By Rebecca DiGirolamo
Maintaining the integrity of the ANZAC story will be the aim of an Adelaide Catholic secondary school teacher when he takes a group of students to Europe later this month.
St Ignatius’ College head of geography and history Stephen Uren has been chosen to lead six South Australian students, including Loreto College’s Alice O’Connell, to the battlefields of World War I in Belgium and France as winners of the 2013 Premier’s ANZAC Spirit School Prize.
The group, which departs on April 17 for two weeks, will visit the graves and memorials of Australian service men and women they researched. The students will also take part in the ANZAC Day dawn service at Villers Bretonneux in France.
Mr Uren and Alice will pay homage to two South Australian soldiers who they believe help debunk social myths surrounding our fallen soldiers.
“In our recent history, Anzac has been distorted into a social myth that has elevated the Anzacs to demi god status,” said Mr Uren. “This should never be the case,” he said.
“These young men were ordinary men who did extraordinary things and demonstrated attributes of great bravery, sacrifice and mateship. When we remember them we should never forget that war is a most terrible tragedy that stole away a generation of Australian brothers, uncles, husbands and mates.”
Mr Uren, who has also taught at Sacred Heart Middle School and Saint Paul’s College, will trace the footsteps of Payneham school teacher Joseph Barnes, who died one day before the Armistice in November 1918 ended the war. He was en-route home to Adelaide after being wounded on the battlefields when the ship he was travelling on was torpedoed by a German U boat. He left behind a wife and a two-year-old daughter in Adelaide.
“It was such a tragic story,” he said. “It further drove home the fact that these men were just ordinary men who came from all walks of life.”
Year 11 student Alice O’Connell found an unlikely hero after delving into her family history. She found her great, great uncle Private Joseph Rowen had disobeyed orders and had deserted the Australian armed services twice during his postings to the Western Front.
“His story intrigued me because in a way it shows how horrible the circumstances were for soldiers and that this (desertion) was the only option for them and this is how some of them coped,” said Alice. She said Private Rowen’s history, unknown to her family until recently, was “important to share” as an example of the impact the horrors of war had on many soldiers and their families.
Private Rowen married and lived in Broken Hill where he ran a café, with a two-up school in the rear.
Caption: HONOUR: St Ignatius’ College teacher Stephen Uren and Loreto College student Alice O’Connell will visit World War I battlefields across Europe later this month. Photo: Nat Rogers