Anzac Assembly at Birdwood High School

Anzac Assembly at Birdwood High SchoolHow do you measure pride – in a person, a school or a nation? Possibly by using words like dignity, character, conduct and respect. Well it’s pride within the students at Birdwood High School that swelled at their annual Anzac assembly. For them, Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance and wonder at the sacrifices that people made, some of those people were only teenagers themselves.

On Friday the 23rd of April, Birdwood High School’s annual Anzac assembly kicked off with school principal, Steve Hicks, introducing an impressive entourage; the Hon. Mark Goldsworthy MP; Mr. Jock Statton OAM, President of NT/SA RSL; Viviene Rusk; Kingsley Paul, president of the Lobethal RSL; Channel 9 News and various other media representatives; students and staff from both Birdwood Primary School and Birdwood High School.

This year’s Anzac celebrations were made extra special through the positive identification of three lost soldiers; Raymond Pflaum, Joseph Stead and Frank Loader. They each have connections to Birdwood High School through its history students and Connecting Spirits program, run by an inspiring teacher, Julie Reece. The soldiers’ descendants were notified and existing family members were also invited to the assembly.

Julie and the Connecting Spirits students led the assembly through some moving footage, created at the school, and the students spoke with overwhelming passion for the men they were honouring. Mr. Jock Statton, OAM, was invited to recite the Ode and in an assembly hall, mostly full of teenagers, you could have heard a pin drop when he said the words, “Lest we forget”.

Over 90 years ago, up to 250 soldiers fell at Pheasant Wood in Fromelles, France, and were buried in mass graves. As the past and present mingle on Anzac day, modern science has provided the answer to a question that has been asked for almost a century; “where are our boys?” In March this year, DNA testing enabled the identification of those soldiers who, until recently, were buried as unknown. Seventy five of those men were Australians who will now have headstones bearing their names.

Some of Julie Reece’s Year 9 students (Riley Sinkinson, Clara Torrans and Briah Kent) decided to study the lives of Privates Pflaum, Stead and Loader. These soldiers came to life in the form of their descendants and the girls were thrilled to be able to give a copy of their projects to each soldier’s family.

Private Raymond Pflaum is of particular interest to the township of Birdwood for many reasons; his father ran the general store and was part owner of the Mill; the Pflaum family were active members of their community through the district council, Parliament and as religious leaders; they were responsible for the Birdwood Institute and Cemetery; Pflaum Street is on the boundary of the School and the red sports team at the High School is named Pflaum house. Everyone at the assembly was asked to wear something red in representation of the Pflaum family. Most profoundly, the building that is now Birdwood Primary School was once Raymond Pflaum’s home, where he was born and grew up.

Former student, Florence Bourke, sang the Australian National Anthem at the assembly, with such pride. She also performed her own song, accompanied by Balhannah residents, Harry and Angelie Theodore on acoustic guitar and cello. This song entranced us all as we listened to the story of a mother’s pain at losing her son. It was an amazingly emotional tribute to all soldiers in unknown graves.

Raymond Pflaum was aged 19 when he died in WWI and for 94 years he was only “Known Unto God”. But now in Florence Bourke’s words, “he is known to us all”, thanks to science and remembrance.

Jock Statton, Douglas Rhodes

Jock Statton OAM, NT & SA RSL president showing Sophie and Douglas Rhodes of Lobethal how to play “two-up”.

Kinglsey Paul, John Statton, Julie Reece

Kingsley Paul, Lobethal RSL president, Jock Statton OAM, SA and NT RSL president, Julie Reece, History teacher & Connecting Spirits founder and Steve Hicks, Principal at Birdwood High School.

Briah Kent, Anna Bailey

Year 9 student, Briah Kent, handing her project to a Pflaum family member, Ann Bailey.