Marking 100 years since the end of World War I is an important occasion for the citizens of Albany in Western Australia, because the city was the point of departure for the first Anzac fleet in 1914.
So rather than sitting cross-legged in a school hall, half paying attention to an ordinary Remembrance Day celebration, students from across the region have taken this year’s commemoration into their own hands.
Some 2,000 children from schools in Albany and its surrounds marched down the centre of town on Thursday before coordinating and presenting their own ceremony in front of hundreds of guests.
They recited poetry and reflected on months of research they had conducted in a bid to learn more about the 100 names that are immortalised on the town’s war memorial.
Refreshing Remembrance Day
The celebrations were prepared under the watchful eye of retired principal Alan Dowsett, who coordinated the local commemoration of the landing of Gallipoli in 2014.
He said a refresh of how schools celebrated Remembrance Day was important for the whole community.
“I think Remembrance Day is probably one of those days in a yearly calendar which isn’t as prominent as some of the others, particularly Anzac Day,” he said.
Run by students
Sam Want is a Year 11 student at North Albany Senior High School.
He was chosen as the MC of the commemoration and said most of the students involved had been rehearsing for weeks.
“I think what we have done here is really good, we prepared really well,” he said.
“It’s nice to know that a small town like this has so much to do [with the ANZAC’s] and is so well-known for this kind of commemoration,” he said.
Albany Primary School student Pippa Wilson wrote a poem for the celebrations.
She used her own experiences to create the story and was chosen to recite her work on stage.
“The poem meant a lot to me because I based it on the fact that my dad works away from home a lot and I put my experience into words on paper,” she said.
“It was something that I could just read out and something that I had experienced myself.”
Pippa is hopefully that the students can be put in charge of Remembrance Day celebrations in the future.
Uncovering lost history
Sue Lefroy is the History Coordinator with the Albany History Collection.
She oversaw the Albany 100 Project in the lead up to Remembrance Day, which involved the students learning as much as they could about the 100 names on Albany’s war memorial.
“We had some set questions that the students needed to research, such as the full name of the person,” she said.
“We could go into a whole range of things such as parents, where that soldier was born, and we can use records from the Australian war memorial, the national archives, as well as the public records office to verify that research.
“When we started the project, 20 per cent of those names inscribed on the memorial had an image that we could attach to the research.
“We finished the project with 56 per cent which was an amazing outcome.”
The research project allowed the students to connect with the families of the fallen through the uncovered information.
“What’s important about this project is that it is very much an inter-generational community project,” Ms Lefroy said.
“So the idea was always to link descendants of those names with the students.
“And that’s a really rewarding experience for the younger generations to link with the older generations — there is this transfer of knowledge.
Even though the project has been launched, Ms Lefroy said that the search for photographs and stories behind the 100 WWI names on the Albany War Memorial was ongoing.
“Given many of these men were born in the eastern states, I would love to hear from any descendants who have a story to tell,” she said.
Service, then and now
Mr Dowsett believes Remembrance Day is about more than just history.
“I think it’s important for the students to know about that part of history for sure, but this is more about building a value in kids about honouring service.
“Not just about military service but also community service.
“You could look at ambulance officers, fireman, all those people who go out every day and serve the community.
“I’m hoping that it builds in those students a value — if we don’t have those people in our community then we are much poorer for it.”
More than a dozen different schools have been involved in the celebration, and Mr Dowsett said it was wonderful to see the collaboration.
“These are schools from across sectors,” he said.
“Non-government, government, primary and secondary.
Mr Dowsett is hopeful that other towns across Australia might copy the student-run Remembrance Day celebrations.
“I think that would be terrific,” he said.
“I don’t think they are going to do it as good as Albany, but it would be fantastic if that was the case.”