Lt Col Peter Sweeney visited Tumut High School on Remembrance Day last week.
He was there to lead an official ceremony, which included a minute of silence and the laying of wreaths, where he gave a talk teachers said was the best they’d heard in years.
However he was also there to speak to the students who will soon be taking off on a whirlwind tour of Europe to visit key Australian battle sites from wars past.
Lt Col Sweeney’s talk focused on the areas the students will visit on their upcoming trip, including the Battle of Fromelles, a World War I battle that saw 5533 Australian casualties in one night.
The students will visit Fromelles, in Belgium, along with other sites in Italy, France, and the Netherlands, in a 21 day tour that covers modern history, ancient history, and the present day culture of the enchanting places the students will get to see.
Tour co-ordinator Anna Whyte said that along with the charms of places like Florence and Paris, it’s the war sites that prove emotional for many students.
“The students do a soldier research study, an independent study, so that’s on paper, but then when they visit the commonwealth grave site it becomes real – that the sacrifice is there,” she said.
“There’s been a lot of tears, there’s been raw emotion. We had one student in particular who was visiting a family member’s grave so that was quite an emotional time.
“There’s all the sightseeing and all the fabulous things we do in between, but it’s really about understanding who our local men have been and where they’ve ended up. Keeping that history alive is a huge thing.”
32 students and five teachers will go along on this year’s trip – the fourteenth the school has organised – with support provided by the Blakeney Millar Foundation.
“We are so grateful for their ongoing support,” Ms Whyte said.
The Adelong Men’s Shed lend their services as well. For example, at the end of Lt Col Sweeney’s Remembrance Day talk they supplied a ceremonial pen as a thank you gift.
“They also prepare the little plywood crosses that we take over and the students place them on the graves once they’ve done their soldier study. It’s pretty special,” Ms Whyte said.
The students were given a preview of what’s to come during Lt Col Sweeney’s presentation, who is well equipped to teach them – along with being a decorated serviceman and military historian, he is also the director of tour company Battle Honours Australia.
In fact, he had previously met Ms Whyte and other staff by chance on a prior school trip at a German cemetery.
The Tumut High Europe trip will kick off on April 8 2017, with the students arriving back in Sydney on April 29.