UPDATE: As the tired crew pull apart all their hard work, the finally tally on the number of people who passed through the tunnel is an astounding 1764.
EARLIER: The huge volunteer effort to recreate a WW1 tunnel and trench system in Tenterfield Memorial Hall to mark the centenary of Armistice has won praise from all who have experienced it, and that has been many.
“It was absolutely worth the effort,” Tenterfield RSL Sub-branch president Dave Stewart said of the 300-plus man hours involved in the recreation.
“For us as a team it was well worth it, and the community support has been overwhelming.”
Schools visited from throughout the district, with Millrace residents making the trek on Tuesday, the final day before disassembly.
“Students had an amazing experience and learned a great deal through their visit,” St Joseph’s Primary School principal Cherie Yates said.
Sadly calls for the exhibit to become a permanent feature cannot be accommodated due to lack of space.
Mr Stewart said he ran into MP Barnaby Joyce in Bruxner Park and invited him down to experience the display. Mr Joyce walked down to the hall and spent close to an hour in the exhibit, talking with volunteers and other visitors.
In addition to the tunnel system, the displays which complemented the exhibit reflected the wealth of memorabilia existing in local collections, and the willingness of families to lend these valued items for public exhibition.
Many items also came on loan from the Tenterfield and District Historical Society, and will return to their home at Centenary Cottage.
After around 100 people went through the exhibit during its first two days, the weekend got busy with 322 through on Saturday and another 376 on Sunday (surviving the crush of interested visitors following the conclusion of the Remembrance Day service on the forecourt).
Mr Stewart said the sound effects and the WW1 film footage, thanks to the efforts of Peter Harris, provided another level of authenticity to the display. Anyone who spent any length of time in the hall would appreciate the stress caused by the noise of unrelenting artillery fire and bombings, even without the associated vibrations.
“And soldiers had to deal with that for four years,” Mr Stewart said.
“It would have been hard to settle back into the quiet of Tenterfield.”
He is confident the number through would be pushing 1500 by the time the exhibit closed.
“As president of the RSL Sub-branch I give my sincere thanks to the ‘1st Tenterfield Tunneling Team’ which provided so much hard work, time and effort to bring to realisation the Centenary of Armistice exhibition in Memorial Hall,” he said, “in particular Steve ‘Rhombus’ Cowin and Murray Finnerty for their technical assistance and volunteering of materials and labour.
He also thanked Michael Williams and Gary Jackson and the team in Wallangarra at Joint Logistics Unit, SQ for taking his request for assistance back to commanding officer Lt. Col. Meegan Olding.
The army base provided sandbags, timber, barbed wire, hessian and camouflage netting – normally used in army exercises – for the exhibition.
“It gave it a realistic feeling,” Mr Stewart said.
“Without that assistance, I don’t think we would have got to the standard of display that we achieved.”