Thursday, December 7, 2023

Visit to a cousin who never came home

As she takes part in Anzac Day commemorations in France this year, Leading Aircraftwoman Hunter Westbrook will be remembering a relative who never returned home to Tasmania from the Western Front.

Leading Aircraftwoman Westbrook, 24, will be a member of the catafalque party at the Dawn Service at Villers-Bretonneux, one of four sentries who will stand watch over one of Australia’s most sacred war memorials.

After participating in rehearsals on April 20, Leading Aircraftwoman Westbrook, from St Helens, went in search of the final resting place of her distant cousin Private Victor Westbrook, from Burnie, who was just 23 when he died of his wounds on June 18, 1917.

Leading Aircraftwoman Westbrook said that Private Westbrook was in the 40th Infantry Battalion, in the 3rd Division and had enlisted on March 15, 1916 in Claremont, Tasmania.

“The 40th Battalion fought in the Somme offensive in 1916 and were at Flanders, the Somme and the Western Front,” Leading Aircraftwoman Westbrook said.

Private Westbrook was buried at Bailleul Communal Cemetery, in French Flanders, just three kilometres from the Belgian border.

“He was not buried at a cemetery on the battlefield like other members of his battalion,” Leading Aircraftwoman Westbrook said.

“It tells me he was wounded and then taken to hospital in or around Bailleul, where he died and was laid to rest.”

Leading Aircraftwoman Westbrook described feeling very emotional when she saw her cousin’s tombstone and final resting place.

“He was just a year younger than me. He was a bank clerk before he enlisted and he went from that to the infantry front line – and he volunteered for that – it just blows my mind,” she said.

“It was very eerie but peaceful at the same time.”

After visiting some of the war cemeteries on the western front this week and seeing so many gravesites marked with ‘Unknown Soldier’, Leading Aircraftwoman Westbrook said she was thankful to know Private Westbrook’s final resting place.

“I’m so grateful to be able to come here and pay my respects. I may be the first and only family member to have been able to visit his grave,” she said.

“It is such an honour to be here, to pay my respects as a serving member in uniform. And to be here for Anzac Day to remember those who served and those that didn’t come home.

“That’s why Australia comes to France each year isn’t it? To remember those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.”

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