In 1914, Australia was a population of fewer than five million people. When the Great War erupted, 416,809 men and women enlisted—a significant number from a very young Australia. Over 60,000 of these men and women never returned home. They paid the ultimate price. 156,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner, which was an enormous toll on the nation. Nearly every family and community across our country experienced a loss.
To mark 100 years since the guns fell silent on the Western Front, I joined several community groups in my electorate of Paterson to commemorate these men and women. At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, I stood with hundreds of people from the Port Stephens community as we gathered in Nelson Bay for a service that was hosted by the Nelson Bay RSL Sub-Branch. It was a beautiful, sunny morning as we stood with the sea breeze licking our faces. I couldn't help but think of what had taken place 100 years earlier and how those who had fallen would be proud of the nation, largely, that we have become.
I also attended the East Maitland War Memorial Centre for the unveiling of two plaques commemorating the end of the First World War. These plaques were unveiled by Mia Fullerton, the daughter of William Bevan, a World War I veteran and a teacher from East Maitland Public School; and Norm Burton. Norm's uncle was killed, and his body was laid to rest in France.
The Beresfield chapter of the Maitland RSL Sub-Branch hosted a service to dedicate a Lone Pine tree to the fallen soldiers from the Beresfield community. At that service, I met the groundsmen from the Newcastle Memorial Park, who told me how grateful and pleased they were to be able to plant a tree that had been dedicated to many people who they had as ancestors. I also met the dedicated men and women from the Australian Armed Forces Re-enactment Heritage Unit. And what a fine unit they are! They have been flat chat in recent weeks, attending many services and adding an element of gravitas to those ceremonies. They did a truly remarkable bayonet drill on the day and they really looked absolutely the part.
To mark this Centenary of Armistice, Pelaw Main Public School placed an additional servicemen's plaque at the entrance to their school after they discovered that 13 names had been missed in the original roll of honour that was put on their memorial gates. I was grateful to attend that and to officially unveil the additional plaque with many of the descendants of those World War I veterans.
In the lead-up to the 100-year anniversary, I helped a number of community groups from my electorate secure a grant through the Centenary of Armistice grants program. This was for a wide range of activities and projects that commemorate the end of World War I.
The Raymond Terrace and District Historical Society used the grant to publish a book entitled Remembering for Peace: The Adventures of Emma and Ryan. It was written by Heather Sharp and illustrated by Laura Arnull. This children's book is going to be used as an educational resource to help primary school children learn about World War I. It was a fantastic day at the launch of that book, as many young children were there. I knew that their parents, grandparents and other caregivers will read that book to them and they will learn far much more in a far more in-depth way over the years to come.
The Raymond Terrace RSL Sub Branch replaced the old wooden flagpole in the main street and dedicated it to World War II veteran Bill Bobbins OAM. For 15 years, Bill raised and lowered the Australian flag in the main street of Raymond Terrace, and now a plaque stands in the corner to honour this incredible effort. I can only think of doing that every day for 15 years. I think he missed very few; he got people to substitute for him on very few occasions. But he was there at morning and dusk every day for 15 years. Thank you, Bill, for that! We remember you for that and we remember your family, who attended.
At every event I attended throughout my electorate, I was proud to see so many people from all generations proudly donning the medals of their ancestors. I would like to thank my community for that.