Panmure Anzacs forge bonds
Lisette Mill – who lives in the tiny township of Panmure in south-west Victoria, Australia – didn’t realise just what she was starting when she invited Mt Wellington Panmure (Auckland) RSA members to Anzac Day 2017 with their Aussie namesakes.
As the secretary of the Panmure Action Group, she wrote to Mt Wellington Panmure RSA president Leon Matthews, who showed her letter to the club’s padre, Maj Colin Burgess.
“The emphasis of Lisette’s letter was on us being Panmure in New Zealand,” says Colin.
“We’ve got Ellerslie right next door, and Panmure in Australia also has Ellerslie right next to it as well. It was just too scary,” Colin says.
“Then she mentioned her grandfather, Fred Barwick, from Gisborne, and I nearly jumped out of my chair. I got straight in my car, I don’t even remember driving down the motorway.
I flew into my house…the family wondered if someone was after me. I got out my family heritage stuff and found an article about Lisette’s grandfather and my father being in the Gisborne RSA together.”
The Panmure-Ellerslie connection was uncanny enough, but neither he nor Lisette could believe they had another connection.
Fred Barwick and Colin’s father, Fred Burgess, served together for the Wellington Mounted Rifles in Cairo and Palestine during World War 2; both eventually settled in Gisborne and joined the Gisborne RSA.
Colin got straight back to Lisette, sent her a photo of her grandfather and grandmother celebrating at the Gisborne RSA, and accepted the invitation to Anzac Day.
He will speak at the service in the larger town of Warrnambool.
“I’m going to get an aerial photo of Panmure in Auckland, because just out the back of Panmure are roads which have specific world war centre names.
I want to identify some of that with the Panmure, Australia people.
“Also, just out of Panmure towards Glen Innes, where the Sylvia Park shopping centre is now, used to be great big red sheds where the returned men from World War 2 would come to be helped fit back into society.
They did practical jobs in these sheds.
“Further up Glen Innes there is a big campsite that returned men, their wives and their children were able to come to. It was opened up as a state housing system and the first lot of people who came into it were returned soldiers. There is still a big social housing network there today.”
Colin will also talk about the Mt Wellington Panmure RSA, which has sold its building and invested the proceeds to remain financially viable “We’ve got our own RSA section as part of the Landmark Hotel building, but because it doesn’t belong to us, we are limited in what we can do,” We haven’t got all our memorial boards up around the walls, all our memorial stuff is out the back in a big container.
Our photos have all been put on to a computer system and we display them on a big screen.”
His brother, Barry, has written a book based on their father’s five war diaries, and Colin will take a copy to Australia for Lisette: “She knows very little about her grandad, but we are privileged. Dad never talked about the war, but he kept all his diaries. To have five years of World War I diaries is unique.”
He will also take a Mt Wellington Panmure RSA polo shirt as a gift to the Panmure Action Group.
The service in Australia will be relayed to New Zealand in the afternoon.
After the Mt Wellington Panmure RSA service, the Kiwis will come back to the club and watch the service from Australia on a big screen.
In February, Lisette Mill and her son, Patrick, were part of a wreath-laying ceremony at the Canberra War Memorial.
They retraced the steps of Lisette’s grandparents who visited the same memorial in 1962 as part of an official delegation of World War 1 veterans.
Colin Burgess went on line to watch the wreathlaying ceremony, where Lisette and Patrick laid a wreath on behalf of her grandfather.
The Mills’s local federal MP, Dan Tehan, laid a wreath on behalf of the RSL in Australia, and the New Zealand high commissioner, Chris Seed, laid one on behalf of Fred Burgess.
“Inserted into the bottom of the wreath was the whole inscription from my dad’s and mum’s plaques at the Levin cemetery,” Colin says.
“Most of my family got on the computer and watched this very special happening.”
In 2018, the Panmure Action Group hopes to visit the Mt Wellington Panmure RSA and bring a New Zealand flag home.
Colin says he believes that if his dad knew what he and Barry were up to with the RSA today, he would be very encouraged.