Raising the flag for ANZAC Day

14 April 2021

Next time you take a trip up the Great Dividing Range to the Garden City, take note of any flagpoles you see in the front yards of the houses you drive by.

Chances are they’re part of an initiative by the Toowoomba RSL Sub Branch and the Toowoomba Young Veterans Group to honour veterans and help connect them with their Defence community.

Toowoomba RSL Sub Branch President Scott May, who served five years as a member of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps at 2nd/14th Light Horse Queensland Mounted Infantry as an ASLAV crewman, says it was a project “born through sheer coincidence”.

“I installed a new flag pole for a family member who wanted one for their front yard, and then made one for myself. Then I was getting requests from a couple of other younger members of our Sub Branch for a flagpole as well,” he says.

“It snowballed to what we’re now calling Flags on the Home Front. It also oddly coincided with the start of COVID last year just before ANZAC Day and it has equally served as a welfare initiative.”

Toowoomba RSL Sub Branch President Scott May

in demand for light up the dawn

For six weeks prior to ANZAC Day last year, Scott and his team were in demand with requests for flagpole installations from veterans across Toowoomba, so they could light up the dawn in their driveways.

For an appropriate donation to the Sub Branch, they install a polished metal flagpole, with all funds raised used for veteran welfare and support activities in the local Toowoomba community.

“We ask that they make an in-kind donation to cover the cost of materials so that we can keep paying it forward, and nine times out of 10 people donate more than that,” he says.

“It’s continually grown steadily for the past 12 months. And personally, going out and installing flagpoles every Monday has given me a consistent project while I rehabilitate and recuperate.

“It drills down into what the core values of the RSL is – looking after one another within the community.”

Scott says they’ve installed 150 flagpoles so far.

A member of the Toowoomba RSL Sub Branch raises the flag on a newly installed flagpole

“It’s a multifaceted program. On one hand it lets us create the opportunity for veterans and community members to observe special days like ANZAC Day and others throughout the year from their own home,” Scott explains.

“On the other, we have local veterans making the flagpoles and then going out to install them. During installation they can interact one-on-one with the homeowner who 90 per cent of the time is a veteran too.

“The donations from the program have meant we’re in a position to offer other welfare projects for members and the visibility in the community of what the RSL does means we’ve been able to grow our membership base as well.”

THE CHANGING FACE OF VETERANS  

Scott says the ability to be an advocate for the support and connection RSL Queensland offers members is a great side benefit.

“We’re getting the chance to meet people that may have never interacted with the RSL and not known the full extent of what we do and how we support members,” he says.

“The RSL offers a lot of benefits for younger veterans in the community. Not only the direct welfare initiatives that they have – such as advocates and welfare and support services – but also indirect welfare.

“And it isn’t only veterans’ homes where we are installing the flagpoles, it is community wide. So, for local residents to be able to interact with our cohort of younger veterans also gives them a better understanding of the challenges younger veterans face and changes the perceptions of what a veteran is.”

“We’re not just a group of older people in the community. We have members as young as 18 years old, so this initiative has impact for people to realise that the RSL is still a relevant organisation with a part to play in the community and we’re needed generationally across the board.”

A NEW WAY TO COMMEMORATE

After the challenges of last year and the ways in which the community still gathered to commemorate ANZAC Day through Light Up the Dawn, Scott says it gave him a sense of satisfaction knowing they had played a part in helping forge a new way to commemorate the day.

“My sons point out flagpoles as we drive around Toowoomba, asking if they are ones I’ve installed and it’s humbling to be involved in a lasting legacy and doing something good.”

This year, Scott says he is commemorating ANZAC Day more traditionally thanks to the easing of restrictions.

“We’re going to have the services at the Cenotaph in Toowoomba, but we’re also encouraging people who can’t get out and about to honour with a Light Up the Dawn service in their own home.

“The day itself for me is a moment to stop, reflect and take stock of what I have. It’s also a day where the community can come together, not to celebrate the glories of war, but to remember those who served in the conflicts.”

THE RETURN OF LIGHT UP THE DAWN

In 2020, Light Up the Dawn brought us all together. In a year of great challenge and change, the Australian community stood united – in uniforms or pyjamas, wearing medals, poppies and sprigs of rosemary – to let Australian veterans know that their service and sacrifice will never be forgotten.

This year, the choice is yours – commemorate our veterans with a traditional Dawn Service at your local cenotaph, or honour them from home at 6am. We are committed to safely honouring our veterans, past and present – whether at traditional services, or by commemorating personally at home.

How will you light up the dawn this year?