JOHN Keyes choked back tears as he told the story of his great uncle Sid Keyes, a 15-year-old boy who set off from Wagga in 1915 as one of the original Kangaroos marching to Sydney to enlist for World War I.
“I know he said to his grandmother: ‘I‘m going away for a couple of weeks’ holiday paid for by the government’,” Mr Keyes said on Thursday night at a dedication ceremony for the Wagga RSL Club’s Anzac Centenary Memorial.
But that holiday turned out to be bitter warfare ending with Private Sid Keyes’s death in Belgium on March 1, 1918.
Mr Keyes, retiring president of the RSL Club, told the moving story in his keynote address at the dedication ceremony, his second-last official duty before stepping down from the role.
More than 60 people attended the ceremony, including Member for Riverina Michael McCormack, Member for Wagga Daryl Maguire, mayor Rod Kendall, ex-service men and women and serving members of the Australian Defence Force.
The ceremony was Wagga’s first official Centenary of Anzac event ahead of Saturday’s annual Anzac Day march.
The $100,000 memorial, at the front of the club, is dominated by three rusted blades representing the army, air force and navy. The blade facing the club contains the names of all 88 men – and boys – who walked out of Wagga on December 1, 1915, including Sid Keyes.
For many, the look over their shoulders as they crossed the Hampden Bridge was the last they saw of their home town, while some others returned broken men, having given up their youth and health for their country.
Their sacrifices were honoured by Kapooka chaplain Andrew Robinson in his prayer of remembrance.
“We thank you for all those who gave their lives in the service of their country, for all who saw battle, for all who were taken prisoner, for all who played their part, we give you thanks,” Reverend Robinson said.
In front of the middle blade is the number 100 made from rough cast obscure glass.
In his speech, the president of the Wagga sub-branch of the RSL, Kevin Kerr, expressed gratitude to the RSL Club for allowing the sub-branch to contribute to the project. He said the memorial would allow members and guests of the RSL Club to pay their respects to war veterans as they entered and left the venue.
An Anzac Day sunset service will be held at the memorial on Saturday at 5.30pm.
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