCallum … left to right … Peter Crossingham, Tony Grant, Andrew Collinge & Darren Murnane)
2007 Ballina RSL Club Anzac Day Gallipoli Tour
Australians recognise 25 April, ANZAC Day, as an occasion of national commemoration. ANZAC Day marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces at Gallipoli during the First World War.
At the conclusion of the Second World War, ANZAC Day became a day on which to commemorate the lives of Australians lost in that war as well. In subsequent years the meaning of the day has been further broadened to include Australians killed in all Australian military operations.
The Ballina community and Australians across our great nation will come together again this ANZAC Day to reflect on the many different meanings of war. Members of the Ballina community are invited to join us at the RSL Memorial Park for our community services.
Some of our Club members, however, will not be in Ballina for our services – they will be in Gallipoli on April 25 as part of a very special pilgrimage.For three local ladies, this journey is especially significant.
My dad was there
... a very personal experience in the lives of Joy, Marcia and Shirley ...
When war broke out in 1914 Australia had been a federal commonwealth for only thirteen years. The new government was eager to establish its reputation among the nations of the world.
In 1915, Australian and New Zealand soldiers set out to take the Gallipoli peninsula, open the way to the Black Sea and capture Constantinople (now Istanbul), capital of the Ottoman Empire.
They landed at Gallipoli on 25 April, meeting fierce resistance from the Turkish defenders. What had been planned as a bold strike to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months ... over 8,000 Australian soldiers were killed.
Joy Cran (East Ballina), Marcia Bourne (Ballina) and Shirley Oag (Alstonville) have a few things in common. They are aged over 80 and proudly remember their dads who fought at Gallipoli. In joining the Ballina RSL Club’s ANZAC Day tour, these ladies are realising a life-long dream.
Their stories were recently reported in the Northern Star, the Ballina Shire Advocate and the Northern Rivers Echo. We retell parts of those stories here.
Joy Cran’s father – Arthur Howell – was an 18 year old in E Company, the 13th Battalion of the AIF. “I’ve always wanted to go to Gallipoli because he was there”, said Joy. “When you get to my age, you start thinking back – he was only a boy.”
As a little girl Marcia Bourne would watch her father’s tears as the Last Post sounded each ANZAC Day. “Dad would always cry on ANZAC Day and I’ve inherited that,” Marcia said. “I’ll have to take a bucket-full of tissues when I go... to actually see where my dad fought will be an emotional experience.” Marcia’s father was in his 30s when he landed in Gallipoli as a medic in the Australian Medical Corps. “He was in the same group as Simpson, the soldier who was famous for rescuing men on his donkey – my dad was in the thick of it.”
Shirley Oag’s father – Billy Gwynne – was also one of the original ANZACs. He fought in Gallipoli before transferring to France and ending up a prisoner of war. He returned to Australia after the war with a new Scottish bride, set up a farm in Goonellabah and fathered four children.
“My father rarely spoke about his experiences,” said Shirley. “Little things would come out on ANZAC Day, but what is there to talk about? To see your mates killed in front of your eyes – the mind boggles as to what that would feel like.”
Shirley confessed that nothing could prepare her for the emotions she will feel at Gallipoli. “It will be very moving for me and I will find it very emotional retracing my father’s footsteps,” said Shirley. “There are no winners in war, and even though I have been raised proudly in the ANZAC tradition and I don’t think ANZAC Day should ever be forgotten, it would be lovely if we could all live in peace.”
2007 Ballina RSL Club Anzac Day Gallipoli Tour
A party of ten from Ballina RSL Club heads off for Turkey on 19 April.
This experience of a lifetime was organised by the Ballina RSL in partnership with NRMA Club Tours.The tour begins in Istanbul and includes cruising on the Bosphorus, welcome drinks with Australian War historians and a visit to the Blue Mosque.
The group will visit the ANZAC Commemorative site, Anzac Cove, Shrapnel Valley and Beach Cemetery. On 25th April 2007, they will be part of a truly international gathering of people commemorating the tragic events of the 25th April 1915.
They will attend the Dawn Service and later attend either the Australian or New Zealand National Services at Lone Pine or Chunuk Bair.
We will be thinking of them this April 25th and look forward to hearing about their experience of a lifetime upon their safe return on 28th April. Bon Voyage!
Did you know?
• 25 April was officially named ANZAC Day in 1916; in that year it was marked by a wide variety of ceremonies and services in Australia, a march through London, and a sports day in the Australian camp in Egypt.
• During the 1920s, ANZAC Day became established as a national day of commemoration for the 60,000 Australians who died during the war. All the States observed a public holiday on ANZAC Day from 1927.
• By the mid-1930s the rituals we associate with the day - dawn vigils, marches, services, reunions, two-up - were part of ANZAC Day culture.
• The Dawn Service has its origins in a routine which is still observed by the Australian Army. The half-light of dawn is one of the most favoured times for an attack. Soldiers in defensive positions were therefore woken up in the dark so that by the time the first light crept across the battlefield they were alert. This is known as “Stand-to”.
