Meriden students Amber Broadbent and Genevieve McKeown were members of the five-person catafalque party at Sunday’s Sandakan Remembrance Service at Burwood Park. They are the first female Cadets to participate in the service in this capacity.
The Sandakan Remembrance Service commemorates the Australian and British prisoners of war sent to Sandakan in 1945. They were in their third year of captivity by the Japanese and used as labourers to build a military airstrip. The men endured starvation, overwork, torture and disease, including on three forced marches through the Borneo jungle. Of the two thousand prisoners held at Sandakan, only six survived.
Amber Broadbent said the stories of suffering from Sandakan should be remembered.
“We don’t often hear about Sandakan, but we should. One thousand seven hundred and eighty-one Australian soldiers died at Sandakan and Ranau in what remains the single greatest atrocity committed against Australians during wartime. It was really special to be part of the commemorations for those men and it was difficult not to react to the horrific stories while we were forming the guard at the front of the service.”
Genevieve McKeown said it was important for all Australians to know this story as well as we know of battles like Gallipoli.
“I wanted to participate in the Sandakan Remembrance Service to honour the lives of soldiers who suffered as prisoners of war,” she said.
The girls agreed the service was significant for them personally, as the first women, and the first Meriden Cadets, to participate in the watch party.
“I was excited to be selected because I’m really proud to be part of Meriden’s first Cadet Unit, so representing the School was pretty special,” Genevieve said.
Amber said the feedback she and Genevieve received from community members after the service was heartening.
“It was kind of the organisers to announce that Genevieve and I were the first girls to be part of the catafalque party at this ceremony. We felt empowered at being involved and recognised by people like the Honourable Jodi McKay, the Honourable John Sidoti and members of the police force. It was a bit bittersweet, hearing that girls had never been involved before, but it’s great to know that things are changing now.”
Both Amber and Genevieve were recently promoted within the Trinity Grammar School Cadet Unit, part of the first cohort of girls to receive promotions at the School. The Year 11 students were both promoted to the rank of Corporal.
A catafalque party, or watch party, was traditionally mounted around a coffin to ensure the safety of a body as it lay in state. Today, catafalque parties are mounted around memorials on occasions of remembrance as a sign of respect for those who have fallen.