Day 12 April 18th Harelbeke – Hill 60 – Menin Gate
Today was one of the special days in the Connecting Spirits itinerary. It was the day that we commemorated Rufus Rigney. Rufus is the only one of the Ngarrindjeri soldiers to have a known grave on the Western Front; the others being remembered on the walls of the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux or in the case of Cyril Rigney, the walls of the Menin Gate in Ieper. Because of this Rufus was the focus of a commemorative service in 2004 when Julie brought a group of students from Mt. Barker High School here. One of them was Donna Handke, who was commemorating all of the 4 Ngarrindjeri soldiers who died on the Western Front. She had brought with her soil from the Coorong and Lakes region and this was placed on Rufus’ grave during the ceremony. Similarly, soil was collected from his grave and taken back to Australia. This soil was then spread around the Coorong region in a service in 2005. This was the spark that lit the flame that became Connecting Spirits. So Rufus has a special place in our psyche.
It is almost an hour’s bus drive from Ieper to Harelbeke, and this was a tense ride especially for Trae who was taking the lead role in this commemoration. We got off of the bus and made our way to the grave, set up the flags and took our positions. Trae read the words that he had written with strength and pride, while Shania, Kiera, Brittany, Courtney, Taylor and Isobell held the flags behind him and looked on. The last Post was played, the Ode was said and Rita Lindsay and Flo Bourke’s recording of the song, “Lost Soul” by Eric Bogle was played. By this time tears were in every member of the group’s eyes.
Still hurt by the sad news on Day 11 but stood strong for my uncle and the girls behind me, the love I have for my family is remarkable it is unexplainable. Thank you girls and thank you Mr Jurgs for standing by me, listening to me read out my uncle’s information. You are my mate and I look up to you.
To stand near Rufus grave. Representing my people from home. Will never forget this moment in my life. Never understanding how family said 'the White mans war' so I never really understood growing up, but as I saw a fellow cousin, Jake Shaw go on this trip and I wanted to search further, I knew I had uncles in the war and that's what confused me. It was very emotional, it was amazing. It was perfect, Forever our hero. Thank you uncle Rufus Rigney.
The tears that showed love for this man.
Today was a very special day As Trae commemorated Rufus Rigney. It was a very beautiful and emotional commemoration and I was happy to be part of it.
It was an honour to be a part of this morning’s ceremony. To witness the feelings of pride and connection between the generations, the locations, the different people and different cultures; all connected by one thread. A thread that will now forever strengthen and grow.
Although I have no connection to Rufus what was said really hit home. It is not easy to send a loved one to war; nothing could be worse than losing a loved one this way.
Brody Holland (10 years old)
Even though it doesn’t have it engraved on the headstones, all of these men won the Victoria Cross to me.
Today we had the commemoration of Rufus Gordon Rigney A Ngarrindjeri man lost at war whose to be believed as the only one with a known grave His nephew Trae Rigney, was the young Ngarrindjeri man who did the commemoration He started off strong, just as Rufus wanted him to But by the end of it, not just Trae but all the Ngarrindjeri people participating in the trip were in tears as well as those who were watching on Not a face was left dry, not a nose was left not sniffling It has, it was and it will be the most powerful commemoration to take part in all the Connecting Spirits tours, past, present and future Forever in our hearts our brave Ngarrindjeri soldier Rufus Gordon Rigney
The Meningie students were left at the headstone for some time to themselves, while the rest of the group went to see the grave of William Leggett, the great uncle of a friend of Julie’s who was killed very early in the war as a member of the Life Guards in the British Army. You can read more of his story on the blogs for previous trips or in the book Connecting Spirits 2006.
After the service was complete we were to head to Hill 60 but Julie and I thought it time to lighten the spirits a little and so at the first patisserie we could find we blew the budget on a heap of delightful little baked goodies. These were shared among the group as we got off the bus and then we made our way to Hill 60. Like Beaumont Hamel and Vimy Ridge, this land was set aside and remains much like it was during the war. Shell holes and mine craters cover the ground, including the mine that was the subject of the film, “Beneath Hill 60”. This was the most northerly of the mines blown at the start of the Battle of Messines in June 1917.
We returned to Ieper and an afternoon of well-earned R & R. Late afternoon the preparations for the Menin Gate Ceremony began. The students had each voted for they wished to represent them in the service, and it turned out that Trae and Tamara were to lay the wreath, Nathan and Sam were to lay flags each side of it and, if possible, Sophie was to say the Ode. Unfortunately, some mayor or whatever was there tonight so he got the 1st pick of saying the Ode. But the master of ceremonies is a friend of Connecting Spirits, and he let Sophie say the Kohima Epitaph. When you go home tell them of us and say, ‘For your tomorrow, we gave our today’ “. This is not usual for the Menin Gate Ceremony but with so many attending every night now they are extending the service to allow for greater participation.
Was one of the four that laid the wreath for the Menin Gate ceremony and it was the most amazing experience that I will never forget. Thank you Julie and the Connecting spirits if it wasn't for you I wouldn't be here
Last Post at the Menin Gate: Great to see all of the students dressed up for the ceremony tonight. It was a very special moment for Trae, Sam, Nathan and Tamara as they walked out to the sound of the bagpipes to lay the 'Connecting Spirits' wreath. Also a proud moment for Sophie as she read the kohima at the end of the cermony. So many people watching and taking part tonight...a moment to be cherished and remembered by everyone.
On the last day in Ypres Mal asked everyone to congregate on the steps at the Menin gate. This was after several moving commemorations had been conducted. Mal said that a little piece of our hearts would be missing when we returned home - or there would be a space that we would find hard to fill. He alluded to feelings of helplessness ......feeling like we needed to do something but what? His poignant and moving message was to return home and be the best people we can be - in a sense to become the teachers, doctors, engineers, farmers, scientists, carpenters that the soldiers who never returned would become - to live their dreams. To go home and continue to be good people - brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, partners and friends.