Premier's Spirit of Anzac Prize 2017

Genazzano student recipient of prestigious award

 

The prestigious Premier’s Spirit of Anzac Prize provides 22 students across Victoria in Years 9 and 10 with the opportunity to participate in a national and overseas study tour to sites where Australians have served in times of war and peacekeeping.

Bronte Crettenden (Year 10 Winter) was a winning entrant and will head over to Singapore and Darwin in April. Her topic was a response to the following quote: 

'…The angel of death had been abroad throughout the land: we had almost heard the beating of his wings. We were the generation whose fathers, uncles, and sometimes elder brothers were either dead, or 'returned'. - Patsy Adam-Smith: The ANZACS, p. 2.

What would it have been like to grow up in a family which had been affected in this way? What was the impact on women, on the community and most of all on the expectations and responsibilities of young people your age? These are all questions Bronte tackled and in doing so, chose to write her response from the perspective of a young woman who enlists as a nurse after her brother is killed at Gallipoli, creating a touching and poignant piece. You can view her full story below.

Bronte mentioned her parents and her History teacher, Ms Zoe Bent, as being very important in helping her achieve this award.

Congratulations also to Grace Greenwood (Year 10 D’Houet) who was a finalist for her unique entry of a triptych (three-panelled) drawing depicting the experience of a young girl during the war. Grace’s drawing was accompanied by an explanatory paragraph describing how her creative choices related to the angel of death quote.

 

 

PREMIER'S SPIRIT OF ANZAC PRIZE RECIPIENT - 'Well Done' Written By Bronte Crettenden (Year 10)

“Well done!” Michael screamed. “I can’t believe you finally did it.” He grinned.

“Me neither! Thanks for the cricket training, Mike.” That’s the benefit of having an older brother. No one else would dream of teaching a sixteen year old girl how to play cricket, it’s simply not ladylike. But not Mike, he went one step further and made it his goal to teach me how to hit a six. Goal achieved. He is grinning from ear to ear, we both are. He picks me up and spins me around and as my feet hit the ground his face starts to slip from my vision. He keeps fading until I am standing on the lawn alone.

I wake with a start, heart beating fast and sweat breaking out on my forehead. The realisation dawns on me, he’s not here anymore, he signed up, and now he’s gone.

 

“Dad! Guess what?” Michael bursts through the front door and I wait by my door to hear what comes next.

“What is it, son?”

“I did it, well, we did it.”

“Who did what Michael? Slow down, you’re talking nonsense, boy.”

“Jack and I. We signed up, we leave on Monday. I’m going to be a soldier!” What? He’s leaving? I start to feel a little light headed. He can’t do this.

“Aha! That’s my son!” Dad cheers proudly. I pick this moment to emerge from my room.

“You can’t go, Michael!” I half yell. Michael and Dad step back in shock, as if my words physically hit them.

“What are you on about, Catherine? He’s going to do us proud, going to do the King proud. There is no greater honour than to serve the King!” Dad replies passionately and Michael grins, that famous Michael grin, in agreement. “You’re too young, you’re only seventeen!”

“Little white lies.” Michael winks, and walks past me. I’m grasping at straws here. I know I have no other reasonable argument as to why he should stay, besides my own selfish wants, so I nod my head and walk back into my room. I sit down on the small, white quilt that drapes heavily over my bed and attempt to calm my racing heart. He’s just going to leave like the rest of them. All the men from our neighbourhood are disappearing as fast as I can bat an eye. What about the women? The men just get to leave, go on this so-called adventure while we get to stay here, in this claustrophobically tiny town, and wait for them to come back.

At the dinner table that night, the only topic of conversation that Mike and Dad seem to be interested in talking about, is war. I sit there silently, listening, and pushing the food aimlessly around my plate. I finally speak up, “I’m going to miss you, Mike, when you go.”

“Ah, I’m gunna miss you too, sis. You know, you could come too. Sign up as a Nurse, might be more interesting than staying in this tiny little town all by yourself.”

“Absolutely not! War is no place for a woman. You will stay here, Catherine. Michael, you will go by yourself.” My mother glares at me over her glasses, disapproval clear in her eyes like it was my idea, not Mike’s. 

All too quickly I find myself on the front patio, waving a solemn goodbye to Michael as he leaves for his training. He is met by Jack on the street and he turns and gives his final goodbye. Dad yells, “Go boys! Do us proud!” Mum calls out worriedly, “Good luck, have fun! Don’t get hurt!” I stay silent, I have so much to say to him, but nothing seems fitting. Too late now, he’s gone.

Every day the silence in this house gets more unbearable. Basically all the men have left, along with Michael. People walk around and hand white roses to any young, fit looking men who are still here, trying to guilt them into fighting and not-so subtly calling them cowards. This quaint little town that I used to love, doesn’t feel like home anymore. The streets are no longer bustling with people, chatter and energy. It’s turned into a desolate, silent and lifeless tomb, where all we can do is sit and wait for the men to come back. The men are the life of this town, there’s not much for women to do, socially, without men. No more dancing or balls. There are signs up all around the place that are trying to make women feel more involved in the outcome of the war. They scream out at us to send men, donate money or work in factories, but that all feels useless when you are this far away from the action.  ‘Do your part!’ they say, ‘Send a man to-day to fight for you’ they yell, but I don’t listen. I can’t stand this town anymore, Mike was right, maybe I have to get out of here too.

I wait until night before I notify my parents of my plan. I interrupt the deafening silence at the dinner table that has followed my brother’s departure by saying, “I want to sign up as well. I want to go to war to serve as an Army Nurse.” I examine my parents’ reactions. Not far off what I anticipated.

