The gardens sport the obligatory obsolete artillery piece (in this case a WWII vintage 25-lber) and the Mourning Digger statue commemorating all the town's war dead from WWI right through to Vietnam (a lot of dead men for a town that has not quite reached a population of 10,000), which all Australian towns seem to have. These statues are an indication of the incredible number of men who answered the call to enlist to protect the Motherland, as Britain was still considered in those days. 418,809 men enlisted out of a total population of 4 million, which works out as 38.7% of the total male population aged 18-44 (figures from the Australian War Memorial). Considering there was never conscription in Australia, that is an incredible number. No city, town or village seems to be without one of these melancholy reminders of war. While we can think ourselves fortunate that we never had our towns and cities razed as armies swept back and forth across our countryside, the sheer numbers from such a young country with such a small population volunteering to fight on the other side of the world still staggers me.
|Benalla's Memorial to the Fallen|
As well as the memorial to the fallen, there are two other memorials to two extraordinary men who claim Benalla as their hometowns; Edward 'Weary' Dunlop and Hector 'Hec' Waller. The first I knew of while growing up, as he attended Benalla High School where I also went although about 60 years later. He also was a living legend right up until his death in 1993 with his championing of medical services to the poor and disadvantaged especially in South-East Asia. His fame, however, came from his time as the commanding officer of Australian POWs on the Thai-Burma railway where his care of the men under him and his resistance to the Japanese brutality raised him up to the level of a secular saint in the Australian popular imagination. His nickname, by the way, comes from his surname Dunlop, as in the famous international rubber manufacturer, renowned for making tyres, which sounds like....tired, as in weary!
|The 'Weary' Dunlop statue|
|One of the plaques commemorating his life|
Hec Waller is someone I grew up knowing nothing about, even though there is a Waller street in the western part of town. The name only came to my attention recently after watching a TV report about the lack of recognition for members of the Royal Australian Navy during WWII who gave their lives in acts of conspicuous bravery, which ordinarily would have resulted in nominations for the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth's highest decoration for bravery in wartime. Waller was one of two cases illustrated as deserving for nomination for the VC (the other being Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheehan) for his part as captain of HMAS Perth after it was sunk at the Battle of the Sunda Straight in 1942. He made sure all that could be done to save his men was done even at the cost of his own life.
|The 'Hec' Waller memorial. It's not obvious in the picture, but the sculpture is of two navy caps floating in a whirlpool|
The Benalla Memorial Gardens has a memorial to each of these extraordinary men right next to the bridge over the Broken River, which was designed and built by that other giant of Australian military history Sir John Monash in his pre-war life as an engineer.