Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Firing Party

There are many things I am proud of in my life. Not big, media grabbing achievements, but those smaller personal things that I cherish as being such an important time in my life.

The happiest & proudest moments of my life would be marrying my beautiful Kim, and the birth of our 3 children, holding them for the first time and then, over the years, seeing them grow to adulthood.

There is one event that will forever hold in my memory; not a family matter but, sort of, well......work related.

On 11 November 1993 on the 75th anniversary of Armistice Day, I was involved in something that stopped the Nation. Something that will never happen, ever again. On that day, the Unknown Australian Soldier was buried at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. This man represents all those who have died in service to Australia, in armed conflict. 

The Unknown Australian Soldier is carried through to his final resting place; home on Aussie soil.

I put my hand up to be a part of the Firing Party; 14 military personnel who would fire 3 volleys in salute as the coffin was lowered into the Soldiers final resting place. Day after day for weeks on end of drill movements and command practice all came down to this one day. I made sure I ate a good breakfast!

Hundreds of RAAF, Army and, Navy personnel milled around Constitution Avenue in Canberra on the morning, outside the RSL Headquarters. In no time we had formed ranks and waited for the cue from the main band that we would be stepping off.  We slow marched down Constitution Ave and did a right turn up Anzac Ave to take us up to the War Memorial. The main Guard of Honour, Catafalque Party and Coffin Bearers marched straight ahead and formed up in position at the front of the War Memorial in the vicinity of the Stone Altar. Our Firing Party left the main parade, turning left onto Limestone Ave and then, (still at the slow march) turned right up the driveway into the War Memorial grounds. After 3 kms of slow marching up hill, we did a left wheel up the stairs and into the Memorial and took up position on the left hand side of the Pool of Remembrance where we stood at ease for over 40 minutes whilst the ceremonies took place at the front. 

The Firing Party - Entombment of the Unknown Australian Soldier.  That's me, front rank nearest the camera.
At the sign that the coffin and dignitaries were moving into the War Memorial, we stood to attention and the present arms. Once the coffin had passed we turned and marched up the stairs to the topmost parapet at the front of the War Memorial. From our vantage point there, we could see tens of thousands of people lined down Anzac Pde and, in the distance, the old and new Parliament Houses. As the coffin was lowered we fired 3 rounds in salute. Once we finished the salute, we turned and faced inward looking down over the Pool of Remembrance and up to the Hall of Memory where the Unknown Soldier had just been interred. It was then the bugler started playing and the moving sounds of The Last Post echoed around the walls of the War Memorial; it was an experience I will never forget and, the highlight of my military career.

Lest we Forget

Note: I was lucky to get these photos. I had made enquiries with the Australian War Memorial and, luckily enough, was able to secure these photos of the Firing Party lined up inside the Memorial on the day. That is me in the front rank, closest to the camera. 

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