Well I promised you a run down on what I got up to in Canberra last week so here is the potted version. Basically I had a ball, which is just as well as I took a huge leap of faith and left my two 18 year old sons at home in charge of the house and, more importantly, the dogs, for the whole five nights. My husband was supposed to be home from his work trip to the States in time to be at home with the boys but, as often happens, he did not make it and is still not home. I am pleased to say that the boys stepped up though and managed beautifully. The kitchen functioned well (if not exactly cleanly) in my absence and the house was still intact, dogs fed and watered when I got home.
So, what did I get up to?
Well after having my trusty car towed to a mechanics with a wiring fault on Sunday I collected a loan car from my wonderful mechanic (turns out he is ex-service) on Monday morning and hit the road. I had made no plans for Monday to allow myself to arrive and get organised in my own time but did end up having a quick dinner with a friend who had served with me as an Air Traffic Controller in the RAAF around 30 years ago! We have seen each other a few times over the years so it was great to catch up again.
On Tuesday I headed off to the War Memorial. I had planned to meet two quilters, Sue H and Steph N at the Cafe at the War Memorial, Poppy’s for lunch. A third quilter, Carole, surprised me by joining us which was lovely. The three ladies had another surprise when a fellow in Army uniform brought his lunch over to join us! He had arranged to meet me to receive his quilt which was made by Rita C after she started at one of the sewing days at my home.
Pictured here we have Sue H, our happy recipient with a camel, also from Rita, Carole J and Steph N.
On Tuesday night I was treated to dinner by this gorgeous fellow. He noticed that I was going to be in Canberra for the week at the same time as he was in town to start his handover for his new job for next year. For ease I will call him G. G was the first person, deployed as a peacekeeper in South Sudan in 2012, to discover Aussie Heroes and to contact me and see if we could include them in our list of recipients. He sent me lots of info and photos for some posts and I made his quilt and laundry bag myself. We have stayed in touch and earlier this year he let me know that his lovely partner was deployed to Kabul, where she later became one of my contacts and many of you would have sent her laundry bags to hand out. G also deployed this year to Kandahar and may have received a care package or two from me. Both G and his lovely partner will be at our Aussie Hero Christmas Dinner.
Wednesday found me back at the War Memorial ready to see as much of it as I could before I was scheduled to meet a couple of fellows in the afternoon.
Outside the main entrance is this statue of Simpson and his donkey. I won’t tell you too much about him as Julie Ann has written me a post about him that I will share in coming weeks but I am sure that many of you are familiar with the story.
In 1954 sculptor Ray Ewers was asked to create a piece to commemorate the sacrifices of Australians in all wars. His statue “Australian Serviceman” symbolizes determination, courange and a spirit of achievement and hope for the future. It was unveiled in 1959 in the Hall of Memory and removed in 1993 during the construction of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was unveiled on this site on 19 August 1995 to mark the 50th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
The statue is surrounded by a grove of silver birch trees which recognises that the men and women who gave so much in the service of their country came from every state and territory in the Commonwealth of Australia as do these trees.
I spent most of my time in here. I had expected to be moved by the display but had not counted on being as affected as I was. Obviously I have come to know many of our serving members and Afganistan veterans over the last few years and even recognised some of them in the displays. Let’s just say that I was very glad that the room was quite dimly lit and not many people were in there whilst I was.
Afghanistan and the Middle East are now part of Australia’s military story. Written on a plaque next to a map of Afghanistan is the following
“Australia’s Mission is clear: to combat international terrorism, to help stabilise Afghanistan and to support Australia’s international alliances. Yet a mission statement cannot capture the challenges, the successes and the comradeship of the Australian men and women who pursue it, nor the joys an the heartbreaks, of the loneliness and the dedication of those who wait at home.
Some of these experiences sent against the imagery of a modern war, are told in this exhibition. Over time the display will change and evolve as more veterans share their stories.”
All returned servicemen and women, and civilians who have worked in Afghanistan and the MEAO, are invited to contact the Australian War Memorial via www.awm/gov.au to share their memories and ensure that this conflict, and the men and women who have served and died, are remembered by all Australians.
I spent quite a while in the Gallery listening to the personal accounts of some of the 27000 men and women, drawn from all three services, set against a back drop of amazing images played on huge screens on two sides of the room. It was a very moving experience, especially as I knew some of them had received quilts and laundry bags. I sat and watched and listened all the way through twice and was really pleased to see school children come in a sit quietly and watch and listen too.
This is one of the piece that I had particularly wanted to see as we have made Wounded Warrior Quilts and Fallen Warrior Quilts for a number of the men involved in this incident. In fact, this is when our Invtictus Warrior, Garry, sustained his injuries and he and Katrina had told me about visiting Canberra and seeing this Cowling when it was presented to the War Memorial.
For those who do not know, as transcribed on a plaque next to the cowling,
“In the early hours of 21 June 2010, four American UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were transporting personnel, including Australian Special Forces soldiers from the 2nd Commando Regiment, into the Shah Wali Kot region of Kandahar province. During the final approach to the landing zone, one of the Black Hawks crashed. Two Australians, Privates Timothy Aplin and Scott Palmer, and an American, Staff Sergeant Brandon Silk, were killed. Eight other Australians were severely injured with Private Benjamin Chuck pronounce dead shortly after arriving at the NATO Role 3 medical facility in Kandahar.
This engine cowling was salvaged from the wrecked Black Hawk and used by the soldiers on board the other three helicopters as a makeshift stretcher for the worunded. The casualties were evacuated to Kandahar and the stretcher was then displayed in the hospital’s trauma bay. This was done as a memorial to those who lost their lives and as a tribute to the ingenuity and dedication of those who worked tirelessly to save the lives of their friends and comrades.”
Another display that I could not miss was this storage bin, ripped from the side of a Bushmaster when a powerful Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was detonated beneath it in early Novebmer 2012.
The Bushmaster, or Protected Mobility Vehicle (PMV) was designed and produced in Bendigo Victoria in 1998. The manufacturers, Thales Australia, have gone on to modify and enhance the PMV to become one of the most successful military vehicles in operation today. Many PMVs have been damaged or destroyed in Afghanistan by IEDs. Although there have been some Australian casualties, no lives have been lost – a testament to the vehicle’s uniquely effective design.
Eventually it was time for me to head back to Poppy’s the Cafe to meet another recipient who had left Afghanistan too early to receive a quilt. We had arranged that I would bring it to Canberra with me and we met for a cuppa to hand it over. The quilt was made by Lynn with the Rising Sun embroidered by Kerri B and then the quilt was quilted and bound by Robin. The combination of the Rising Sun, the cricket and rugby themes met with heartfelt approval. The photo was taken by another fellow I had been looking forward to meeting. This fellow is one of the Air Force’s hard working Photographers, a modern day version of war correspondent. I have come to understand just how hard this guys and girls work to photograph so much of what our serving members do whilst they are working, wherever that may be in the world. He took this photo for me (with my “little” camera – it is actually my “big one” LOL) but I did not want to stretch the friendship to ask him to step in front of the lens!
It looks like you might have to wait and I will finish telling you about my week in Canberra in another post as emails are piling up and I have been writing for long enough today.
Till next time……………..keep spreading the word and happy stitching!
Thanks for sharing! It was very moving.
my Husband (ex RN Submariner) and I visited the War memorial in Canberra last year. I hadnt been there for many years and was very moved. My dh wore his sunglasses for much of his visit. It is an incredible place to visit, I dont think many people leave there without shedding a tear
Wonderful to read Jan-Maree.
Thank you Jan Maree!