Wesley’s unique ANZAC Day tradition, to remember the 56 Old Boys who gave their lives for our nation

Posted April 25, 2018 in Opinion By Community Relations

Today is ANZAC Day. For many of you who have attended our OWCA ANZAC Day Service before, Wesley College’s tradition of the vacant chair is well-known.

However, for those unaware, it is a particularly moving part of the College’s ANZAC Day heritage.

The story begins with the Old Wesley Collegians’ Association in the late 1930s. Always keen to help the school, graduated Old Boys had been donating wooden chairs to help furnish the Boarders’ dining hall and assembly room which had been opened in 1937.

Each chair carried a small white plaque with the name of the donor. As the Second World War progressed, and the college was advised of the death of each Old Boy, the headmaster Dr Rossiter arranged for the matching chair to be removed from the dining hall and placed in the little chapel which had been set up in a room in the school’s original classroom block.

It is reported that Dr Rossiter, who had been at the school since 1930, personally knew all but 4 of the 55 who lost their lives during the conflict, and was so deeply affected by the mounting toll that early in the war he introduced a ‘12 o’clock silence’, observed at noon each day.

In November 1943, with the number of these memorial chairs steadily rising, they were taken to the Remembrance Day Service and March Past on the school oval where they were placed on the dais, the Captain of the School laid a wreath and the Bugle Band played ‘while the platoons, in order, saluted the vacant chairs’.

By the following year, 1944, the number of known casualties had reached 30 so instead of moving all the chairs just one, the chair of the first Old Boy to fall in the war, was placed on the dais. A wreath was placed on the chair, and in the two minutes of silence, the act of remembrance was made. As was noted at the time, ‘The vacant chair represents the steadily growing number of Old Boys whose service has cost them their lives’.

The small jarrah chair used in our ANZAC service today is the last one remaining of those donated in the 1930s. Although the name plaque has gone it provides, as we in our turn pause to remember, a potent link between ourselves and this period in Wesley’s past. It is with great pride that we will always remember the 56 Wesley College Students who gave their lives for our nation in the Second World War and Vietnam.

Lest we forget.


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