• The first Dawn Service was held at the Sydney Cenotaph in 1927. Dawn services were originally very simple and were often restricted to veterans. The daytime ceremony was for families and well-wishers, the Dawn Service was for old soldiers to remember and reflect. In recent times families and young people have been encouraged to take part, and services in capital cities have seen some of the largest turnouts ever.
Reflections on Anzac Day 2006
From the Ballina RSL Sub-Branch President "Mac" McCallum
It was indeed pleasing to witness the increasing turnout for Ballina's ANZAC Day Services this year. Around 500 gathered in the RSL Memorial PArk for the Dawn Service, and an estimated 1000 braved the rainy conditions for the mid morning services. I would like to extend another warm thank you to all those who attended the the services in rememberance of our fallen comrades. Thanks also to those who marched, and to all those who cheered and clapped the march from the pavement. It was also heartening to see so many young faces in the crowd.
On behalf of the Ballina RSL Sub Branch, I wish to acknowledge the following individuals and organisations for their support on ANZAC Day: Mr Nick Gordon(Bugler), Mr Raleigh Kent (Piper), Brad & Holly Palmer (Flag Bosuns), Sally Hunt (Ballina High School), Ballina Pipe Band, Ballina Shire Concert Band, Ballina Primary School Band, Ballina Women's Christian Choir, Ballina RSL Club Ltd, Ballina Shire Council, State Emergency Services, HMAS Brunei, NSW Fire Brigade, NSW Police, NSW Ambulance, 41st Battalion, TS Lismore, 326 Sqdn., Keith Scaines and John Woods(Volunteer Drivers), Radical Aerobatic Adventure Flights, Mr Barry Nash (Parade Marshal).
BILL EDWARDS REFLECTS.........
“I never used to want to talk about my war experiences at all. Over the past few years though, when many young people have come to me to ask questions that will help them write their essays and such, I have started to talk of my experiences more. I feel that it is very important to share my story with young people”. - Bill Edwards
Bill Edwards was a prisoner of war (POW) in Changi, Singapore during the course of World War II. As we sat and listened to Bill recall some of his experiences to us in the Club’s Museum recently, it became apparent that it was only through sheer luck that he ended up in a horrifying prisoner of war camp in the first place. The meaning of ‘luck’ in the context of Bill’s story as he continued on, however, was something far removed from how we would normally define it.
Prior to entering into his POW circumstances, Bill had been injured during battle and had been hospitalised for some time. Japanese soldiers came upon the hospital one day and took it completely … almost completely. In every hospital ward – with the exception of Bill’s ward – every doctor, nurse and patient in that hospital was shot on sight. Bill and the few other remaining patients who were ‘lucky to still be alive’ were rounded up and promptly placed in a prisoner of war camp at Changi. He was only 20 years of age.
As they entered the camp, each prisoner was handed one shirt, one pair of shorts, a knife, a fork and a spoon. Visitors to the Club’s Museum can view Bill’s spoon - the one that he actually used throughout his entire time at the camp - as this was to be the only souvenir that Bill took away from the camp at the end of the war. It has served as a useful reminder to him as to how ‘lucky’ he was to be able to endure and survive such experiences. At the time of these events, however, Bill stressed “When you’d been through that much, you only lived from minute to minute”.
Bill and his fellow prisoners were also sent away from the camp for a time. They were sent to the infamous Hellfire Pass on the Burma Railway where they worked for nine months. The Club’s Museum also houses a spike from the Burma Railway. The men began work on the railway at sunlight and worked through the day into the night, receiving only “half a pint of rice and sweet potato leaves” for their efforts. At age 21, Bill weighed only “four stone, eight pounds”, and he was “just skin and bone” when the war ended.
Bill chuckled as he recounted a couple of memories that related to the prisoners attempts to source more food. He outlined that there would sometimes be around 300 – 400 goats huddled close to the railway line. The Japanese soldiers would allow Bill and his mates to hide in the bushes and tall grass (at least 4 metres high) near to where the goats were grazing. When the time was right, they would rush out of the bushes and grab hold of a couple of the goats. “We were able to keep some of the goat meat for ourselves as long as we supplied the soldiers with ample quantities. We were safe when involved in such activity if we were looking after them also”.
Another memory that is still quite colourfully vivid for Bill was when he and other prisoners were descending from a long train ride through Thailand …
We’d travelled for six nights and five days – 36 of us all crammed into one small box carriage on the train …
We arrived early in the night and one of the first things we saw were two chaps holding some mugs that obviously contained some form of liquid. When we enquired as to what it was, the reply came that it was “Sago, Sago”. Feeling a tad thirsty, we were intent on investigating as to whether we could secure some of this and thus asked to be taken to the “Sago, Sago”. Behind the building where the chaps had been, we were to discover that “Sago, Sago” was, in fact, mother’s milk! There stood a Thai lady with a babe drinking busily from one side of her chest. This then became quite a common sight for us in our travels following our initial surprising find!
On behalf of all at Ballina RSL Club Ltd, we extend our appreciation and vast gratitude to Bill Edwards for sharing ‘his story’ with us. And it was us who felt incredibly ‘lucky’ that he did so.
