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At the Shrine by Nicolette Freeman

My husband and I have always come to Anzac Day, the dawn service and we've always found that extraordinarily moving. It's moving watching the Sun emerge, the sky change and this building against the skyline, so it holds those connections of course. 

Although they gave the ultimate sacrifice of the First World War and of course they were all buried overseas.  

We had a very small population and if it wasn't your grandfather or your father or your brothers or your uncle, it was the man across the road or the next-door neighbour. And so, the people needed somewhere to come and remember those they had lost. So, they queued for hours to give their money to build this beautiful Shrine.  

I was born three weeks after my father's oldest brother was killed in Alexandria and so my middle name is Alexandria and I was told stories of how my grandmother and my aunts were taken out of the church in East Kew, told there was a telegram for them outside, taken out during a church service and Sharon was saying Philip had died.  

Unlike today, descendants, wives, sisters, couldn’t readily visit the battlefields of France and Turkey.  

And so yes, they were bought up on these stories and there were these underlying connections or the fact that my father could never, ever talk about it and yet there was a sadness in the family my mother had first bought up before she met my father. 

So it's a place for so many of those folk, where you can go and remember, think their grave might be on the other side of the earth, their mortal bones, their remains might be inaccessible but that place is a place where they can go for a minute. 

16, 17 they went thinking of the greatest adventure, they didn't even know what overseas means though they came from farms and everything, all over the country and of course they were never seen again, it's extraordinary.  

The Shrine acted a bit like um a reminder of a set of values from which people in society had moved on from and I think of, to me it's a reminder, of traditional values that go beyond the material culture which we’re all constantly immersed in.  

A whole understanding of death makes life more valuable and I think that’s what were getting from it, that these young people died and that they've got the opportunity of living.   

It sits on a hill and interestingly enough, once you've been inside the Shrine and seen it, it's a man-made hill and it was it deliberately done right down um Swanston street,  

I find it very hard to describe the building, it's like a, um the Greek temple up on the hill being the monarch of all I survey, I just sort of look at look at it as being almost divine.   

Your eyes are cut in and are going heaven ward and then of course you walked up vast numbers of stairs to reach it and that indeed is another humbling thing, there is something bigger than the individual about it.  

I was 22 when I joined up to yeah I'd be 23 then I think that entrance that is in Blood red, I think that that maybe it's the blood of those men who died that they are trying to represent there.  

And even as you enter into the entry courtyard with lest we forget blood red on the walls you, you know immediately you are in a sacred place. 

This area we call a sanctuary, a place for peace, for reflection, to remember and put your own thoughts into what you feel when the light crosses the stone, we have people sometimes standing. 

I have a shaft of light shines through the building and onto the Crypt and shines on ‘love hath’ of greater love hath no man and that only happens on the 11th hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh months but they do have a reconstruction of that light shining through and to me it was just so appealing to see that light, it it wasn't the real light, but it was a reconstruction of it and I, I thought it was just wonderful to see it and you know on that crypt you have to, it's below level, and you have to bow your head to read it.  

And the rest of that verse is greater love hath no man that he would give up his life for his friend and that's what a lot of the diggers did, didn't they? They gave up their life for their mate that was fighting next-door to them.  

I seemed to them to be yeah I don't quite know how to describe it but I feel that I'm lifted into another plane I feel as though I'm not there but I'm looking down from there but I'm sort of not yeah that I'm just sort of looking down on and think about all those men who have given their lives that yes it it's a place of very quiet reflection. 

Now you're all heard of Changi. Anybody haven't heard of Changi? You should know about it. 

There was still a few of us, there was still a bit of beef on us and the Japanese called us the good-looking boys not because we were handsome but because there was a good bit work left in us. By now Japan was being very heavily bombed. 

This flag was captured by the Australian Army and kept in Changi prison through the war away from the Japanese and was hidden from them, and they would hide it by passing it around. 

They were flying in from China and their flight path was right above our camp, a coal mining camp called Ohama. Anyway this, this morning, Bert was standing between the two doors and the most beautiful brilliant white light appeared and it seemed to flow in like, like stage smoke, met Bert's body rolled up his body, met at the top of his head and formed a silver halo. My first thought was we've had a direct hit and we’re dead because there's Bert with his halo and I was always taught of Sunday School that if you saw this bright light you're in heaven. Bert wasn't a very handsome man, but his face looked beautiful, I thought he was an angel, and all at once the vision faded so we walked outside the eastern door and we were hit by a wave of hot air then we looked up and just emerging above the horizon was this odd-looking, mushroom-shaped cloud. It was a new type of bomb the Americans had just dropped on the nearby city of Hiroshima. 

 

 

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