“You what, Catherine?” I knew my mother would start with something along those lines. “I thought I told you war was no place for a woman!”

“Well, why not? What are we supposed to do around here?”

“You are a lady, not a man! So do what a lady does and leave men’s work to them. You can donate things to the Red Cross and sew things if you feel like you have to do something, lady’s work.”

“Dad, what do you think?” His silence this whole time is encouraging. He might actually be happy for me.

“Your mother’s right, Catherine. War is no place for a woman, I suggest you just stay here.” I sigh, nod and watch as my life changing plans fly out of the window.

The next day my prayers are answered, a telegram, finally! I have missed Mike so much. This is the only connection we have to what is going on over there.

I rip it open eagerly and consume the words in front of me. This isn’t from Michael, but it is about him. This is the telegram every mother, father, sibling or relative, dreads to receive, I don’t know why I thought this would be from Michael. This is the same one my friend, Sarah got about her brother. It reads;

We regret to inform you that Michael Jamison has been killed in action in Gallipoli, 25th April 1915. He has been laid to rest in a mass grave, at the end of the trenches. Their Majesties the King and Queen and the Commonwealth Government express their deepest regret and sympathy for this loss.

I sit on my bed and read and re-read this telegram a thousand times before I let myself cry. I cry for the soldiers who have to endure this awful thing that is war, I cry for the people who think that war is an adventure, I cry for all the soldiers who have fallen for their country, I cry for my beautiful brother, but lastly, I let the selfish tears wrack my body as I cry for myself. I cry for myself and all the women and children who have been left behind as their beautiful boys leave to be killed. I cry for us, the people who are expected to stay behind, uselessly with their hopes and prayers being the only contribution they can make.  I stand up and run out of my room. I have something to do. I wipe the tears from my eyes and walk pointedly to my destination. I have to get out of here.

***

Well, I made it. I finally got here, escaped that horrible little town I called home and did something with my life. Of course, my parents were upset. However, since that cursed telegram, my parents have lost the ability to feel any emotion other than loss and the ability to say anything else besides an incomprehensible murmur. I don’t let myself think about him anymore. As soon as those words on that telegram came through our front door, into our world and flipped it on its head, I refuse to think about anything but work and do anything but work. We trained back in Australia and after six weeks at sea, we, the Australian Army Nursing Service, arrived at Egypt. After Egypt, I was stationed at Lemnos. That’s where I am now. The workload is enormous and unlike anything I could have expected. It’s the warm season now, the flies are hideous and it’s stinking hot all the time. At least I’m making an actual useful contribution now. I walk out of my tent and again, I witness a scene that will stay with me forever.  I finally get what the saying ‘have to have a strong stomach’ means. The view in front of me makes my knees buckle and my vision blur. I want to look away, want to make it all go away but I can’t. The sound of wounded soldiers’ cries echo through the air and their moans cut straight though you. White bandages are frantically being rolled out. Their blood spills onto the ground that they lie on because of our lack of supplies. An image of Michael lying on the beach of Gallipoli, blood spilling from his head, eyes closed and lifeless pale cheeks, enters my mind. I shut my eyes and push the image away. Back to work. No one could have guessed the demand we have for all of our supplies. We are almost out of everything.

I am snapped out of my stunned state when another flustered nurse shoves a roll of bandages into my chest and yells, “What are you doing? Get to work!” I mumble an apology and begin bandaging a soldier’s wounded leg. I work for hours on countless patients, until I am asked to treat someone who has a horrifying face wound from a gunshot. I have to remove the bullet from his face then apply pressure to stop the bleeding. I look at this soldier, he looks so young, younger than me. Fourteen? No older than fifteen. How did he end up here? I work fast, using the tweezers to puncture his skin again and again until I can get the bullet out. His eyes have since closed and I pray that he is only doing that because of the pain. I grab a towel and use it to apply pressure. He doesn’t even flinch, but that must have hurt. I panic and put my ear to his mouth, nothing, I put two fingers on his neck, nothing. “Doctor!” I yell. When he looks at me, I yell again and notice the tears falling down my cheeks, “This boy needs you, now!” He rushes over and does the same checks that I did and a couple of new ones.

“He’s gone, sorry, Sister. But, you have other patients to attend.”

I shake my head and furiously wipe at my tears, number ten, ten men have died on me, but this one was barely a man. I walk away and get back to work, praying my number stays at ten.

I have just finished an eleven hour shift when I hear someone call all the Nurses. I hurry out and am greeted by one of the doctors. He notifies us of a boat that is going to take some of us to Gallipoli. There are wounded soldiers who can’t be transported, that need treatment. He reads off the Nurse’s names that have been assigned to this task, I am among them.

As soon as we hit the shore, we are given tasks to do. Even though I have already worked for eleven hours, I am happy for this assignment. It is the perfect distraction to keep my mind off imagining Michael standing on the same ground as I am. The Nurse who took over from me recognises me and tells me to take a quick break before the next influx of patients. I thank her and sprint through the trenches to reach my destination. I run for what feels like forever, until I see the graves, then I stop.

I trudge over to do the thing I never thought I would have to do, say my final goodbye. I reach where I am supposed to be and fall to my knees. For the first time since that telegram arrived, I allow all the memories of Michael to come rushing back. I remember the time he helped me with my homework, the time he stood up for me when I broke my mother’s vase, the time he left me behind, only to be killed and especially, the time he helped me hit a six. I let the tears fall and whisper, “If I could hold your hand once more, just to say well done.”