Remembering… 100 years on & the story of Captain George Dey

The words hereunder are the words written and narrated by Andrew Male at the Port Pirie Remembrance Day Commemoration Service on November 11, 2018.   The words evoke many emotions, none more striking than the community spirit and the creation of a park… of ‘somewhere devoted to peace’.

Even all those years ago, change was happening.

We stand here this morning to honour and remember those who gave their lives in the cause of our country and her allies.

And to mark one hundred years since the Armistice was signed, thereby ending the conflict known as the Great War.

I don’t need to remind you of the dreadful losses suffered across the world.   Australia lost 60,000 young lives.   Forty percent of those men who were eligible to serve had volunteered.   Australia had no conscription.

Those who did not return are named here, at the very heart of this proud city, so we may never forget.   We knew none of them personally, but we know each of them by their legacy.

We honour them on this Remembrance Day, and we are also right to honour those who served and returned – not only from the First World War, but from all the others that came later.

Thousands of service-people returned.

And they carried with them a renewed sense of obligation to make their communities a better place.   I’d like to tell you about just one of those stories shortly, which relates to the very ground on which we stand here this morning.

Before that, I’d ask you to take some time to consider this beautiful park and its history, which I believe tells us so much about the special qualities of this city that owed so much to those who had made the Supreme Sacrifice.    The historian Paul Kelly says that Australia never played a greater part in world affairs than it did in 1918.

Port Pirie, providing most of the lead required by the Allies to keep munitions supplied to the Western Front, was absolutely critical to the success of the Allies.

It is a little-known fact that the Memorial Park we stand in today was mainly funded by local people raising funds to support the War Effort.

In the normal run of things much of this funding was used to supply munitions.

During the war it was decided by the families and supporters of our troops, and soldiers themselves, that instead of using these funds to pay for weapons, or ships or tanks, that we should look to the time beyond the war.

They wanted to make a better future.

The townspeople, including returned wounded soldiers, wanted the money they raised committed to building a park.

Somewhere the families of those fighting could enjoy when the battle was done – somewhere created with a view to better times ahead.

Somewhere devoted to Peace.

In all the sadness and loss of the four bloodiest years in human history, Port Pirie had optimism and faith.

And so, the park – and the memorials which would come to follow throughout a bloody century – came to be.   Port Pirie came together to build a giant playground just a couple of months before the Armistice.

While so many were prepared to give their lives in war, many of those heroes who returned remained proud to give the rest of their lives to peace.

To service.

It seems like something of an old-fashioned ideal these days – but look around you.

Look to those who went away to other wars, look to the men and women of the police, the emergency services, the ambulance staff.

We rarely hear about the good works of these people, or our military, many of whom volunteer much of their lives above and beyond their calling.

There is a reason they call their sacrifice Supreme – but I believe we must also thank and respect the living, those who came back to us carrying a moral sense of duty, a righteous commitment, to the memory of their fallen comrades.

They promised to make the world better and they did.

To take just one example of that ethos I would like share with you the story of Captain George Dey.  He wasn’t born here but came to us from New Zealand and lived among our people for most of his life.

You’ll find a street named after him just off Wandearah Road where he lived.

He was a mining engineer who volunteered to go to Gallipoli, then on fight in France.   He was wounded, lost his right hand and forearm and came back to Port Pirie.

Dey returned to work at the smelters, he brought with him what he had learned from the trenches of France, instituting health, safety and first aid facilities that were at the time the best in the world.

He served as President of the Returned Soldiers Association and in 1922 agreed with Mayor J Firmin Jenkins that this memorial and plaque be built here.   Mr Firmin Jenkins was the architect of this memorial and so many of the grand buildings we still enjoy in Port Pirie today.   He lived just over there, across the street, three doors along from the Masonic Lodge, which he also designed.

George Dey was mainly responsible for organising the building of the Risdon Park Anglican church, was president of the Seamans Mission for decades, served 20 years on council, and was district superintendent of the St John Ambulance Association for more than a quarter century. After the church was finished he set about constructing the hall used by the BHAS Excelsior Band.   He served as chairman of the Solomontown School Committee and was treasurer of the Children’s Playground Committee. Further to this he was instrumental in the creation of the Solomontown Beach and the various memorial gardens.

Captain Dey and his wife Mary had only two sons, David and Arthur, both signed up to the air force in World War Two.   Both were killed in action within three months in 1943.

Captain Dey returned to the army during World War Two, serving as a district recruiting officer.   When he retired from that role he wrote a cheque for six hundred pounds to return to the Commonwealth, saying he had volunteered and did not expect to be paid as he did not need the money, asking that it be used for better things.

When awarded with the Order of the British Empire in 1947, he said that anything he had done in Pirie was because of the pleasure he found in doing his duty as a citizen.

Ladies and gentlemen, here to Remember our service-people and their sacrifices, standing at the memorial organised by Captain George Dey, I ask that we each ask ourselves whether we might find a way to live more towards that kind of an ideal.   He survived and returned to fulfil a promise to those who did not.

He gave his long lifetime to honour those who lost theirs so young.

Let us remember the dead, and the living who returned to honour them in building places like this.

In doing so we can rightly pay our respects to those who have come before us and made such huge sacrifices so that we may carry on in peace.

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