St Helens ‘looks to the future’ with student-led Anzac Day service

The legacies of the servicemen and women who fought for Australia will not be forgotten on the East Coast.

St Helens and St Marys RSL Sub-Branch and East Coast Vietnam Veterans Association president Gary Graham, alongside the St Helens District High School, ensured this by having students run this year’s St Helens Anzac Day service.

By working with students, Mr Graham aimed for the legacies of the fallen to not die out with the “last diggers to serve in a World War”.

“It’s a first for St Helens, and probably Tasmania,” Mr Graham said.

“I instigated it with the school about three months ago.

“Myself and a couple of others have gone along to the school at the request of students to talk about our war experiences.

“We’ve had a very good relationship with the school at St Helens.

“Prior to Anzac Day, they have a service at the school, and they always invite us along to that.”

It was through this close connection and “friendship” with the school that the idea was born.

“You know, none of us are getting any younger, and we needed someone to step up and take the responsibility of running these services,” he said.

“In the bigger cities and towns you’ll always get someone who will step up. We’re getting very short on people stepping up.”

Mr Graham said five grade 10 students from the student representative committee came forward to run the service.

“The school were very obliging,” he said.

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“We drew up the program, and I just introduced and welcomed everyone at the start of [the service] and explained what was going on with them being our future, and this year we invited the students to run the service, which they did all the way through.

“I just closed the service and thanked everyone.”

Mr Graham said having students involved with Anzac Day services was “the way of the future”, especially in rural and regional areas.

“With the younger ones coming back from Afghanistan … those who are able to get back into the workforce, they head for the big smoke, because there’s very little in the rural areas, including St Helens,” he said.

“We’re unable to access these young ones, unfortunately, so we’re looking to the future.”

Mr Graham said the community response was “absolutely wonderful”.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

“People were coming up and shaking hands with the students and congratulating them for the way the service went.

“I’ve never seen, in all the years I’ve attended Anzac Day services, the public come up and embrace the [people running the service] like this.

“I reckon there were about 40 people queued up, waiting to shake their hands.”

Mr Graham said having the students involved on the day gave the service a “more personal feeling”.

He said he “really hoped” students would continue to run future Anzac Day services at St Helens.