Small service has a big heart

By Geoff Adams

Like droplets of blood on a battlefield, red splashes of colour were scattered around the granite memorial on the rural road.

Only when you got closer could you see the red belonged to knitted poppies, reminiscent of the flowers that bloomed on the field of conflict in France.

It was a sobering sight that greeted the people of Warrenbayne who gathered, only about 40 in number, for last week’s Anzac Day service, organised by one of their community.

Farmer Ken Heywood was disappointed that regular services had stopped at the small cenotaph in the hamlet, south of Benalla.

So about 10 years ago he decided to pitch in and organise a small observance, which has had the support of the district’s families.

The plastic chairs were out, a wreath organised and a local historian commissioned to present a short history of one of the men who enlisted more than a century ago.

Janine Washusen told the story of Arthur Heywood, who was one of the few who enlisted in the AIF and survived three years in the European theatres of war. He bought a farm in the district after he was discharged.

Cockatoos screeched overhead and a gentle autumn breeze touched the branches of the gum trees.

The Last Post came from a computer tablet and the amplification from a battery-powered radio microphone. Some things have changed, and others haven’t.

The memorial containing the names of the diggers who died in two world wars has stood for 99 years.

Most of the people who came for the outdoor service live in the district but one, Jean Miller, travelled from Melbourne to return to the place where she grew up.

The Anzac Day service was a good enough reason to return for a long weekend.

A small handful have also moved to other towns, but they are drawn back for community events like this.

Master of ceremonies Ken Heywood reminded the gathering that not only should everyone remember those who had fallen in war and gave the ultimate sacrifice, but also those innocents who had died recently at the hands of terrorists in Christchurch and Sri Lanka.

The memorial, the first built in any community in the Benalla Shire after World War I, and opened in 1920, challenges all visitors with the inscription: ‘Ours is the guard the heritage they gave us, and make our nation worthy of our dead’.

The minister presiding at the opening ceremony 99 years ago said it should stand as a silent witness of what the soldiers had done. ‘‘It stood as an unlighted torch.’’

The people of Warrenbayne have not forgotten.