2056 … Lest we forget.

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ANZAC Service @ BDC

Today we remembered the fallen, the sacrifices of those who have died as a result of war. They were the men and women who were willing to believe in something greater than themselves. It was their willingness to act as such, as much as their action that makes them forever heroes.

We will not break faith with those who lie in many fields.

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James Lowe (10) delivered our ANZAC Day address. Here is his story.

Life and Service of Matthew Hepple Service No. 2056

My great uncle was only a year older than most year 12 students when he joined up with the army in 1915. News had already come back of the fighting and losses at Gallipoli, and it was hard for a young man to avoid the patriotic spirit of the time.

What would have held him back? He was the third of six children from a close knit family in Cessnock, and he had left school early to work as a coal miner to help support his family.

What would have made him join up? He would be doing his bit for the country, he would be travelling overseas, he would be getting paid, and he would be having an adventure. He was lean and fit, stood 5’6”, and weighed 54 Kilos.

On the 16th of June 1916, Matthew Hepple embarked on a voyage via Alexandria to Marseille, France. He disembarked on the 23rd of June and made his way with his mates from the 30th battalion to Fromelles of which he was going to be involved in the blackest 24 hours in Australian Military History. The plan was to capture the geographically strategic point of the shell-damaged town of Fromelles to distract them from the main offensive on the Somme and to stop German reinforcements from reaching there. This plan was flawed as they lost the element of surprise from intense artillery fire from the allies before they attacked and it was only a matter of hours in the that the Germans realized it was only a distraction for their main offensive on the Somme. On the battleground two trench lines directly opposed one another. No man’s land (the section dividing the two trench lines) was a flat, muddy, overgrown strip which was laced with drainage ditches although it had been heavily shelled from the start which made it a huge bog. Machine gun fire was heavy through a strong German fort known as the “Sugarloaf salient” which was the main threat to the allies. Small parts of German trenches were captured but the men had no flanking support and were subject to fierce counter attacks.

Matthew was amidst the chaos of Fromelles. Early on in the day he was in the company of the 16th platoon going up the sap (the sap is a trench that joins 90° to an existing trench and is a safer but slower way of gaining ground) where he injured his right hand. He was sent back to the dressing station from which he was quick to rejoin the platoon further down the sap . Matthew was an ammunition carrier. He was a fast runner and was quite stocky as one of his fellow diggers described him. After rejoining his platoon he carried ammunition and grenades into the parts of German trenches that were captured by the allies, In doing so he had to cross shrapnel swept sections of land and avoid intense machinegun fire from the sugar loaf salient, he joined his mates in the captured trenches and with the option to retreat and leave the others stranded he elected to stay and fight with them in which he knew was going to result in certain death. He was the only man in his platoon that could not be accounted for on the battle of the 19th to 20th of July 1916. Matthew was pronounced wounded and missing the day after the battle, his platoon held a court of inquiry and they pronounced private Matthew Hepple K.I.A (Killed in Action) although he was not found… And he would not be found for another 97 years.

The Germans dug huge pits to put the dead allied soldiers in and bury them without marking the site as a grave. His family never got the closure of knowing whether he was dead or alive it was only assumed he was dead as he had not been re-emerged after the battle of the 19/20th in Fromelles 1916. In 2013, he was identified through DNA testing amongst many other men (thought to have been holding the position with Hepple) who were also found in the pit. All remains were x-rayed, cleaned and photographed and placed into transparent boxes which have been buried in a cemetery for those of WW1 in Pheasant Wood, Fromelles, France. Funeral services have since been held in Fromelles and Cessnock to remember the ultimate sacrifice Matthew Hepple and the other diggers made for their country. 2056, the service number of a young man. The number of a very brave soul. The number of my great Uncle. Lest we Forget.