Cousins ‘unite’ in France a century later – Anzac Day

As told by Leading Aircraftwoman Hunter Westbrook, of Australia’s Federation Guard, to Flight Lieutenant Lily Lancaster.

CAPTIONLeading Aircraftwoman Hunter Westbrook, of Australia’s Federation Guard, visits the resting place of her distant cousin, Private Victor Westbrook, at the Bailleul Communal Cemetery in Northern France. Story by Flight Lieutenant Lily Lancaster. Photos by Sergeant Oliver Carter.

Standing in Villers-Bretonneux, France, as part of the catafalque party [last year], was unbelievable. All I could think about was those who made the ultimate sacrifice and never came home. They fought for our country and their lives in the very place where I was standing, while all I had to do was stand there in the cold.

You could hear the emotion in the French dignitaries’ voices, even though I couldn’t understand the language. That’s what we strive for: we cannot show emotion in our faces, but we can through sharp, controlled actions. Every movement has a purpose. My mentor, Lance Corporal Samuel Lin, told me: ‘Everyone can do drill, but not everyone can make you feel it’. I want people to watch me walk out in a catafalque party and feel something. That’s why we do it – to remember the fallen and guard their legacy.

CAPTIONLeading Aircraftwoman Hunter Westbrook, of Australia’s Federation Guard, performs ‘rest on arms’ during the 2023 Anzac Day dawn service at the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux, France.

I was thinking of my distant cousin, Private Victor Westbrook, who died of his injuries in World War 1. He was from Tasmania, like me.

We didn’t know about him growing up; I don’t think anyone in my family had ever had the chance to visit his resting place before me. That day was overcast, and as I moved forward to pay my respects, it started raining. As soon as we finished, it stopped. It was a special moment.

He was just a year younger than me. He went from bank clerk to the infantry frontline. That just blows my mind.

The day before Anzac Day, his story was read out at the Australian War Memorial’s dusk service. The next day I was representing him at a dawn service in the country where he died. What are the odds?

I usually hold my emotions well, but the guide who accompanied our battle tour in France moved us to tears when explaining Anzac Day there. She said: ‘The canola fields change from green to yellow this time of year. It’s like France knows the Anzacs have arrived. That’s Aussie blood on those fields; that’s Aussie colours’. I had never seen some of those guys cry before.

We [my family] would attend our little dawn service in St Helens, Tasmania. I always wanted to serve. When I was 21, I thought: ‘I could do a lot more with my life; let’s try the Air Force’.

When people ask me what I have done in my career, it feels surreal to tell them about my experiences. In just three years I’ve had the opportunity to participate in Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, His Majesty The King’s Coronation and Villers-Bretonneux Anzac Day.

I am stoked to be a part of the Australian War Memorial Service this year. I know people fly in just to see the service. One of the highlights of my job is seeing dignitaries from all over the world visiting our country. It means a lot to me to see these important people show up on a day that’s distinctly Aussie and Kiwi.

Despite having a small military, people come out to show their support because there is a deep-rooted respect for the service and sacrifice embedded in the Anzac spirit.

CAPTIONAustralia’s Federation Guardsmen Leading Aircraftwoman Hunter Westbrook, left, and Private Jack Leach rehearse their catafalque party roles in the lead up to Anzac Day 2023 at the Australian National Memorial site outside Villers-Bretonneux in France.


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