Boorowa Central School, NSW: Anzac Club

Boorowa Central School's Anzac Club used the opportunity provided by Celebrating Democracy Week to add to their collection of interviews of ex-servicemen and women.

By Jennifer Green, Deputy Principal

Under the theme of 'Celebrating Democracy', during the week of 18-22 October, members of the Anzac Club at Boorowa Central School worked very hard recording and researching the service histories of their district's local men and women.

Jaimee Platt and Lexie Carney interview Claude Grimson, WWII veteran, at Burrowa House - Aged Care Facility.

Jaimee Platt and Lexie Carney interview Claude Grimson, WWII veteran, at Burrowa House - Aged Care Facility.

During this week, students interviewed service men who served in World War II and Vietnam, recording their reflections on their service time. Students went to the veterans' homes or visited nursing homes to conduct the interviews in groups of two students and one teacher to ensure the veterans were comfortable with the interview process. Using digital video to record the interviews, students then spent time editing the footage with computers. As the club records more footage, they will be constructing an online museum of service history of the Boorowa District. To date the club has now interviewed 13 veterans, mostly from World War II and one Malaya and Vietnam veteran.

Melanie Barker interviews Burt Halley, WWII veteran, at home.

Melanie Barker interviews Burt Halley, WWII veteran, at home.

It is through the RSL that the students gain access to veterans willing to be interviewed. Some of the veterans who at first were cautious about being interviewed have had their fears allayed by the other RSL members who have been interviewed.

The Anzac Club members who are all currently in Years 7, 8 and 9, have been particularly moved by the young age of the men when killed. They have gained a great deal of knowledge of these young men while researching at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, where they have spent two and a half days in recent times. On returning to school, one of the library archivists from the memorial archives wrote to Mr Witchard, the principal of Boorowa Central School, passing on her sincere best wishes for the program the club is involved in, and congratulating all of the students for the excellent manner in which they not only behaved, but spent their time on task and researching like professionals.

Local RSL members have assisted students gain access to nominal rolls and honour rolls around the town and surrounding small villages, so that they could collate a definitive nominal roll for the Boorowa District. Working closely with the local RSL members, the students have found the advice and input of the returned service people invaluable. Mrs Debbie Valencic, one of the teachers who coordinates the club, said 'The RSL have been there at each stage of our club's work offering suggestions and providing contacts and support.' The club has spent time visiting the nursing and aged care homes in the town, sitting with the residents and talking about the people who we have on our nominal rolls, recording the information that gives the 'whole person picture' and not just a name and service number.

To date, the Anzac Club has identified 610 men and women from the Boorowa district who served in the various conflicts, including: the Sudan War, the Boer War, World War I and World War II. They are yet to concentrate on discovering the scope of community involvement in the Korean, Malaya and Vietnam conflicts. The students even discovered people from the district who served in the Battle of Waterloo, the Kaffir Wars, and the Maori uprisings.

To complete our districts nominal roll, the Anzac Club has given talks at various meetings around town, such as Probus, written articles for the local paper and paid for advertisements to increase our profile and to encourage members of the wider community to come forward and provide us with information of their friends and relatives that served in any of the military services.

Several of the RSL members attended an excursion with the students to Mulwaree High School in Goulburn. At this meeting, students and teachers from four other schools in our region shared our experiences of starting an Anzac club and local research, and to investigate options for the directions of the club. As a group, we are going to promote the work of the club in an attempt to encourage other schools around NSW and Australia to modify the work of our clubs to suit their towns and regions.

The Anzac Club had a float at the Woolfest Parade in Boorowa

The Anzac Club had a float at the Woolfest Parade in Boorowa.

Recently at the famous Boorowa Woolfest, which this year attracted an estimated 13,000 to 15,000 people, the Anzac Club presented a display in the historic Town Clock Memorial to promote the work of the club and to gain community contacts with individuals who may be able to assist the club in its research. Over 200 people inspected the memorial and many locals or past locals provided a considerable amount of information and contacts for the project.

The club still has a long way to go before members feel they have completed their work. 'We are trying to make contact with as many servicemen and women to record their stories before they are lost from Boorowa's history,' said deputy principal Ms. Jenny Green. 'We are having problems tracking down men and women who may have served in conflicts after WWII including Korea, Malaya and Vietnam as we have not discovered any nominal roll or honour roll around in the district. We would love people to contact the school with names of people who served in these conflicts.'

Over the course of the project, students have developed a very deep level of respect for these men and women and the service that they provided so that Australia could remain a free democratic nation, or to execute its international obligations. They are frequently touched by the information they discover about these very brave and, in most cases, very young people. In researching these people, the students are developing a real sense of what it means to be 'Australian' and to live in a free democracy.

Another aspect of the program is remembering the fallen of the Boorowa District by planting a red or white flowering shrub or tree for each serviceman killed in action. Back in July students were joined by members of the local RSL and Landcare in the planting of a shrub or tree to commemorate each serviceman killed in action in World War I. The club plans to place a permanent brass plate with details of each individual soldier next to the shrub. Money from the Celebrating Democracy grant will allow the production of cement plinths by our design and technology classes, and once funding for the plates has been found, a special dedication ceremony will take place, hopefully either around Anzac Day or Remembrance Day in 2005.

The Boorowa Anzac Club is a very enthusiastic group of students and teachers who are genuinely committed to their charter. Having a national focus on Celebrating Democracy allowed the club to promote its work and have a dedicated push to get a lot of their interviews and research done through the week. It paid off. We achieved a huge amount of work within the week:

  • Monday 18 October - we interviewed WWII veteran Mr Burt Halley and worked on the nominal roll research.
  • Tuesday 19 October - we interviewed Malayan and Vietnam Veteran Mr Burt Gruetzner, and prepared tapes and nominal roll spreadsheets for work on Wednesday.
  • Wednesday 20 October - we interviewed Mr Noel Halley and Mr Claude Grimson at the Aged Hostel Burrowa House. Both gentlemen served in World War II. We had morning tea with the residents and talked about their memories of other locals who had served in World War I and II and who are no longer alive. We were impressed with the residents' memory of distant times and a very different world of the Depression and life in an isolated rural setting. We also began work on editing the video of the week's interviews using computers.
  • Thursday 21 October - eight club members and two RSL members travelled to Mulwaree High School in Goulburn to join Anzac Clubs from Mulwaree High School, Gundaroo Public School, Gunning Public School, Taralgan Public School. At this meeting we evaluated the work each club was doing in terms of their contributions to the students and the wider community.
  • Friday the 22 October - we held a full Club Meeting to discuss our ideas from the previous day and to plan ahead for local promotion activities including the Reid's Flat Show, the Boorowa Show and a presentation at a local service club.

Charter of the Boorowa Central School Anzac Club

Guiding vision: to use Australia's military history, both at home and abroad, as a vehicle to better develop an understanding of the roles and experiences of all those Australians who have lived through wartime.

In doing this our charter is:

  1. To give our young Australians the opportunity to develop both an awareness and an understanding of the contributions their predecessors have made regarding Australia's military history.
  2. To develop an ongoing student interest in Australia's military history, with particular emphasis on the school's local community.
  3. To identify, recognise and respect, from a military perspective, the contribution that the local community has made both to the nation and for the district.

'Lest We Forget'