Haunting pain of war in the night sky

P1180814 (2)This week Walter Stanley Dye’s name was projected high onto the forty metre edifice of the Australian War Memorial overlooking the national capital Canberra. Exactly one hundred years ago to the day, he was a twenty year old baker plunged into mourning with the death of his mother, and about to embark on the greatest, and worst, adventure of his life.

Walter is today among the 102,813 Australians who were killed in the First World War, and now being individually honoured by the Australian War Memorial with their name projected in two metre tall lettering for the centenary year of the ANZAC.

My discomfort of waiting out at night in Canberra’s sub-zero temperatures was immediately replaced by a warm, satisfying, flow of emotion, as his name was illuminated in the cold sky above me. I perceived the same dour emptiness in the depths of my soul that his family must have endured a century ago.

When Walter’s mother Ann died on 30 June 1915 in the small Victorian western district town of Heywood, their household was left without a woman’s guiding hand, and Walter and his eighteen year old brother Victor were allowed to almost immediately go away to war.

One year later, their father was sickened with pain, realising that the permission he signed had led directly to the news just handed to him. His anguish was palpable for me this week as I stood transfixed by Walter’s name surrounded by stars. You see, William and his brother were both blown to bits, in the same French village, on the same day.

Neither William nor his brother have a known grave, so their 25 July 1916 deaths are commemorated at the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial in France. They are also remembered together on the Australian War Memorial’s roll of honour, the country war memorial in Heywood, and on a poignant marble plaque in the family cemetery, beside their mother and father.

This week my cousin also briefly shone in the cold night sky over Canberra.

Click here to watch Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial on 30 June 2015, the 100th anniversary of the death of the mother of Private Walter Stanley Dye.

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