LEST WE FORGET: The sacrifices of the Anzacs were honoured on Anzac Day.
LEST WE FORGET: The sacrifices of the Anzacs were honoured on Anzac Day. Graham Harsant

Kermie remembers the Anzacs

LIKE every small town in Australia, Devenish, in Victoria's food belt, sent its young able-bodied men to war, and as with all towns, many did not return.

Last weekend we journeyed an hour or so up the road to this tiny village. Devenish came into being around 1883, thanks to the railway line which was opened to support the mixed farming production of the area.

At harvest time, bagged grain was delivered by horse and wagon, built into huge stacks waiting to be loaded onto steam trains. During the two major wars, co-operative wheat pools were created to assist growers and to ensure management of vital foods at time of crisis.

In December 1943, two concrete silos were opened to receive grain. Once built, it was common to see long lines of overloaded trucks queueing at the weighbridge. It was a wonderful time of mateship as farmers chatted about their crops. A metal silo was added later on.

Fundamental changes to farming techniques such as on-farm storage led to the closure of the silos in 2007, and together with the departure of the railway line, Devenish became a decaying, forgotten spot on the Victorian map.

The town has revitalised itself however by the creation of silo art - joining a number of other small, forgotten towns to create "The Silo Trail”, a must-see for anyone visiting the area.

Life with Kermie
Life with Kermie Graham Harsant

This particular weekend celebrated the unveiling of the third work of art by Cam Scale in the town - with the metal silo joining his previous works on the two concrete ones. This artwork was particularly relevant this weekend as it was unveiled shortly before Anzac Day. It is a visual tribute to the 50 young men and women from the Devenish area who enlisted in service in the First World War, the first two focusing on the role of nurses in service and how that role has evolved over time.

The works represent the historical image of a First World War nurse juxtaposed with the current role of women in front-line service - in this case a combat medic. They have now been joined by a light horseman.

The town opened its doors to visitors with many locals dressing in period costume and a Scottish Pipe Band leading the street parade.

An early Anzac service was held and in front of these imposing portraits seemed, somehow even more poignant, if that is possible. As always at this time, my thoughts drift to my grandpa.

My grandfather, Samuel James Gamble, was an Anzac - a member of the 14th Battalion. He was the last wounded soldier to be taken from the battlefield by Simpson and his donkey before Simpson died. As if that hellhole wasn't enough, upon recovery he was sent to the Somme.

He miraculously survived that as well and returned home to be the breadwinner for my grandmother, Blanche and their four children.

Life with Kermie
Life with Kermie Graham Harsant

One of my prized possessions is the pocket bible he carried into war. His mother would write letters and place a flower in each one, which grandpa would press between the pages of his bible. That bible, carried in his left breast pocket, also shows the scar of the bullet it deflected.

Grandpa never spoke about the war, never joined the RSL and only joined in the Anzac Parade once, shortly before his death, recreating the ride on Simpson's donkey.

Did his experiences affect him? His very silence suggests that they did - deeply.

Was help available to overcome the tortuous experiences he and his fellow soldiers had suffered? None at all. Like thousands of others, grandpa suffered in silence. Luckily these days, post-traumatic stress is recognised and there is help (although nowhere near enough) for our returned servicemen and women.

I stood before these spectacular works of art at Devenish on this day and cried for my grandpa, for the futility of war and for all those brave souls who placed their lives in danger and death so that we might live.

Lest we forget,

Kermie

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