Today was the biggest day on the whole trip for me, one of the hardest and most emotional days I will experience whilst on Connecting Spirits. I had to really step up and take leadership in commemorating Rufus Rigney. I was so nervous and I believe I did it to the best of my ability and I wanna thank the whole group for their support for getting me through this, also I want to thank my Nanna, other family and friends for their full support; this will be a day to really remember.
I have just hopped back on the bus after visiting Harelbeke Cemetery where Jake commemorated Rufus Rigney. The only Ngarrindjeri man to have a known grave from WW1. It was very emotional to say the least. Jake did such a beautiful job. And his last personal message really did mean something. The wind rushed as he said the words: Rest in peace my Ngarrindjeri brother. It was as though Rufus was there with us. Listening. Jake then stated that he wished his Nanna Dot was there watching him. The rain gently fell as Alana played the last post. And then as Anne sung the national anthem, it was such a magical moment. And one I will cherish forever. As the tears pour down my face I looked at the Australian flag flapping beneath Rufus' grave that Jake had placed there. I had a sense of pride and honour fall over me. It felt right. It was right. One moment that was truly inspiring and breathtaking.
Rufus' ceremony was moving in so many ways. Jake was very nervous before hand and I thought he did a terrific job, especially at the end where he spoke from the feel of the moment rather then what was on his piece of paper.
I knew as we were sitting on the bus onthe way to rufus's resting place that it was special, but I didn't really understand why. Once Mr. Jurgs had told us, I understood and was inspired about how one lost hero could be such a big part of bringing forth such a big project and how special he was to the whole group. All of it felt right and although we weren't the first group to commemorate this man, It felt as though we did it the right way, the perfect way. It was cold, but we all stood strong because of the feeling this man, 100 years on made us feel. Once we had finished we headed to Hill 60, which was an amazing sight because of all the bomb craters and the history it contained within and the souls that were trapped beneath the damp soil, both Commonwealth and German origin. There was many take-overs of this place through most of the war and the affects could be totally seen.
Such a special day with Jake commemorating Rufus Rigney. We all have personal feelings of closeness to our own soldiers that we commemorate and it was easy to see the importance of this commemoration to Jake. This brought us all together in sharing his story.
Yet another roller coaster of emotion today. Rufus Rigney’s commemoration – truly magical.
Today we would revisit another key pillar of Connecting Spirits – the grave of the young Ngarrindjeri soldier, Private Rufus Gordon Rigney. The story of this young boy from the former Point McLeay Mission, now known at the community of Raukkan, has taken its own path over the last six years drawing in many people both here in Belgium and at home. However 2012 would be different. Unlike the years from 2004 to 2010 where our visits here grew into large public ceremonies involving veterans’ organisations/ re-enactment groups/invited guests/ politicians and Embassy officials/the local public and Belgian media this year it was just our CS family supporting Jake in his private commemoration of his kin. It was time to reclaim the day for ourselves and for Jake so he could confidently focus on Rufus and the sacrifice made by this young boy from 1917.
Standing next to Jake behind the headstone, Richard gave the young Aussie lad personal support as a friend, two people from worlds so far apart but conjoined by the friendship that had evolved over the tour. Behind Jake, Marnie and Demi held the Australian flag while the Ngarrindjeri flag provided a nurturing and protective cover to the headstone. Mal began the ceremony with a recount of the origins of CS in particular the role played by Donna Handke (now Mellors) in 2003 and beyond. (our website gives a full account of this in the ‘Background’ section and also in the 2006 trip blog) Then our lovely Jakey in quiet and respectful tones gave his personal dedication to Rufus. Jake had spoken for days about the anxiety he felt about this day and yet he had nothing at all to fear: his commemoration was superb. And then the moment that undid us all….Jake’s reference to his nanna and his act of kissing the headstone of his 1917 hero. Everyone was moved to our emotional core – each for different reasons but collectively because of the impact of what Jake had achieved. I will never forget that moment in time. Our decision to have the day just for our group and for Rufus was absolutely the correct one to make. It was a coming together of our CS family that was so special and memorable I just wish Donna could have been here with us.
Traditional Anzac rites followed with The Ode, the playing of the Last Post by Alana (superbly!) and our lovely Anne singing our national anthem. It was all beautiful. And finally we listened to Eric Bogle’s song ‘Lost Soul’ performed by Rita Lindsay and Flo Bourke on the first CS cd we produced. ‘Lost Soul’ was written by Bogle after viewing the interview of Victor Koolmatrie in 2006 here in Harelbeke. Victor was asked by the journalist why he was here. He replied…. ‘It’s about lost souls …finding them and bringing them home…’ These words became the title of Eric’s song and here we were listening to it six years on. What a journey this has been since a Year 12 history student was looking for a topic for her essay and soldiers to research for her 2004 trip to the battlefields. Thank you Donna.
As a staff member on this trip for the first time, I have been truly impressed by the learning journey the students and I have gone through. We have been bombarded by World War 1 history, an explosion of brain power and a barrage of information from our guide Rod. (no pun intended on my choice of words!!!!) Personally what is mind boggling and bringing the war to me is the number of people who sacrificed their lives. There is always a constant reminder of this with the hundreds of war cemeteries in the area and the tens of thousands of headstones over hundreds of thousands of names of soldiers on memorials with no know graves. The students’ commemorations have been dignified and solemn. They have been a credit to the Connecting Spirits project.
At Harelbeke today when Jake did his commemoration I think that we could all tell how special a moment it was. The service felt intimate as everyone mourned the loss of Rufus.
I can't seem to find the write words to give Jakes commemoration to Rufus Rigney enough justice. It was a truly special day, for not only Jake, but for us all. To have that day and that commemoration all to our selves with no media, something that hasn't been done for a while, was something that I will cherish for quite some time. Even though I wasn't there when there was a huge turn out in past years, I feel as if today meant a lot more because of it just being the Connecting Spirits family. I'm very proud of Jake, and im sure it will stay with him forever.
Looking over Hill 60 gave me a strange unexpected feeling. Thinking about all the German, Australian and British soldiers who fought, died and still lie there makes me feel immense sadness for the families who never knew exactly where their boys lay.
Hill 60 was very different to what we had already seen.
Starting the day with a sleep in is the way I like to start, haha. But soon we were on our way to a grave stone named Rufus Gordon Rigney. He is a Ngarrandjeri soldier that Jakey was commemorating. We were told the story of why he is so important to this trip and he is the main reason why I am able to be here now. To learn that was exceptional.
Then we were to visit Hill 60. Firstly I forgot to put my boots on so I'm out in the mud with blue kustoms slipping and sliding every where so I gave up trying to keep them clean haha. It was good experiencing the views and craters that the mine and bombs left and we took some great photos Haha
It was an exceptional day and it is still making me smile
Jake's commemoration today was absolutely amazing. He stood there with great pride and spoke from his heart. At the end of his commemorationhe said, " Rest in Peace my Ngarrindjeri brother" and kissed the headstone. This short moment throughout the whole commemoration made me cry and has been the most memorable moment for the whole trip. It's great to muck around at times but these moments are truly the ones that touch our hearts and bring out our emotions.
The ground looked like it had been pounded and mashed with a mallet. Isolated mounds eerily gave precise pictures of how the 'hill' had been so violently disturbed. It was so quiet there. Almost quiet enough to hear the screams of desperate men. The air was chilled with raw fear of lost souls and the soil beneath you gnawing your mind at the possibility of many distraught mothers' boys.