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Think Piece: The stories of heroes

Thursday 27 July, 2017

As I write this, I have two children overseas on working holidays with two more recently returned from long stays overseas. Our world today is a contrast of wars and fear being generated through terrorists taking cowardly opportunities to destroy the free spirit of people – young and not so young – who still seek adventure, freedom, knowledge and to share their love of the world.

I also look back over 116 years since the Australian Army was first formed at the number of times young people joined to defend the freedom to do what we now take for granted. Some joined for that same sense of adventure, others out of a sense of duty. Many as we know did not return. I don’t want to write too much about military history or in too much detail as there are eminently more qualified people who can do so. I also know from my time as a Military History instructor at the Royal Military College that people are either fascinated by it, endure it, or feel bad that they don’t know as much as they should of our relatively short but rich, interesting military history.

However, as the most senior of the serving Army officers in South Australia, I want to look back just a little to consider those who have gone before us. We are who we are, as an Army, because of the legacy left to us by those who have gone before us.

Although we often think about The Army as an institution, it is not a large mighty construct that amasses battle honours and records its deeds, it is actually about the people who served and those who still do.

Our great WW1 Historian Charles Bean once commented “I have often thought that many a youngster when he was hit …and he knew that the end had come, must have thought to himself ‘well at least they’ll remember me in Australia’ ”.  In these years of the Centenary of Anzac we try to remember as many as we can, especially those who died in WW1.

So I’d like to note the contribution to the Australian Army of Private Eddie Radford of the 3rd Battalion. Eddie did not survive the First World War, he was not a hero nor was he awarded any honours. However, like so many others, he died serving with his mates for what he believed to be the right thing to do. Born and raised in north-western NSW Eddie was a 20 year old farmer who enlisted in October 1916 as part of the 23rd Reinforcements.

On the 4th of October 1917 near Ypres in northern France, Eddie and his friend PTE Chalmers were carrying ammunition under intense fire to one of the Battalion’s machine gun posts. They had to run across an open area to reach the machine gunners and were about to reach their destination when they were both shot and killed. His short life and shorter career as a soldier came to an abrupt end.

Not much more detail than that exists. His body was never recovered.

The Menin Gate memorial in Ypres, Belgium with the names of up to 6,000 Australians including Private Eddie Radford of the 3rd Battalion. (Photo courtesy of The North Irish Horse in the Great War website).

We often read the stories of heroes but forget about those who died simply trying to do their job to best of their abilities. His name and that of his friend are now listed on the Menin Gate memorial – along with another 6000 Australian names.

Eddie Radford was my Great Uncle and his picture hangs in my office. Next to his photo is the last photo of my 20 year old son and myself before his current trip to explore the world almost 100 years since Eddie died. I can be thankful that my son has not gone off to fight in a war – but I am fearful that in his travels, a war might find him.

I therefore take my own responsibilities as the Commander of the 9th Brigade – when my team recruits, trains and deploys soldiers in our Australian Army – that much more seriously and more personally. I also know that we can all be proud of those who still choose to join our armed forces, to serve this country and are prepared to fight in defence of the freedom which we enjoy and for the freedom of others who are not so lucky.

Brigadier Mick Burgess is the Commander of the 9th Brigade, based in Adelaide, and is responsible for the Army Reserves in South Australia and Tasmania. He served 20 years as a Regular Army Officer prior to transferring to the Reserves where he has served for another 13 years.

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