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Remembrance day reflections of 100 years

Written by Ashley Wood, Director

A hundred years ago life was so different. I can’t quite imagine how the generation of my grandparents coped. They had been through four years of crippling war…The Great War, the war to end all wars, the war that wiped so many of their youth away. A war where young men and women were conscripted and volunteered to give service to their King and Country.

My Great Uncle Albert, Private Albert Edward Punt 204840 of the 2nd Devonshire Regiment was one of those young men.  He was my grandfather’s brother and we grew up knowing very little about him, other than he gave his life during World War I. He was called up on or close to his 19th birthday to represent his King, King Emperor and Country around October 1916.  Uncle Albert was killed in action on 14th July 1918.  He was only 21 years old and most probably spent much of his short adult life fighting and living in a muddy, horrific trench in France.

My husband and I visited his grave at the Peronne Communal Cemetery Extension, in France in 2014.  That visit affected me in so many ways.  The Cemetery is beautifully maintained, not a blade of grass out of place, each white head stone has a beautiful plant growing in front of it, in row after row of sadness and grief.  The soldiers were mostly British, but Australians and Canadians were there as well.  Over 1000 war cemeteries can be found in France and Belgium and many of the soldiers who went to Europe in World War I are buried there. A friend has a great cousin whose Great Uncle was also buried in the same cemetery in Peronne.

We found Uncle Albert’s grave after searching a little while, my mum had kept the original letter and envelope sent from the Imperial War Graves Commission to his parents in the 1920s, advising where he was buried exactly, so we knew where to find him.  I wasn’t prepared for the huge feeling of grief and thankfulness to my Uncle that flooded over me at this point. He was just a name that I had grown up knowing about, but I had no real connection to, now he was a real symbol of what a waste war was and still is.  All those young people, in so many cemeteries in France and around the world, all giving their lives.  These thoughts were hurtling around my mind on that day at that time, it was all so real, their commitment, their dedication, their sacrifice, their huge loss….

My Great Uncle Albert didn’t leave behind any children. However, his brother, my Grandad, Arthur Punt, fathered five children.  Below is a little history lesson of those in my family who have given service:

  • My Grandad, Arthur James Punt (895969) –  He was conscripted as a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery and served in France during World War I. Luckily he came home to marry his sweetheart, my Nanny, and lived in London as a wholesale fruit and vegetable merchant.
  • Uncle Eric Punt – he drove the ‘Ducks’ full of armed soldiers from England to France on D-Day during World War II – he dropped them off, they waded ashore to be met by gunfire…. Whilst he returned for more and more British soldiers.
  • Aunty Joan Bower (nee Punt) – she volunteered in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) during World War II.
  • My father-in-law Peter Prentice Fox – he enlisted into the Welsh Guards in 1942 and was attached to the Officers Training Division.  He was involved in a serious tank accident resulting in spending 22 months convalescing in hospital.  He discharged in 1948 as Acting Sergeant. Luckily he went on to marry and have two sons, one of which I married.
  • My Dad, Roy Farmer – he was called up to do his National Service at 19. He served as a Medic in the British Army Medical Corps during the Malayan Emergency in the mid 1950s.  I have visited the hospital he worked in, a converted monastery, in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia.  As children, my sister and I loved hearing his stories of taking the wounded from Singapore up to the Highlands in the train and fighting off the communist guerrillas who would attack the train.
  • My children’s Uncle, Bryan Rowlands – Served in the Royal Green Jackets, took part in operations in Brunei, North Borneo and Sarawak and Northern Ireland.
  • Myself, Ashley Wood (nee Farmer) – My first real job was as a 2nd Lieutenant, a Commissioned Officer in the British Women’s Royal Army Corps.  My days were very different from others in my family, my main job was instructing new female recruits in map reading and first aid, and teaching them how to march! I have lots of happy memories of calling out instructions to my platoons of new recruits, in a very loud voice to be heard over the WRAC Band, every six weeks when their parents came to see them march out!
  • Simon Fox – my son. He has served in the Australian Army for 8 years, with two tours of duty in Kuwait and Dubai as a driver.  He continues to serve in Townsville. Simon has been awarded three medals.
  • Kate Fox – my daughter.  She is a medic with the Royal Australian Air Force, currently serving in Tindall, Northern Territory.  She was deployed to Al Minhad Air Base (AMAB) in Dubai, UAE and Afghanistan last year and is now in her sixth year of service. She has been awarded five medals, including a United States Army Achievement Medal for her conduct and actions performed with the American Army in Afghanistan.

Boy am I proud!  So much family history resonating around service to Country.  I am so thankful for all the servicemen and servicewomen over the years who have put their lives on the line so that we the ordinary people of the world can enjoy our lives and prosper.  Thank you to all who have served.

I encourage you to pause at 11am on Sunday 11 November 2018, 100 years on from Armistice Day in 1918.
Lets remember all of those who have gone before to enable us to live in peace, and give thanks for their service.

Lest We Forget.
Ashley Wood – Director

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