Published on November 1, 2018
In late 2017, I was forwarded information about the 2018 Premier’s Anzac Memorial Scholarship, which is an annual opportunity offered to students in NSW through the Office for Veterans Affairs (OVA).
This Scholarship was a fully paid experience for students who loved history, to visit the Western Front and tour the battlefields as part of the Centenary of the Battle of Hamel. The successful scholarship applicants were chosen- now all they needed were teachers to apply. After a written application and an interview in Sydney, I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of three teachers responsible for the daily coordination of the scholars.
As a teacher of history, this was one of the most memorable experiences I have had.
Twenty students in total attended from all over NSW who came from various backgrounds, making the trip a pleasure. Not to forget the wonderful company of my fellow teachers and the fantastic Mr Brad Manera, Senior Historian and Curator at the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney, who would bring to life the battlefield sites with his stories about the Australian diggers. As a group, we all became a history ‘family’ and visited the places that we know all too well from our studies.
Our tour involved visiting museums, Commonwealth war graves and battle sites to honour the men and women who had fought along the Western Front. Students were required to research a nominated soldier or nurse and to present a short biography, usually at the location of their grave, to highlight their role in the Great War. I also had the pleasure of completing this task by researching my Great Uncle Thierman who fought and died in the Ypres Salient – this was an incredibly emotional experience.
However, the tour wasn’t all serious and solemn. There were plenty of opportunities to experience life overseas. We visited London and the Natural History Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, Hyde Park and the Imperial War Museum and learned the ‘ins and outs’ of French public transport (and their obsession with baguettes).
We also had the honour to represent NSW by attending ceremonies to commemorate the attack on Hamel by the Australian General Monash and the daily Last Post ceremony at Menin Gate. We even came across the Château de Querrieu which was the headquarters of General Rawlinson and commandeered by Monash to decorate his soldiers in the field. History nerd heaven!
All teachers should consider the opportunities that are presented to us, no matter how small the chances might be. You might find yourself standing in Europe visiting the trenches and sites you have only ever seen in a textbook.