This year’s Anzac Day service in Picton saw more locals than ever rise early from bed to pay their respects to those soldiers who have risked their lives protecting our borders.
The weather was warmer this year and the rain held off long enough for more than 12,000 people to line the streets and listened to the moving service in Picton Memorial Park from 7am.
Hundreds of veterans, school children, emergency service personnel, cadets, Veterans Motorcycle Club members and soldiers’ families marched up Argyle Street to honour Wollondilly’s service men and women.
Rosemary, poppies and medals were proudly pinned to their chests.
The Oaks Public School and Chevalier College pupils walked for the first time in the Picton march.
Locals stood shoulder to shoulder squeezed into the park as Picton Anzac Day Committee chairman Ray Law welcomed everyone to the service with a poem recital.
“To our returned service personnel – those of you who have upheld the safety of this country and of her Allies at great cost to yourselves – today is about you and your service and we honour it,” Mr Law said.
“Today we also pay homage to those who have paid the supreme sacrifice and have not been returned to their families.”
Mr Law then told a personal story of his uncle Bob’s family.
“In 1958 Australia was trying to put World War II behind it in the excitement of the baby boom,” he said.
“One particular fateful night, an Australian family man got off the train, as he did every night, after work and walked the short distance to his house.
“He walked in the back door, put down his bag, kissed his wife and hugged his four small children. He then fell dead on the kitchen floor.
“This man was an ex-World War II serviceman. He was a member of the ill-fated second 20th battalion, which had been taken into captivity with the 8th division in Singapore.
“He had spent some time in the infamous Changi prison and then he was taken to the coal mines and steel mills of Japan where he was tortured, beaten, overworked, denied food and denied proper medical attention.
“He did however survive the war and on his return he was admitted to Concord Rehabilitation Hospital and there for several months his recuperation continued.
“When his older brother, himself a veteran, finally returned from overseas he went to hospital to visit his brother. His condition was so poor, that his eldest brother passed the bed without recognising his own brother.
“Everyone thought he assumed a normal, healthy lifestyle. He eventually returned to work, he married, had children, bought a house, set up a home.
“And that night in 1958, his war experience caught up with him. His heart, which nobody realised had been weakened from his ill-treatment, finally gave out. He was 36 years old.”
Mr Law told that story to talk about the number of veterans who died prematurely because of the ill-affects of their service after returning home.
He is dismayed at how our country treats our veterans – an unknown number of whom have taken their own lives or who have become homeless.
“We as a country have failed to meet their needs and we have failed to look after those who gave their all to look after us,” Mr Law said.
“Nobody wins a war, some just lose more than others.”
Mr Law thanked the school students for coming to learn about the sacrifice veterans have made and said that veterans appreciated their presence.
Hymns were sung, a scripture was read by Picton and Wilton Anglican churches senior minister Ben Boardman and Wollondilly Anglican College captains lead the Lords Prayer.
Students from each of the schools then laid a wreath that spelt ‘Our Anzacs’ and other service organisations, community groups and politicians also laid wreaths.
Harrison Wood from Picton High School read a poem for his commemorative address.
The familiar rendition of the Last Post sounding was heard before one minutes silence was observed.
This year the New Zealand National Anthem was sung for the first time after the Australian National Anthem.
Mr Law thanked the Picton High School technical crew for their continued commitment to the service.
He thanked long-time service supporter and Picton High School band teacher Suzy Brandstater, who is retiring from teaching next year.
Lest we forget.