London Dinner Centenary, 28 June 2019
Address by President of the Old Melburnians, Andrew Maughan (OM 1979)
“A country has no future if it fails to honour those who fought for it.” So said eminent historian, Professor Geoffrey Blainey, 100 years after the Armistice.
Tonight, we gather to honour Old Melburnians who fought for our country in the Great War.
This is important. 1,353 Old Melburnians volunteered for service in WWI.
Sadly, 207, or one in seven died.
We also honour Old Melburnians who have served in other conflicts. Some here tonight have served, and many have family who served; indeed, some with honour and recognition for gallantry.
Tonight, is also a night for reflection, celebration and friendship.
One hundred years ago today, the Treaty of Versailles was signed formally ending the Great War. For this and other reasons, many Old Melburnians were in London on ANZAC Day 1919. For some, it was a time of adventure; for many a restless desire to go home. I understand many diggers were creating havoc! And Sir John Monash needed to find things to occupy them.
One hundred years ago, following the ANZAC Day march, many of the OM survivors gathered for Dinner – in the safety and glow of victory – at The Trocadero restaurant, Piccadilly, just a five-minute walk from here.
They could have swilled beers with mates from their units, men with whom they served in the trenches, in the sky, or at sea. Instead, 91 Old Melburnians chose to dine together.
Why? What glue bought these men together? Hints can be found in stories I will share tonight.
Their purpose was to remember lost friends and celebrate the end of the War.
Some did not attend. They were already on boats returning home. And of course, many fell or were suffering wounds and would endure a long recovery.
And it wasn’t easy for all to make it.
(James) Colin Johnstone (OM 1913), who was at the Gallipoli landing was an amputee. He made it to the dinner but remained in hospital in London until 1920 for operations and fitting of artificial limbs.
Those who did attend, came from all ranks; from Private to Colonel, and were all ages. Like tonight; breaking bread together. A number have descendants sitting here tonight.
The dinner was reported in The Melburnian as an amazing success and was noted as the “Victory Dinner.” It was the first formal gathering of Old Melburnians in London after the War where it was resolved to establish an English branch of the Old Melburnians.
As I read about these brave men, 91 stories presented themselves. Tonight, I will share just a few.
Families that span generations at Melbourne Grammar attended and there were many familial linkages. Names included Creswick, Guthrie, Fanning, Howitt, Officer, Millear, Tulloch, and Yencken.
Many signed the Menu that Wilfred Howitt passed around. One hundred years later Mrs Button Howitt kindly donated the original signed Menu to the School. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Tom Howitt (OM 1981) is with us tonight. Tom, thank you for your family’s gift that contributed to this evening.
To mark this occasion, I ask you all to sign tonight’s menu that we will pass around.
We have attempted to reflect the original menu this evening. But quality food was in short supply in 1919, so we stopped short of serving you potato casserole.
There were at least nine sets of brothers and cousins at the Dinner. Imagine, experiencing the horrors of war, worrying if your brother had survived, and then sharing this dinner together. The joy. The relief. Some may have lost a brother.
Possibly the youngest at the Dinner was George Johnstone (OM 1914) who enlisted (under a false name) in 1915. He was just 15 years old. I have a 15-year-old son. George was just 18 and for three years, had served in Egypt, Malta, France, Belgium and Gibraltar; including Battles at Bullecourt and Ypres where he was gassed and invalided.
Jack Chomley MC (OM 1901) and William Johnston CBE, DSO, MC, ED (OM 1905) attended the Dinner. Both were awarded Military Crosses. Johnston was also recommended for a Victoria Cross and was instead awarded a DSO. Eighty years later, Chomley’s great nephew and Johnston’s grand-daughter married. They are friends of mine.
And two men at the Dinner were to have a link that continues to the school today. Victor Kimpton (OM 1901) and Henry Creswick (OM 1904) were three years apart at School. Kimpton was a Lieutenant in Field Artillery in France and later served on School and Old Melburnian Councils. Creswick was a Captain in the British Army. Years later, two of Victor’s sons married two of Henry’s daughters. Their granddaughter is Zara Kimpton OAM. The Kimpton and Creswick families’ relationship and generosity to Melbourne Grammar span six generations, including two boys at Grimwade today. Zara, I am delighted you can join us here tonight, representing your family.
Many at the Victory Dinner were distinguished in their military service. There was 1 x VC, 15 MC’s 5 DSO’s, 2 MBEs and more. And many present lead distinguished lives afterwards, including:
- Brigadier Sir William Johnston, CBE, DSO, MC, ED (OM 1905)
- Sir Arthur Barrett (OM 1912)
- Lieutenant-General Sir Edmund Herring, KCMG, KBE, DSO, MC, ED (OM 1910)
- Sir Rutherford (Ford) Guthrie, CMG (OM 1918)
- Sir Leslie Morshead
Colonel Sir Wilfred Kent-Hughes, KBE, MVO, MC, ED (OM 1914) was another.
