The Passing Out Parade was supported by the Australian Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund and was coordinated by South West Arts in partnership with South West Music Regional Conservatorium and Outback Theatre for Young People.
By Janet Mathewson
"My name is Leonard Robert Sutton, and this is such a very sad moment, not only for me, but for my mates in the Australian Army Band standing to attention with me in the silence of a cold, foggy French morning.
We are standing in formation at a war cemetery in France, participating in a burial ceremony to honour Australian soldiers who have been killed recently in the Great War.
Each soldier is being buried separately.
There are no mass graves here; each soldier is being given the full military honours they so richly deserve for their ultimate sacrifice.
It is truly a very poignant moment, but at the same time uplifting to realise that their sacrifice is being recognised by not only Australia, but by the French government and people as well. Our Australian soldiers are respected and honoured by the French citizens for our help in pushing the German enemy from their country, and their actions will be remembered here in France for many years to come.
The graves for these brave servicemen being buried today have been dug by Chinese coolies who are attached to the Australian Army. Their camp is nearby, and they have their own gardens where they grow their own food. Some of it is shared with our soldiers and the French people, but mostly these coolies keep their own company and follow the age-old traditions of their own country.
But along with the vegetables, they grow poppies which they milk for opium and smoke after it is dried. This brings on a dream-like state and helps to block out the horrors of everyday life of a war-torn country so far from home and family. Smoking the opium is a bad addiction, but seems to help them get through the hard work of digging all the graves each time there is a burial ceremony.
The coolies had risen from their opium-induced sleep before dawn yesterday, and spent all day digging each grave by hand, with a shovel, which is back-breaking work in such cold, hard, unyielding ground, especially in this freezing cold winter of 1917. The frozen earth seems reluctant to give up its secrets to foreign hands. The last of the graves was dug only an hour ago, and I watched as the Chinese men melted silently away into the cold mist of the burial ground. They disappeared into the morning like smoke from cannon fire on the battlefield.
The burial ceremony began half an hour ago, and the coffin for one of the soldiers is being lowered into the ground. This one is only one of the many to be lowered into the ground today. The bugler is playing “The Last Post”. It is such a sad and solemn moment as all of us present pay our respects to a very brave man.
We hope that our music will soothe their souls.
Sadly, this scene will be repeated so many times today and it moves me to silent tears."