Author Kerry White details the journey in March this year to Gallipoli made by two Vietnam veterans in order to salvage important ANZAC commemoration plaques.
A Queensland team of volunteers has returned from a mission to replace stolen information plaques at Gallipoli before the centenary commemorations on Anzac Day.
The team of 10 was organised by Vietnam War veterans Eric Winn from Mackay and Len Thompson OAM from the Sunshine Coast. They have been involved with providing plaques and other commemorative structures on the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea for more than 15 years through the Kokoda Memorial Foundation.
When the pair heard that nine of 10 bronze plaques at Gallipoli were stolen last year, apparently for their scrap metal value, they decided to act. They worked on the project with Melbourne war historian Dr Ross Bastiaan AM, who was responsible for the original plaques being placed in the late 1980s through consultation with the Turkish Government and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The replacement plaques, made by Arrow Foundry in Melbourne, are 960 x 770mm, weighing 63 kg each, with relevant information in four languages – English, Turkish, German and French – like the originals.
The team has set the plaques in plinths in a way that will make them hopefully theft proof.
The plaques are at the same sites – locations that are part of the Gallipoli legend: Ari Burnu, Anzac Cove, Shrapnel Valley, Shell Green, Lone Pine, Courtney’s and Steele’s Posts, Quinn’s Post, The Nek, and Chunuk Bair; with a tenth plaque remaining at Hill 971.
Mr Thompson said $55,000 for the project had been provided by the Commonwealth Government through Michael Ronaldson, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC and Special Minister of State.
“Most of that went towards the cost of making the plaques,” he said. “The RAAF flew the team, the plaques and whatever else we need to Istanbul via Dubai, but apart from that we met our own expenses.
“The RAAF has also been a great supporter of our work over the years in Papua New Guinea.”
Several other members of the volunteer team are Vietnam War veterans or more recent Australian Defence Force members.
For Maroochydore’s Bill Shaw, the trip was like another chance of a lifetime – the first time he went overseas “they put me on a boat for Vietnam” and this will be his second time overseas.
Through their foundation Mr Thompson and Mr Winn, along with a lot of mates, do more than just provide memorabilia and items marking war efforts and sacrifices in PNG – they have helped local people with the provision of basic infrastructure such as water supplies, school needs and hospital equipment.
Former banker Mr Thompson would rather talk about his voluntary work and the causes it helps rather than his military service in Vietnam with the 8th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, and the fact he survived being shot in the mouth in an ambush.
He and Mr Winn still have Kokoda projects on hold – waiting until after the Gallipoli task commemorating their military ancestors.
Their common interest with Dr Bastiaan in commemoration of Australia’s military history will remain strong though he did not go to Gallipoli. A Melbourne dental specialist with many interests including being a sculptor of note, he has been responsible for placing of plaques commemorating Australian military history at many other locations throughout the world including France, Singapore, Thailand, Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam and Greece as well as within Australia.
“Dr Bastiaan’s work has previously been recognised by ABC’s Australian Story in 2006,” Mr Thompson said. “A follow-up is being developed around the 2015 Gallipoli project, which involved a broader team comprising volunteers who are war veterans and non-veterans as well as a military historian and branches of government dedicated to ensuring that proper commemoration continues for those of our ancestors who served and gave their lives.”
Kerry White has published two books: The Poet from Hell (ISBN 978-1491031278), an anthology including poems of war and other matters … peace, love, family, religion, history, life and death; and Strength, Labour and Sorrow (ISBN 978-0994281418) celebrating 70 years, includes a poetic story of his life, a take on Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, family history and a tribute to fellow Vietnam War veterans. Both are available online.