Yet as the ranks thin, so the crowds swell, and in Mullumbimby last Saturday the large number of children who had come to mark Anzac Day, to wave flags and sit patiently – and quietly – in the hot sun in front of the War Memorial was remarkable.
Leading the parade this year was a fine spectacle for young and old, a frisky young gelding named Flash, ridden by local lad Chris Gort in the uniform of the 15th Light Horse Battalion.
“We were hoping for two Light Horsemen,” said parade marshal Stewart Kerr, “and maybe next year we’ll have three.”
Young people were also a feature of the ceremony at the cenotaph, with the address given by Aaron Webb, a young man currently serving in the Royal Australian Navy, Mullumbimby born and bred.
“Even though I’m not deployed to an active war zone,” said Aaron, “Anzac Day fills me with pride – I’m proud to be an Australian.”
Mullumbimby High student Eleea Navarro sang the moving Missy Higgins song ‘Travelling Soldier’ accompanied by music teacher Kerry Collinson on guitar – “it always brings a lump to my throat” said RSL president Joe Walsh later.
Aaron Heyning travelled especially from university in Armidale to bugle the Last Post and Reveille, and the Mullumbimby High School band, ably conducted by new music teacher Jason Fletcher, did a wonderful job with the accompaniment to the classic Anzac Day hymns.
And Chris Gort in his uniform of the Light Horse controlled a nervous Flash with aplomb – “if we’d had more than one he’d have stood still” – proud to wear the uniform of his grandfather, and to wear the medals of his both his prisoner-of-war grandfather and of his great uncle, an ambulance officer executed by the Japanese in Borneo.
Many schoolchildren in uniform were present, with a particularly large number from one small school, Durrumbul Public, all down to the influence of one much-loved man.
Neville McLean has been a bus driver for the Durrumbul kids for four or five years, and is also a Vietnam vet.
“When we found out Neville was an ex-serviceman, the kids decided they wanted to come to the march too,” explained school principal Anne Reichart, “and each year the number grows.”
Among the many who came forward to place wreaths at the base of the cenotaph were Richard Sansom and young daughters Lilli and Mia.
“My father and I have never missed a Dawn Service and the Anzac Day march in all my 36 years,” said Richard, “and now I bring my children each year.”
After the drums, the bugle, the hymns and prayers and speeches, Joe Walsh gave special thanks to Lyndell Heyning for her 18 years of leading the singing, to Chris Gort for helping to spruce up the cenotaph, and to all those who made the effort to attend.
“It fills me with emotion to think of all those who travelled from far to attend,” he said.
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