This year, our ANZAC Day service was especially memorable with two wonderful speakers, Colonel Jason Cook and Mr Philip Spence. Much to our surprise, Mr Spence was an ex-Glen Eira College (or Caulfield High School, as he knew it in 1975) student who later went on to join the police force, a career which often took his duties overseas. In comparison, Col. Cook grew up in Clayton and immediately joined the Army Reserves in 1982 to later become a Colonel.
Before the ceremony itself began, the four school captains had the privilege of meeting Col. Cook and Mr Spence, and I was delighted to find out how light-hearted and cheery the two men were. Mr Spence was eager to discuss with us the changes Glen Eira College had gone through since he last attended, and shared many of his fondest memories as the delinquent, football-loving student he was before joining the Australian Federal Police in 1979. Col. Cook introduced himself as Melbourne-born, and told us just how excited he was to take part in our school ceremony.
After the students took their seats, and the catafalque party marched into position, us group of speakers left the front office and made our way towards the stage. I know I felt an immense sense of pride and importance walking towards that stage alongside the other leaders of our school, and the inspirational guest speakers. Honestly, having written this article over a month after the ceremony, I couldn’t possibly remember each individual process and order of it all, but what I do distinctly remember is the speeches given by both Col. Cook and Mr Spence, and how they introduced ideals and concepts which I had simply never thought about before, and how they genuinely provided one of my most memorable experiences with guest speakers at this school.
I remember how Mr Spence quickly gained the students' attention through sharing his past experience attending our school, but far more than that I remember how he described how detrimental the first World War had been. Asking students to look around at their peers and imagine different groups of them as dead, or injured, or simply going into the war at such a young age, Mr Spence allowed faces to be associated with statistics - rather than simply stating percentages or numbers, he encouraged the students to look around, and recognise how many real people are impacted by these conflicts in our world. Mr Spence later went on to describe the importance of the phrase ‘Lest we forget’ - and how it doesn’t simply describe that we won’t forget, however that we can’t. It acknowledges our duty as a nation to remember and commemorate the soldiers who sacrificed their lives, and that they should never be disregarded.
Of Col. Cook’s speech, the moment I remember especially clearly was he talked about the service provided by members of the armed forces, and how it is something to take pride in and be recognised for - and that one of the kindest ways to spark a conversation with many members of the field is to ask for their stories, in particular the stories behind their medals. In that moment I realised how obvious it seemed to take an interest in the medals given to these men who had done so much for our country, and yet I am so aware that when we first met the guests before the ceremony had begun, it didn’t even cross my mind. I do acknowledge now that it is something respectful to do, but furthermore it is interesting to hear about, and leads to so many great stories - and I am extremely grateful that we were able to talk to the guests after the ceremony had concluded so I had the opportunity to ask them more about their service, and their awards. After the speeches had come to an end, the laying of the wreaths by the Australian flag had begun. While I myself didn’t lay the wreath, I stood at the podium reading the ‘Ode to Remembrance’ as my fellow captains, guest speakers, Connor McCaskie, and Mr Hamer-Smith walked down the aisle (a pathway that was expertly created through carefully placing where students sat). This was followed by a respectful minute of silence.
After the ceremony, the captains, alongside other teachers and cadets, were able to have some refreshments and continue the conversations with the two guests. Inspired by the speech of Col. Cook, I quickly became engaged in a conversation with Mr Spence discussing his medals. While the majority of his medals were received for his police work overseas, it was difficult to not be especially enthralled by his Australian Bravery Medal, something he had received for his heroic involvement during the Canberra bushfires of 2005 - a medal which only around a thousand Australians have had the privilege of receiving. I am extremely grateful to not only have attended this beautiful ANZAC ceremony, but to have also had the additional opportunities to really talk to and get to know the guest speakers who each had such inspirational and unique stories which they were eager to share.