In April 1918, the world entered its fourth consecutive year of the most hostile military conflagration in history, one that ultimately destroyed political empires, ravaged long standing social conventions, devastated economic systems and reduced the landscape of Europe to rubble. In one of the most significant battles of the western front – in the small town of Villers-Bretonneux in northern France, Australians played a decisive role, assisting British forces to end a major offensive that began so successfully one month earlier. On April 25th, the same date of the fateful landing of the ANZACS forces in Gallipoli three years earlier, Villers-Bretonneux was cleared of enemy troops and the tide on the western front began to turn. In that same month, five Riverview boys lost their lives; the youngest, Private George Hill, aged just 18. One hundred years on, the people of this little town continue to observe Anzac Day in recognition of the efforts of Australians during the war; as the rest of the nation did when it stopped to acknowledge the sacrifice made by all who have taken up the cause of defending freedom. For the staff and students who accompanied the History Tour to Europe during the break, this day held special significance as they honoured the memory of this important part of Australian history in the little village of Villers-Bretonneux. Two boys, Patrick Grew and Blake Crawford, laid a wreath of remembrance to commemorate those famous words of Rudyard Kipling: Lest we forget. Sadly, in neighbouring Belgium, the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing stands as a silent witness to the 350,000 lives of British and Empire forces who were consumed by the war on the western front whose graves are unknown, over 6,000 of whom are Australian. One hundred years on, we give thanks for the sacrifice of all who have responded to the call of military service to ensure the safety and freedom that all Australians enjoy today.
As has been the case for over 100 years at the College, a school assembly was held in the first week of term to commemorate the significance of the ANZAC story, and to honour all who have fallen in campaigns over the years. Doug Oxenham recounted the events that affected his great great uncle, Gordon Oxenham, who was killed in the fury of 1918, as the war reached its final paroxysm. The names and photos of 120 Old Boys who have perished in wars over the years appeared on the screens: men who lost their youth before the guns of battle were silenced. 120 boys stood in the Ramsay Hall as sombre and silent witness to the enormity of this loss. The solemnity of the occasion was profound, as the boys recognised those who while at school wore the blue and white, but in responding to the cause of freedom donned khaki and died in vast numbers in the aftermath of their years at Riverview. Lest we forget.
I trust that the two week break enabled some flagging spirits to be revitalised and that there is a strong sense of anticipation about the term ahead. There is much to look forward to between an academic program that unapologetically challenges critical thinking and heuristic learning, a robust winter co-curricular program that goes into effect over the weekend, together with debating, theatre and music that brings out the best in oratory and public performance. And, it is pleasing to report that the term has settled very quickly – as it should, with the boys mindful of an assessment regime that rolls on with disarming speed. It is worth noting that Year 11 End of Semester Examinations begin in just 10 schooling days with the rest of the school cascading into a schedule that sees all assessment work completed for the semester by the end of Week 7 of term. This allows the necessary time to mark examinations, finalise assessments and undertake the time-consuming task of constructing reports. Thus, it is a term that brings with it its own pressures so the need to be abreast of requirements from the outset is essential.
For those who have visited the property during the week, it is clear that major progress has been made on the Therry Building. The entire Western Node has been encased, as has the formidable North Eastern Node that carries with it the seraphic glass and the image of the wolves – that which is synonymous with St Ignatius and the House of Loyola. To complement the external face of the building, much of the internal work is approaching completion. At this stage the occupancy of the building is timed for Week 4, with all English classes in Levels 2 and 3 to be the first to enter. The first House, Southwell, will also take up residence at this time with the following classes and Houses to follow as the weeks progress across the term. The building is expected to be fully operational by the beginning of Week 8. There is much excitement as the two years of planning and two years of building come to fruition, signalling the next stage of the College’s history. And, the Therry Building is the template for other upgrades to learning environments that will see Wallace demolished and replaced with interactive, complementary, collaborative and transparent learning spaces over the coming years.
There is much to be thankful for as we broach the next nine weeks of teaching and learning.