It’s the poignant and emotional stories that stick in Bill Needham’s mind.
Like the Goulburn woman who had been carrying around an unopened letter since World War Two that she had intended sending to her serviceman husband.
“She was pregnant with her first child and had walked to the Post Office with this letter, telling of the news,” Mr Needham said.
“At the same time a Rector was going to her place to let her know her husband had been killed on a hospital ship. She had kept this letter all these years and donated it to us. The human side is very poignant at times.”
Mr Needham is the patron and curator of Mulwaree High Remembrance Museum, which this year notches up its 25th anniversary. The museum has collected 8000 to 10,000 items since beginning, thanks to the generosity of Goulburn and district people and institutions.
The former Agricultural Science teacher, who retired in 2010, had a personal interest in starting the facility but always knew it could serve a wider, educative purpose. His father served in the RAF and was lucky to escape the 1942 Japanese invasion of Ambon in Indonesia. He was the 10th and last man on a plane that flew out under treacherous conditions before the bombing occurred. His father also watched a mate give up his place on the aircraft for another who had a wife and child.
“He never talked about his experience but in 1995 he asked me to find out what happened to his commanding officer. We discovered he’d been beheaded by the Japanese. He took that very hard,” Mr Needham said.
“That’s one thing I wished I never found out.”
But it wasn’t just about him. So many people had war experiences passed down the generations and he saw a chance to preserve the stories, educate and impart an appreciation of Goulburn and district’s wartime history.
Students quickly took an interest. He recalled one boy who hated school but spent hours transfixed in the museum. It grew from a meagre collection in the school library to an expansive one in a separate building. The late Dr Alan Hazelton, a who was a prisoner of war in Changi, was instrumental in purchasing the building near the school’s entry.
Donations have come from all quarters. Some were salvaged from the damp basement of Rocky Hill memorial, a defunct RSL Club donated items, a Tuena woman bequeathed her family history, while another family donated Light Horse uniforms worn by a father and son in World Wars One and Two. Peter Burness, an Australian War Memorial researcher who lives in Goulburn, helped acquire 4500 military slides of campaigns dating back to the Boer War. He also facilitated a Museum sister city relationship with Marquion, France.
It has allowed Mulwaree High School students the privilege of attending events like the interment of the unknown soldier in Bullecourt in 1995, representing all NSW schools.
“It has been a really good cultural experience for the kids,” Mr Needham said.
He remembered a young Mulwaree student, Brett Feld, who embraced the museum and worked hard for the acquisition of items and enthusiastically participated in ANZAC Day. Now the owner of farmer Felds, he is subsidising publication of Mr Needham’s book about the museum’s 25 years.
He was also quick to praise the 12-member Friends of the Museum for their role.
“I’m really happy with the way it’s developed. It has touched a community nerve and set off a good chain reaction,” Mr Needham said.
The museum, on McDermott Drive, will be open from noon until 4pm on ANZAC day.
Goulburn’s ANZAC Day kicks off with the Dawn Service at 5.30am at Belmore Park, followed by the War Graves Service at the General Cemetery.
The traditional Auburn Street march begins at 11am. Wing Commander Steve Laredo will deliver the address at the ensuing commemoration in Belmore Park. An RAAF F18 will do a flypast at 11.45am.
Goulburn Legacy will be running the ANZAC Day 2UP at the Soldiers Club from 3pm to 8pm, with a $2 door donation. The Gordon Hotel is also hosting 2UP from 1pm to 6pm and the Hibernian from 2pm on, with proceeds going to Legacy.