(Special Note: Bill Edwards joined the Ballina RSL Club in 1957. From the early 60’s, Bill was involved with other war veterans - Noel Hampden being one – in organising reunions for other prisoner of war camp survivors. In the earlier post-war years, as many as 600 veterans from all over Australia would travel to Ballina in order to attend these reunions at the Club. The numbers have become fewer and fewer over the years.)
We encourage all members, guests and visitors to pop into the Club’s Museum to view Bill’s spoon, the spike from the Burma Railway, and a special text containing photos and more stories on the Changi prisoner of war camp episode. There is so much to be gained from spending some quiet, reflective time in our museum.
Museum Feature Story - Ballina Lighthouse & Lismore Surf Life Saving Club
As we look forward to enjoying our beautiful beaches again this Summer, we pay special tribute to the Ballina Lighthouse & Lismore Surf Life Saving Club
It was recently reported in the Ballina Shire Advocate that The Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore Surf Life Saving Club’s memorial board honouring their fallen members is currently on loan to the Ballina RSL Sub-branch. The memorial board is now on display at the Ballina RSL Club Museum.
An appropriate temporary, safe location was required as the Lighthouse Beach Clubhouse was demolished earlier this year. The board will eventually be returned to the Ballina Lighthouse & Lismore SLSC to take precedent display in their new clubhouse.
The Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore Surf Life Saving Club has played a vitally important role in our community since its official formation under the name of “Ballina Lighthouse S.L.S.C.” on 13th September, 1933. Prior to this date, Lighthouse Beach, or Tomki Beach as it was known in earlier years, following the wreck of the “Tomki”, was considered unsafe. This belief arose because it was formed after the North Wall of the breakwater was completed and had been, in fact, the mouth of the Richmond River.
Prior to the formation of the Club, the main surfing beach for the residents of Ballina was South Beach. This was reached by beautifully maintained launches, operated by the Foster family. On weekends and holidays they ran a regular service from Cherry Street Wharf to a wharf in Mobbs Bay.
Excursion trains starting at Kyogle and calling at numerous small sidings on the way to Byron Bay became very popular. Byron Bay began to attract the bulk of the beach enthusiasts from Lismore as well. The local Ballina community eventually began to frequent Lighthouse Beach, more so than South Beach, as they came to realise that access to it was easier. Many young people, unemployed in the depression, began to visit Lighthouse Beach more often, together with the growing population of East Ballina.
Importantly, it became increasingly apparent that Lighthouse Beach was safe for surfing, but that without proper patrols a fatality could well occur. Discussion along these lines on the beach led to a suggestion that a Lifesaving Club be formed to provide patrols for Lighthouse Beach. The first clubhouse was officially opened on 17th December, 1933 before a large public audience and a very happy band of Club members.
The War Years 1940 - 1946
During the Second World War, every member of Ballina Lighthouse & Lismore SLSC who was eligible to join the armed forces did so. 139 members answered the call.
With most of the young active members involved in one or other of the services, the burden of patrolling the beach fell heavily on the junior members. Jack Trevan was one such member and he recalls that the Club offered much support to the families back home during this challenging period. He stresses that, in current times, it is a difficult task to be able convey the enormous strain and terrible impacts incurred by war to younger generations.
The Club also contributed to the war effort by depositing money into War Bonds. Of the 139 members, 18 did not return; weighing heavily on the hearts of those that had known these members in less troubling times. In 1946, prompted by the terrible loss of lives; the Club President A.G. “Pop” Denison moved that a larger Clubhouse be built as a memorial to the members who lost their lives in the 1939 – 1945 conflict. It would take another 15 years before the new Lighthouse Beach clubhouse was completed, and dedicated as a memorial to the fallen members …
Christie Balzer (R.A.A.F.)
Bill Boylson (R.A.A.F.)
Stewart Cruickshanks (A.I.F.)
Tuss Ellis (A.I.F.)
Hector Harrison (R.A.A.F.)
Eric Johnson (A.I.F.)
Norm. Kobelke (R.A.A.F.)
Arthur Nelson (R.A.A.F.)
Geoff. O’Hea (R.A.A.F.)
Jack Pye (R.A.A.F.)
Phil. Phillips (R.A.A.F.)
Allan Randall (R.A.A.F.)
Geoff. Ritchie (R.A.A.F.)
Doug. Robertson (A.I.F.)
Col. Trait (R.A.A.F.)
Arthur Torrens (R.A.A.F.)
Jack Ward (R.A.A.F.)
Keith Watson (R.A.A.F.)
“They shall not grow old,
As we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and
In the morning,
We shall remember them.”
“LEST WE FORGET”
(The above summary has been compiled from a series of extracts gleaned from the ‘50 Seasons’ Ballina Lighthouse & Lismore Surf Life Saving Club booklet, written by K. Leonard. A full copy of this booklet, which also contains many fascinating photographs of the Club’s personalities and events over the years, has also been made available to the Ballina RSL Club Museum – our thanks are extended to Jack Trevan for providing this valuable material.)
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