A Community Kicking Goals

Sometime in 2015 the committee of the Kingston, Friends of the Avenue had an idea.  That idea was to hold an event on 11th November 2018 to commemorate the centenary of the Armistice and the beginning of planting the trees that make up what is arguably one of the most beautiful memorial avenues in the country. Initially a small service was mooted, but it didn’t take long before the planning was rivalling an East End production.  Now anyone who has worked on a committee knows that they are very good at designing cars with square wheels – this committee was no different.  A mix of contrary personalities, availability and commitment meant that meetings could be shambolic, communications problematic and role definitions hazy. But work continued, and the result was a truly exceptional day.

A day that blended reverent commemoration with an air of celebration – commemoration for those who fought and died in a war so brutally savage that it was believed, at the time, to be the war to end all wars.  And celebration – celebrating the end of a horrible four years of conflict and that generations later, we live in a democracy that millliions in the world can only dream about.

The morning started with a cold, blustery wind making the placing of marquees and displays somewhat difficult, but as if on cue, the wind dropped and a magnificent spring day emerged.  Visitors began arriving early to watch the opening parade led by the Creswick RSL Lighthorse Troop and a Lone Piper, setting the mood for a movingly reverential service.  A number of elderly returned servicemen stood in the sun determined to pay their respects to comrades from later conflicts, each with their own memories. They were joined by local school children, cadets and people of all ages, respectfully sharing the poignancy of the occasion.

The estimated crowd of around five hundred came from as far as South Australia, the Northern Territory, Tasmania and beyond, who mixed with the many locals from this small community. Those travelling long distances came to pay their respects to lost relatives from the district who fought in WW1 and whose names adorn one of the 286 trees of the Avenue of Honour.  It was interesting to see people speaking with strangers about their relative from a different generation, but who hold a special place within their hearts.  An elderly lady I met was proudly wearing her family’s medals, but the one she wanted to speak of the most was the little known “mother’s medal” as she referred to it.  The medal had been given to her grandmother in honour of the two sons she had sent to war – one returned, one didn’t.

There were many highlights of the event, not the least of which was the cascade of poppies trailing down the length of a very tall tree, that in itself was a stunning visual.  For the better part of twelve months, a group of clever knitters, led by Margaret Armstrong of Kingston, made thousands of poppies in their spare time.  The making of the poppies was the easy part; the bigger question was how to display them.  Some were attached to stems that were ‘planted’ on an embankment, but there were still bags and bags waiting to find a purpose.  A conversation between Margaret and Jo Maxwell from The Elephant Patch in Ballarat developed the idea to festoon the tree with poppies.   All that was needed was to work out the logistics.  A long ladder, Marg’s husband Bruce, lots of wire and shouted directions from below, culminating in a stunning vision.

The Creswick Lighthorse Troop always present a dignified homage to the mounted troopers who served in World War 1. The bond between today’s troopers and their horses is as strong as it was one hundred years ago.  The image of ‘Trooper’ Michael Whitehead with his horse, Winifred, is testament to that bond, as captured in the photograph of Winifred standing quietly with Michael, almost sleeping on his shoulder. Also pictured is Michael’s partner, Lisa, who took on a role representing the eight nurses whose names adorn trees in the Avenue.

Michael and Winifred have been part of the Creswick Lighthorse for over ten years and have travelled widely to many commemorative services.  Michael was the Flag-bearer for Australia at the anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba in 2017 in Israel.  To watch Michael and Winifred and the bond they share, evoked heart-wrenching memories of those horses and troopers from the war, who, after surviving the most hideous ordeals had to face the fact that the troopers could return home, but their horses couldn’t.  It was left, in the most part, to the troopers to shoot their own horse – the beast they had shared so much with, and had carried them through horrors that no-one can imagine today.

The Kingston Avenue of Honour Centenary of Armistice is living proof, that a community of dissimilar people can come together with a shared purpose and create a triumph.