A reminder of the ultimate sacrifice made by many in World War One was brought to life in Roma on the weekend, when the centenary of the town’s unique living memorial to its fallen soldiers, Heroes Avenue, was commemorated.
One hundred years ago last Thursday, on September 20, 1918, the people of Roma assembled to honour their sons who had fallen on a battlefield thousands of kilometres from home.
They planted the first 27 bottle trees of what has become an avenue of 140, complete with brass plaques bearing the names of the local men who weren’t returning home.
Since that time the avenue has formed the backdrop for Roma’s Anzac Day marches.
The avenue was the first of its kind in Queensland and was commemorated on Saturday with a ceremony organised by the Roma RSL sub-branch, which included 11 Queensland Light Horse troopers, a representative from the French embassy in Queensland, Maranoa mayor, Tyson Golder, the Queensland RSL president, and Queensland Governor, Paul de Jersey.
Speaking on the day, Mr de Jersey said the bottle trees were the symbol of a promise that the young men who had paid the ultimate price for their bravery would live on.
”As long as Roma existed, they would never be forgotten,” he said.
“A century on, monuments like the Roma Heroes’ Avenue continue to remind us of the sacrifices our diggers have made so that we can live in freedom.
”These men are heroes. And they are forever in our hearts.
“Indeed, they have not been and will not be forgotten.”
The Light Horse representatives, which included five members from the 11th Light Horse Roma troop – Hayley Forbes, Sandy and Greg Stewart, Ivan Gillies and David Schefe – and six from south east Queensland, began their march at Roma’s railway station in another symbolic gesture.
One hundred years ago today, the 11th Light Horse Regiment undertook a pre-dawn charge on the town of Samakh on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, having ridden under the cover of darkness, from 9pm to midnight, fording the Jordan River, and again from 3am to get in position.
When they were fired upon before dawn, the decision was made to go immediately into battle, across unseen ground.
Samakh controlled the most direct road to Damascus and the battle that captured it and paved the way for the surrender of the Ottoman army a month later was described by General Allenby “as brilliant in execution as it had been in conception; it had no parallel in France or on any other front, but rather looked forward in principle and even in detail to the Blitzkrieg of 1939."
Read more: Light Horsemen honoured at Haifa
Roma troop member, Hayley Forbes, said it was a proud moment to be part of the group that was helping people today understand what their townspeople 100 years ago were going through in the war in Palestine.
“It was a busy Saturday morning so a lot of people saw what was happening and asked about it,” she said.
Roma RSL sub-branch president, George Mahey, described the memorial service and lunch as absolutely superb.
Speaking with a strong accent hinting at his French ancestry, Mr Mahey said he had sung both the Australian and French national anthems with enormous pride.
“Most of the soldiers remembered on Heroes Avenue were buried or missing in action in France,” he explained.
He estimated a crowd of between 300 and 400 had gathered at the cenotaph, including the only known direct descendant of one of the soldiers remembered, who died on a French battlefield when she was only a few months old.
Mr Mahey said none of the original bottle trees were still alive but some of the replacements planted by successive councils could be 70 years old.
“It’s the only one of its kind in Australia – it’s the only one made of bottle trees,” he said.