He fought in Gallipoli and the Middle East, rose to the rank of Major and received a Military Cross. In WW2 he was an inspiration as a POW in Singapore. Between and after the Wars, he was a Rhodes Scholar, a 1920 Olympian, a 1922 British 400m hurdles champion, Old Melburnians President in 1947, Chairman of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games Committee and he served 40 years as a member and senior Minister of State and Federal Parliaments.
When I reflect on the impressive life of The Hon Sir Wilfred Kent-Hughes, I wonder if the most poignant moment in his life was before Gallipoli.
In 1914, Kent-Hughes was Captain of the School and I suggest the most symbolically significant moment in his amazing life was that he was the FIRST Old Melburnian to enlist. 1352 other Old Melburnians followed. Kent-Hughes leadership embodies the spirit of self-sacrifice and service; values of Melbourne Grammar School. Then and now.
Tonight, we have three former School Captains who I acknowledge:
- Rtd Colonel Graeme Sligo (OM 1977
- Paul Schreier (OM 1986) and
- Eddie Proper, Captain of School last year.
These three men are in fine company with Wilfred Kent-Hughes. But this story of leadership is more significant.
Of the 18 School Captains prior to the end of WWI, 15 enlisted. That list of 15 School Captains, included lads from multi-generation Grammar families such as Edward R. Cordner (OM 1905) and Clive L. Baillieu (OM 1908). Six of the 15 School Captains were at the Victory Dinner including Wilfred Kent-Hughes, Edmund Herring, and Colonel Rupert Fanning, DSO (OM 1909).
In 1909, Rupert Fanning was also captain of the undefeated APS Champion cricket team, a footnote for our cricketing families here tonight.
Rupert Fanning aged 26 and his 21-year-old brother William (OM 1912) both enlisted in October 1915. Three weeks later they embarked on the same ship both as Lieutenants. They served in Egypt and the Western Front where they both rose to the rank of Major working with Major General Harold William Grimwade CB, CMG (OM 1883) (an Old Melburnian more than 20 years their senior).
Rupert was awarded the D.S.O. and received it from King George in 1917. In WW2 he became a Colonel.
Major William Fanning’s grandson Dougal (OM 1978) and great-grandson Will Fanning (OM 2015), are here tonight. Will, we now have some insight into the significance of your name. It is meaningful that you and your father are here.
I recently spoke with Colonel Rupert Fanning’s son, Edward (OM 1952) whilst watching Rupert’s great-grandson play football for the Old Melburnians and he recalled his father and uncle being great friends. A deeper bond possibly forged through shared experience of war.
This unmistakable display of leadership by School Captains may be one reason why more Old Melburnians enlisted than other schools. Of the six public schools in Melbourne (4,700 served) nearly one third who served were from Melbourne Grammar (1,353 in total).
But it wasn’t just School captains leading the call to enlist.
As Wilfred Kent-Hughes marched off to Gallipoli and the Fannings to Egypt and France, Melbourne Grammar School life continued and in 1916 Grammar won Head of the River. This uplifted and connected Old Melburnians in the battlefield.
Clive Williams (OM 1905) wrote:
“By Jove, I was delighted to hear the Old School won the boat race. We had a little dinner to celebrate it. Bennie Lewers, JK Adey, Keith Officer and myself. The dinner was first rate. And so was the wine, Verve Cliquot. We drank the Kings health of course, and also The Old School.”
As for that winning 1916 Crew, all but one enlisted in WWI or WWII, except 2 seat Casmir Woinarski (OM 1916) who enlisted in both. Of note, 6 seat Tom Baillieu (OM 1916) flew in the 3rd Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps who were credited with shooting down the infamous Red Baron.
Tom Baillieu’s brother, James (OM 1917) was also in the crew. Their great nephew, former Premier Ted Baillieu (OM 1970) and his Australian oarsman brother, Will (OM 1969) are both apologies for this evening. I am however delighted their cousin, Chris Baillieu (OM 2009), great-nephew of Tom and James could join us. In rowing, Chris is an Olympic and World Champion medalist. Chris is also the grandson of Clive Baillieu (OM 1908), one of the 15 School Captains who enlisted and had a distinguished military and professional life. Chris, I am delighted you could be here to represent your family.
3-seat of the 1916 Crew, John Campbell (OM 1918) fought and attended the Dinner. He went on to Captain the Cambridge crew and represent Australia in 1920 Olympics.
Coach of the winning 1916 crew, Harry Ross-Soden (OM 1906), had rowed for Australia in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. Months after coaching the winning schoolboy crew, he enlisted, travelling to join his brother Gordon (OM 1907) in France, where he was wounded by an air bomb. But his rowing success was not over.
