MEMBER for Coogee, Dr Marjorie O’Neill, fought back tears as she shared the tragic story of her great-uncle’s death in the Battle of the Somme with an audience of more than 130 people at last Sunday’s Jewish Anzac Day Service at the Sydney Jewish Museum.
O’Neill – who in January 2020 visited the Beersheba Anzac Memorial Centre in Israel – emphasised the importance of sharing individual stories of war service and sacrifice – “no matter how small” – as a reminder of the enormous personal price, “paid by so many to protect the freedoms Australians cherish”.
“It’s our best protection against tyranny,” O’Neill said.
“I cannot begin to share with you in any meaningful way the stories of the many Australians who served over the past 120 years – including the more than 7000 Jewish Australians; what I can do though, is share a small family story that has impacted upon my life.”
O’Neill revealed that her grandfather, Bill, and his brother, Francis, both volunteered in 1916 to join the Australian army, but Bill was refused due to being 16.
Francis, 18, was accepted and sent to the Western Front in France to join the 16th regiment of the fourth battalion on August 9, 1916.
Sadly, he died in a battle at Mouquet Farm less than a week later, as part of a broader offensive that ended up costing more than 9000 Australian lives.
“He is not buried, and to this day he is listed as missing, yet all my life I’ve heard and felt the gentle breeze that marked his departure … it’s why I’ve attended Anzac Day events for my entire life.”
The NSW Association of Jewish Service and Ex-Service Men and Women (NAJEX) hosted the service, where wreaths were laid by federal MPs Tanya Plibersek and Julian Leeser, communal leaders, emergency services personnel, Jewish school captains, and Third Rose Bay Judean Scouts.
Audience members gave a round of applause to eight people present who had served, or are currently serving, in the Australian Defence Force, memorial candles were lit, and a minute’s silence observed after bugler Adam Sher played the Last Post.
The service concluded with NAJEX patron and NSW Governor Margaret Beazley presenting recognition awards to Jewish Rural Fire Service volunteers David Katzen and Noel Kessel, and to Rabbi Dovid Slavin on behalf of Our Big Kitchen, for their significant service during the 2019/20 bushfires disaster.