For commemorations in the past, I’ve sometimes been as far afield as the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and Westminster Abbey in London. But this year for the centenary of the German Armistice that effectively ended the First World War, I want to be somewhere different. As the bugle sounds the last post on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month this Sunday, I’ll be hiking across the Snowy River gazed upon by wild Brumbies, both Australian icons to the core.
The Great War of 1914-1919 claimed up to nineteen million lives to be among the deadliest conflicts in human history. For Australia with a population of just five million, the death toll was among the worst with sixty-two thousand killed from her tallest, brightest and boldest. In modern terms, that’s over 300,000 Australians not coming home.
This week I’m hiking the ten highest peaks in Australia in four days, including Mt Kosciuszko, to raise awareness and money for the charity Mental Health Association. They help those in need, including our returned service men and women. Please click here to donate if you like. I’ll be camping on the peaks of the Kosciuszko National Park and contemplating what a beautiful world in which we live, and thanking those who helped make it so.
Among those heroes are my great-grandfather Tom Peacock (pictured above). He was too old for the First World War but enlisted anyway, aged forty-four, so that his son Harold wouldn’t go. After surviving the sinking of his ship by a German submarine, and being gassed in the third Battle of Ypres, Tom was invalided home. His personal sacrifice succeeded, because by the time Harold had enlisted and volunteered to join the Australian Light Horse in Palestine, the war ended. Harold was my grandfather.
At a welcome home reception in 1918 at which Tom’s daughter Grace skipped to entertain the crowd, Tom was presented with an engraved gold medal by Senator William Plain (pictured right). Plain had entered the Australian Senate in the wake of the first conscription referendum. He was founding president of the Nationalist Party and a close confident of prime minister Billy Hughes.
I treasure that medal today along with Tom’s Silver War Badge given to him for being honourably discharged due to his wounds. Tom collected his British War Medal and Victory Medal from the Werribee post office. His biggest reward however, was that his only son remained safe.
This Armistice Day I’ll be cleansing my lungs with the fresh snowy mountain air of the Australian Alps. I’ll also be dreaming of old Tom and how he breathed so deeply and bowed his head in thankful prayer when the Armistice was signed a century ago.
Those wild Brumbies gazing down from amongst the snow gums will remind me of my grandfather and his Australian Light Horse. Grandad was actually on board a ship waiting to leave port when the Armistice was announced.
How lucky we all are for those heroes of a hundred years ago. Without them we wouldn’t be enjoying the life that we have today, especially me, camping in spectacular scenery on the roof of Australia.
Camping on the Ten Peaks Hike – Mike Edmondson www.mikeedmondson.com.au
Thomas James Peacock 1872-1960 – my own
Senator William Plain 1868–1961 – National Library of Australia
Medals of Tom Peacock – my own