2016, the Centenary of Pozieres, is over, and we made it to 2017.
I want to express my thanks to all those individuals who supported us around Australia, and apologise that I was not successful in getting the word out to all Australians.
In particular, I want to acknowledge the great support we received from Suzuki Australia and the Melbourne Storm, without whom we would not have achieved the results we have to date.
As you would all know, we have worked very hard for the last two years to make more Australians aware of the Battle for Pozieres, to ensure that these Men were finally truly recognised in their Centenary, and to purchase and protect the land in which so many of our Men still lie.
We set out to sell 7000 bricks Australia wide to raise the money to buy the land and fund the gardens, and we thought that this would be easily achieved.
I wrote to:
- The 44th Parliament Federal Politicians (226 Seats) of which 28 Members bought a brick
- The New 45th Parliament Federal Politicians (43 Seats) – still waiting to hear from anyone (Wrote to all on 7th Nov 2016 – as at 19th Jan no replies)
- All State Politicians (572) of which 79 supported us by buying a brick
- RSL Sub Branches Australia wide (contacted 1152 with over 250,000 Members) – supported by 86 Sub Branches
- VIP’s, Influential (Mr Stokes, Ms Reinhardt, Mr Harvey etc) – 90 written to with no responses
- 50 well known entertainers (Keith Urban, Troy Cassar Daley, Russell Crowe etc) – supported by one that bought a brick – Mr Scotty Cam – thanks Scotty
- 50 of our Best Known Sportsmen and Women (Australian Cricketers, Rugby League and Union Players) – got no responses – Many thanks to the Melbourne Storm who have saluted the Men of Pozieres on the last five ANZAC Day matches.
- 240 Major Australian Businesses (Westpac, BHP, Mining Companies, Holden/Ford, Woolworths etc) – only Suzuki Australia came on board to support us, and none of what we have achieved in the last four years would have been possible without them.
In addition I tried to get the word out of what we were doing to the Members of the Military Australia (55000). I was able to get support from:
- Army – 4 Units – 62 Individual Members and 3 Unit Social Clubs
- Navy – 1 Base – 2 Ships – 13 individual Members
- Air Force – 2 Squadrons – 18 Individual members and 1 Unit Social Club
- Total of individual Members 93 Members. With those numbers of people with an intimate relationship with our Military history it should have been so easy to protect this land, the resting place of our Men.
The biggest disappointment for me has been the reaction of the RSL, and I do not mean the Sub Branches but the hierarchy of the RSL. Results of my initial request for support to the Presidents of the National body and the State Branches were:
- National President (not the current President) – chose not to action our request for 18 months
- Board RSL South Australia and Northern Territory – supported our efforts
- Board RSL Victoria – supported our efforts
- Board RSL Tasmania – supported our efforts
- Board RSL WA – chose not to action our request for 18 months
a. I asked all Sub Branches to tell their Members and ask them to support us as Individuals. I ended up with more support from the Military Brotherhood Motorcycle Club WA (3 Chapters) than I did from Sub Branches (1)
- CEO RSL QLD – advised us immediately that no Sub Branch in the State was allowed to support us.
a. When the CEO left twelve months later, the Secretary of the Board contacted us. He advised that the Board was not consulted by the CEO when he made the decision.
b. The Board reversed the decision, but the damage had been done.
- Old Board NSW – voted to not allow any Sub Branch in the State to support us.
a. That Board was the same Board who, according to reports in the newspapers and the ABC contained “the four current and former members of the RSL NSW State Council who received a share of more than $300,000 a year from RSL Lifecare, for at least three years (ABC News updated 5 Oct 16)”
b. An update by the ABC on 8 Nov 2016 stated “New documents obtained by the ABC reveal that the amount of consultancy fees paid to the LifeCare directors is far greater than originally thought — totalling more than $2 million since 2007”
c. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the 13 Dec 2016 that “An investigation has revealed the former president of RSL NSW, Don Rowe, withdrew more than $200,000 in cash from a corporate credit card over six years while he was in the role” and “The report reveals Mr Rowe claimed expenses of $475,000 dollars between 2009 and 2014, including $213,000 of cash withdrawals”
c. It appears that the Board of the NSW RSL at the time had sufficient assets to spend (whether appropriate or not) $2.5 Million to pay consultancy fees, and could afford expenses for the State President of $475000 in six years but would not allow the Sub Branches to spend $1 to protect the resting place of our Men described by Charles Bean as the one place on earth most densely sown in Australian sacrifice.
d. If you total the “consultancy fees” and the Presidents Credit Card the RSL spent enough money on those two factors alone to have built NINE Memorial Parks for Pozieres.
- The New Board NSW – was asked to re-examine the previous decision, but again chose to not allow any Sub Branch in the State to support us.
a. In addition, the Board also advised that we were not allowed to submit an article for Reveille, meaning that the Sub Branches could not be told what was going on.
- I listened to the current President Mr Haines speak on November 11 and the importance of remembering our Fallen.
a. This is difficult to balance with the fact that while he chose to refuse support to the Men who fought at Pozieres he is the Chairman of the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway
b. In this its Centenary year, Pozieres was again not commemorated by the RSL NSW and was condemned to a “generic” one minute silence on Remembrance Day.
c. The President RSL NSW is the Deputy Chair of the Hyde Park Trustees, and again the Memorial chose not to commemorate the Men of Pozieres in this the Centenary year.
d. It should be noted that the Battle of Pozieres is the greatest loss of life in Battle for Australia, but even though 1747 Men from New South Wales died in the Battle, and 1065 have no known graves and still lie in the fields of the Village, this is not important enough to be commemorated as an individual event by RSL NSW or the Hyde Park Memorial Trustees.
We did have success though, in that we managed to raise sufficient money from individuals throughout Australia and Overseas to buy the land. No matter what else happens now the resting place of so many of our Men is now protected.
Even though organisations such as the NSW RSL Head Office have made our efforts so difficult, the French Government recognised our work by awarding Yvonne and I the French Legion of Honour, appointing us both as Chevaliers of the Order.
This is the first time in history that the award was made to a couple since Napoleon instituted the award. We are both proud and honoured that the French Government honoured us in this manner.
Two years ago, the Australian Government was given the opportunity to buy this land and protect our Men’s resting Place. They chose not to.
I stood in the fields of Pozieres and promised the Men who still lay there that I would finish the project and get them the recognition they deserved.
We took over the Project and downsized the plans proposed to the Australian Government, but I still failed to raise the necessary money.
I am ashamed of the fact that I was unable to get the story of Pozieres out to all Australians, and will be going back on the road at the end of January to again try to get support throughout Australia.
We will not fail the Men of Pozieres or their descendants.
We will be selling our house on the 23rd Jul 2017 to make up the shortfall if we have not been able to raise it by that date.
We intend to keep the promise we made to the men.
The Park will now be completed for the 23rd Jul 2018, as we have had to push the date back due to lack of support, not from the people of Australia, but from the Government and Organisations that should have been fighting for these Men.
Barry Gracey, President