Wollondilly Anglican College students, dignitaries and veterans gathered at a ceremony to watch the unveiling of an Anzac memorial this week.
Former Prime Minister John Howard and director of the Australian War Memorial Dr Brendan Nelson joined headmaster Dr Stuart Quarmby in revealing a statue and officially opening the Anzac shelter in the playground on Monday, June 18. The ceremony paid tribute and honoured soldiers who had died in World War I. Several speakers talked about the Battle of Fromelles, the horrors of war and the lives of particular soldiers and their families. The statue, made by sculptors Gillie and Marc Schattner, has a special meaning to the headmaster. The soldier is a representation of Acting Sergeant William Polding Ryan, who was 20 years old when he was killed in action at the Battle of Fromelles. He was Dr Quarmby’s grandmother’s uncle.
“The statue of the soldier represents all of the diggers who fought and died in the Battle at Fromelles in a 24-hour period,” he said. The little girl in the statue is year-one student Hannah, who is the great, great, great, great niece of Mr Ryan.
“[When looking at the statue] imagine every student saying ‘thank you for paying such a price’,” Dr Quarmby said. “Imagine him saying ‘thanks for finding me’.” Dr Quarmby spoke about his relatives Corporal Alfred George Tuck and Mr Ryan who died on their first day of battle on July 19, 1916 at Fromelles. Their bodies lay in mass unmarked graves until they were identified by DNA from surviving family members.
Mr Howard, who opened the school 15 years ago, praised the college for honouring Anzac soldiers.
“We remember particularly the terrible battle at Fromelles described as the worst day in Australia’s history because of the terrible losses,” he said. “All I can ask...is just to simply reflect firstly on how fortunate we are to live in this wonderful country and to not grizzle about it unless you have a good reason to do so, and also very importantly, to remember what made it possible. Remember those people who did give their lives to defend the freedoms of this country. “And finally honour those men and women who wear the uniform of the Australian Defence Forces today.”