In 1919, as part of Sir John Monash’s plan to keep the troops occupied, the Royal Henley Peace Regatta enabled top military crews from Allied nations to compete for the Kings Cup. Harry Ross-Soden coached the winning Australian Imperial Force crew. King George V presented the Cup to Captain Clive Disher (an Old Scotch man).
That original Cup that Harry Ross-Soden would have held aloft in celebration, is now awarded annually to the fastest State in Australia. That original Cup, with all its history and meaning, is here tonight, courtesy of Rowing Australia. This is the first time the Cup has been back on British soil since it was taken to Australia near 100 years ago. Ian Robson (CEO, Rowing Australia), thank you for sharing the Cup with us. Some of us look forward to participating in your 100-year celebrations next week at Australia House and at Henley Royal Regatta.
Harry Ross-Soden attended the Victory Dinner alongside his brother Gordon.
Also, at the Victory Dinner, and a significant figure in organizing the original Kings Cup event and Australian crews, was Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Tulloch, MC and Bar (OM 1899). Tulloch received the Military Cross and was known for his tenacity and coolness. He returned to coach at Melbourne Grammar after the war. Tullochs great nephew Andrew Tulloch (OM 1986) is currently Vice-President of the Old Melburnian’s Council. Like his great uncle, he coaches rowing and is here tonight. Andrew, it’s great you could be here.
Australians rowed into War at Gallipoli and rowed out the other side at Henley.
But what took place in between were the atrocities; psychological and physical wounds and amazing acts of mateship and courage.
William Donovan Joynt VC (OM 1904) displayed exceptional courage at Peronne; dashing out in front of his men under full fire inspiring a frontal bayonet attack, shocking the enemy and saving a critical situation. Joynt was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery and went on to have a distinguished professional career and was President of the Old Melburnians in 1959.
He was celebrated at the Victory Dinner and significantly his nephew, Peter Donald (OM 1976) is with us this evening. Peter, thank you for representing your family here tonight.
Joynt was convalescing in Manchester when Armistice was announced. He hurried back to London to take part in the celebrations. He wrote:
“At first the city was comparatively quiet but with Australian diggers in the lead, the crowd surged to Buckingham Palace. No sign of the King could be seen. A Digger climbed up on the statue of Queen Victoria exactly opposite the Palace and, sitting in the lap of the statue with a stick in his hand, he beat time to the shouting of the crowd:
“We want the King! We want the King!”
Eventually the King appeared with Queen Mary and waved to the crowd. Such a scene was unprecedented in the history of royalty, and it formed a pattern for subsequent royal occasions. We owe that practice to an (exuberant) Australian Digger.”
As President of the Old Melburnians, I attend many gatherings and hear many stories of Old Melburnians. We do not need a War’s end to meet. When I hear stories of Old Melburnians in times of challenge and in times of war, it is evident these bonds grow stronger and we rally together.
Rupert Fanning wrote from the battlefield:
“it's simply ripping to know there's such a bond between all us OM's. At a time like this, you feel it more than usual. Good luck to you all and may we all re-unite very soon in a cheerful dinner or something of that sort.”
Rupert Fanning’s wishes came true and he did attend a mostly cheerful dinner. On ANZAC Day 1919 91 Old Melburnians chose to break bread with each other instead of with those they fought alongside in the battlefield. It would be hard to find a more powerful illustration of the strength of our community.
At the Dinner, Lancelot (Lance) Gaunt (OM 1892) in proposing a toast to Fallen Comrades, said:
“As I watched the procession of Australian troops winding through the streets of London, my mind went back to the Old School, and those members who lie forevermore beneath the soil in foreign lands. As I watched the troops pass by I recalled many whose faces I shall see no more; Mervyn Higgins, A Kent, A O’Hara Wood, Osborne O’Hara, HH Hunter and many others. They heard the call and came forward to give of their all for the cause of right. Their names must forever be written high on the scrolls of fame of the School and of their country.”
So tonight, one hundred years later, we give life to Lance Gaunt’s request and gather to remember those who fought for our freedom. And we give thanks for the friendship and good company of all Old Melburnians.
I am inspired by the leadership, courage and self-sacrifice of men like Kent-Hughes, Fanning, Ross-Soden and Joynt, but equally so by regular soldiers like my great grandfather James Arthur Hogg who volunteered age 42 as a reinforcement and fought alongside Old Melburnians in the 14th Battalion. The commitment of these men led to a better world and a life, that we and our families have the privilege of enjoying.
I am also grateful to have walked in the Quad and through the Witherby Tower, in the footsteps of these and other good men who have in some way, shaped us all and the long-lasting values and spirit of the School.
Ladies and Gentlemen let me propose a simple toast – the same given in 1919.
Please be upstanding.