Melba declared ‘it’s peace’

Tom Steele plays The Last Post at the Friday service.

By Casey Neill

 A donkey joined Mount Evelyn RSL’s early Remembrance Day service for local schools.

Kim Fawkes dressed in a World War I uniform and led a donkey around the memorial garden as attendees at the Friday 9 November service heard about Simpson and his donkey.

Simpson became famous for his work as a stretcher-bearer in Gallipoli, using a donkey brought in for carrying water to transport wounded men.

“This Sunday will mark 100 years since the terrible conflict known as the First World War ended,” Mount Evelyn RSL secretary Anthony McAleer told students from St Mary’s Catholic Primary, Birmingham Primary and Yarra Hills Secondary College.

He said word of the Armistice to end the four-year war reached Australia in the evening of 11 November via telegraph machine.

Dame Nellie Melba was the first person in the area to receive the news.

“In those days Melba was as famous and cool as Lady Gaga,” Mr McAleer explained to the students.

“She wanted to tell everyone.”

She ordered her car, whirled down to the village of Lilydale, seized the rope of the bell at the fire station and rang it.

Locals emerged from their homes to find out what was going on and Melba told them “it’s peace”.

Celebrations lasted long into the night and included a band and bonfire.

Retired Major Ken Mackenzie spoke about his grandfather, who served in WWI.

“Grandma told me never to ask him about the war,” he said.

He occasionally dared to, and heard mostly about his grandfather’s interaction with horses.

“Tears would streak grandad’s cheeks when he recalled their screams,” he said.

“Then he’d clam up and I knew the discussion was over.

“Every time one of his horses were injured or killed, a piece of my grandfather died with them.

“It was only after my return from the Vietnam War that my grandfather really opened up to me.”

Students read poems, shared stories and read the names of Mount Evelyn’s fallen.

The RSL sub-branch also held a service on Remembrance Day itself, Sunday 11 November.

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