A highlight of the Centenary of Armistice commemorations in Tenterfield was the Formal Mess Dinner – otherwise known as the Dining in Night – held at Tenterfield Memorial Hall on the evening of November 10.
The military tradition continues an 18th century British officers’ custom of establishing an officers’ mess as a central meeting place when troops are billeted throughout a town (before the days of barracks). The formal and structured Dining In Dinner became an established practice which continues today, and was enjoyed by 100 invited guests at Memorial Hall.
Those guests included MP Thomas George and his wife Deborah, Stanthorpe RSL Sub-branch president Martin Corbett, Mayor Peter Petty and wife Kate, and – most importantly – special guest speaker Honor Auchinleck, granddaughter of General Sir Harry Chauvel. Mrs Auchinleck was accompanied by her husband Colonel Mark Auchinleck, who provided the Remembrance Day address at the service the following day.
Mrs Auchinleck grew up on the family property near Corryong. Apart from operational tours she accompanied her husband on all his postings, learning relevant languages while working in teaching, journalism and archaeological roles.
She published a memoir, Elyne Mitchell: A Daughter Remembers in 2012 about her mother, and completed her doctorate in 2014 at La Trobe University.
Mrs Auchinleck spoke of the letter her grandfather had written to his wife Sybil of the announcement of the Armistice dictating the ceasefire at the 11th hour of November 11, 1918: ‘I suppose things are really nearing the end. I have grave doubts whether I will be able to get away for some time.
‘There will be much to fix up here, demobilisation schemes, etc. However, we must hope for the best.’
The exhaustion of the troops was evident in the notes of Trooper Fowler of the 12th Light Horse: ‘We were pleased to hear that the war had finished. As far as we were concerned it meant no more bullets or shells whistling around, and the finish of the long and weary rides.
‘We were all too tired and weary even to talk much about the good news.’
As her grandfather’s death on March 4, 1945 was before her birth, Mrs Auchinleck said during her childhood he was an enigmatic figure who looked down from George Lambert’s portrait that used to hang above the mantelpiece in her grandmother’s dining room.
Through travels with her husband, however, she has been able to trace her grandfather’s exploits.
She said she has a deep debt of gratitude also to her godmother Pat Braham and husband Roger whom she first came to see in Tenterfield in 1985 with her two children.
“Then a couple of years later during Mark’s exchange posting to the Land Warfare Centre at Canungra, we were frequent visitors to Pat and Roger, and also to Jean Chauvel who lived in Stanthorpe.
“Together with Jean Chauvel, they encouraged me to go to Tabulam where my grandfather was born in 1865.
“‘You take the Bruxner Highway east’ Pat told me. And we did just that!”
She said it was the Brahams who showed her the Tenterfield Railway Station where the young 20-year-old Chauvel accompanied Lord Carrington when it was opened in 1885.
“The Brahams also took me to the Tenterfield Museum and showed my great-aunt Lilian’s paintings.”
Mrs Auchinleck said moves to posthumously promote Chauvel to Field Marshall were not supported by family members, with his youngest daughter Eve saying he wouldn’t have liked it at all.
“I believe that if Chauvel wished to remembered for anything it would be for the dedication to duty and importance of service to one’s country and one’s fellow humans.
“As one of Chauvel’s granddaughters and a member of the General Sir Harry Chauvel Foundation, my role is to encourage people to research the history of their Light Horsemen ancestors or local heroes and bring their stories home to the families and communities from which they came.
“Chauvel’s men were his heroes.”
Tenterfield RSL Sub-branch president Dave Stewart was thrilled that Mrs Auchinleck agreed to travel to Tenterfield to take part in the Dining In event. He felt the dinner also provided non-military guests with an insight as to how the ceremony is conducted.
“They got to witness something very special to us as military personnel,” he said.
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