Every day, when staff turn up to work at the New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) they’re inspired by the energy, the excitement, and the unchartered adventure of youth. NSWIS has Olympians, world champions, national and state record holders, medallists from major sporting meets around the globe, and so many young athletes with the potential to be the next big thing living their best lives and pursuing a great dream.

Yet, tomorrow, on April 25, the memory of a long ago visit from Gallipoli, where the Anzacs fought in 1915, will be a sharp contrast to the joy that encapsulates this current generation of bright lights – including breakdancing’s 2024 Paris Olympic-bound Rachael ‘Raygun’ Gunn who was photographed (above) at NSWIS HQ with World War II veteran Reg Chard OAM in the lead up to Anzac Day – who have the world at their feet, and the doomed generation that remain buried beneath six feet of Turkish soil 109 years after the famous battle . . .

R. H. Robertson, fell at Gallipoli in 1915

WORLD-WEARY and bleary-eyed from the typical Aussie and Kiwi backpacker’s tour of duty to Oktoberfest, Amsterdam, London, France, and the Greek Isles, it wasn’t the bitterly cold November wind that whipped off the Aegean Sea that stung my eyes as I stood in the Walker’s Ridge cemetery in 1989.

Gallipoli was still a wild place back then, and the remnants of World War One remained with bits of bone, chunks of twisted shrapnel, and even the rusted button from a British Marine’s tunic scattered over the ground where we stood.

It was, however, the white headstones that revealed the stark reality of life – and death – at Anzac Cove, and nothing re-enforced that more than the one belonging to Roy Henderson Robertson, serial number 1765, who died while serving as a member of the 20th Australian Infantry Battalion almost 74 years to the day before I stood above what was believed to be his final resting place.

Two heartbreaking digits made Henderson’s grave stand out among the others in the neat rows upon rows of men tragically killed in their prime. He was only a boy of 16 when he died on November 7, 1915.

Sixteen . . .

Further investigations upon my return home revealed the doomed youth had lied about his age when he enlisted; he’d worked as a shop hand from the tiny seaside hamlet of Scarborough, near Wollongong, and he was deeply loved by his family.

On that day, standing in the loneliness of Walker’s Ridge, it struck me that his death embodied the futility of a blundered campaign that supposedly marked the coming of age of the young Australian and New Zealand nations.

Gallipoli sunset, 1989

I remember Gallipoli as a place of pine trees and steep ridges. In the few days while I was there, I thought the sunsets of molten bronze and long rays of burnt orange that streaked across the ancient Aegean were among the most beautiful I’d ever seen . . . still are. It struck me to wonder if perhaps Roy Henderson Robertson thought the same as he fought on the peninsula. Did he, as a 16 year old in a living hell, ever wonder if the last sunset he saw was, in fact, the last he’d ever see?

I visited other places on that piece of Turkey. Lone Pine, where the fighting was so barbaric seven Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross for valour; Shrapnel Valley; Suvla Bay; Simpson’s (the man with the donkey) grave; Chunuk Bair, where the New Zealanders fought so bravely; and I also walked the Nek where, in 45 minutes, over 300 Australian Light Horsemen were killed in a space that was equivalent to three tennis courts.

It seems unfair to me now, as it did then, that in the 35-years since I stood above what the military thought was a boy soldier’s final resting place, life has moved on for me . . . love, heartbreak, achievements, and failures. . . while Henderson’s own chance of experiencing such things were stopped in their tracks 109 years ago, and long before he could even shave . . .

Lest we forget our servicemen and women on this solemn day. And, please, spare a prayer or Anzac Day thought for the boy soldier, Private R.H.Robertson, who, as he has since that tragic day in 1915, lies still in the deadly silence of Walker’s Ridge, Gallipoli.

Did they beat the drums slowly?

Did they play the fife lowly?

Did they sound the death march as they lowered you down?

Did the band play the last post and chorus?

Did the pipes play the flowers of the forest?

The Green Fields of France, Eric Bogle (1976)

Daniel Lane, NSWIS

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