Remembrance Day

Family honours heroic great-uncle Robert Mactier

By Madeleine Caccianiga

As the sun rose on Mont Saint-Quentin of Peronne, 100 years after Robert Mactier’s actions at the Battle of Mont St Quentin resulted in him being awarded him the Victoria Cross, more than 10 Mactier descendants were in attendance for the celebration of the battle’s anniversary.

Pte Robert Mactier VC, 1890-1918, Tatura, World War I, 23rd Battalion.

Brothers Tony, Grant and Craig O’Callaghan along with their wives and Tony’s daughter Anika O’Callaghan travelled to France as a tribute to their great-uncle Robert Mactier.

More than 100 descendants were invited by Peronne’s mayor Therese Dheygers to help celebrate the Australians who sacrificed their lives in 1918.

Exactly 100 years since Robert Mactier’s death, Tony, Anika, Grant and wife Ida O’Callaghan visited his grave.

‘‘I was over there back in 1984 and a mate and I had a look around ... to try and find the grave but there is just grave sites dotted all over the countryside,’’ Tony said.

Grant, Tony and Anika O’Callaghan place a hand each on Robert Mactier’s headstone at Hem Farm Military Cemetery. 

He said there were no signs off the main road to guide them in the right direction to get to the burial site.

‘‘I thought we were lost, I thought ‘this can’t be it’ — and after kilometres and kilometres we finally came to the sign that said Hem Farm Military Cemetery, and that’s where it was,’’ Tony said.

After visiting the cemetery the family attended a meet-and-greet at Peronne Town Hall, where guest speakers talked of the heroes being celebrated.

‘‘Towards the end of the speeches the mayor said, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you, could you all please turn around’ ... these big barn doors opened up and a band started playing for us,’’ Tony said.

The official ceremony was on September 2 and a 35-piece orchestra played for the service.

‘‘Afterwards we all went up to Mont Saint-Quentin which is where they had the big ceremony,’’ Tony said.

He said all the descendants were treated like royalty by the people of Peronne and their motto was ‘do not forget Australia’.

‘‘We were drinking French Champagne, wine.

‘‘Five-star French finger food — I’ve never tasted finger food so beautiful, never seen it so beautiful,’’ Tony said.

‘‘They really appreciated us being there, they treated us like royalty, they really looked after us.’’

Having the opportunity to meet other Australians, Tony chatted to the family standing next to him at the ceremony.

‘‘They were there for a family member who was buried with Robert ... he (Robert) was first buried in Clery and then they exhumed his grave from there and moved it to where it is now.

‘‘The other gentleman was moved also to be buried again next to Robert. They died one day apart of each other; Robert died first and his family seem to think that their relative carried Robert off the field,’’ Tony said.

He said he couldn’t believe the effort the city of Peronne had gone to in memory of the Australians, including a series of other events throughout the year.

The Robert Mactier statue unveiling in Tatura in 2014.

‘‘One of the events they had was an Australian football match held in July ... they invited all the ex-AFL players that lived around Europe and Great Britain to come over to Peronne and join the football match.

‘‘Apparently they got 40 players over there ... and had a football match and they named the cup after Robert,’’ Tony said.

The O’Callaghan family finished off its trip with a visit to the Museum of the Great War at Peronne, and the underground tunnel at the Musee Somme 1916 in Albert.

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