29. Laura Muir

24 Jul

29 Laura Muir“The biggest thing you can do for your country is to give your life defending it…”

This is one of the first statements which Laura Muir proudly proclaimed when I sat down to interview her. One would be impressed if they heard this from a seasoned veteran, let alone a teenage girl with a passion for serving her country. Laura, a member of 402 Squadron Air Force Cadets, dreams of becoming an Air Traffic Controller or IT Specialist with the Royal Australian Air Force.

Through the Banyule 100 initiative, I had the fantastic opportunity to meet and interview Laura Muir, the successful recipient of the 2012-2013 Living Spirit Fellowship initiative facilitated by the Greensborough RSL. Impressively, Laura is the first year 11 candidate to have won the Fellowship out of a field of over fifty applicants from 14 schools in the region. Encouraged by her Deputy Principal and mentor Mr Tony Chirico and supported by Loyola College, Laura decided to undertake the application for this Fellowship. At first, whilst completing her exams, Laura felt the daunting magnitude of the application. As a testament to her character, she not only “became intrigued” and “couldn’t stop” researching, she also excelled enough to win this trip of a lifetime. Soon enough, delegates from the Greensborough RSL would be arriving at Loyola College to congratulate her in front of her fellow students for becoming the next winner of the Living Spirit Fellowship.

Laura admits that she was excited for the journey, as she cannot help but to “love an adventure.” After landing in Bangkok in the early hours of the morning, the following day Laura’s journey truly began. Firstly, she arrived at Kanchanburi War Cemetery, roughly two hours north-west of Bangkok. Here she was subjected to the sight of over 6,000 graves – most of whom were Australian, British or Dutch soldiers.

Subsequently, she underwent a small group service at ‘Cholera Hill’ – the F Force POW Camp site where many Australians perished at the hands of this infectious disease due to malnutrition and enforced squalor. With regards to this, Laura has made an extremely poignant assessment:

“Family members laid a cross and said a prayer before placing individual poppies at  the base of the cross.  It was a heartbreaking moment. We heard stories of courage and mateship, as Diggers volunteered to care for their mates suffering from Cholera and ensure they were not left alone.  These Diggers knew they were at extreme risk of catching Cholera too, but refused to leave their mates. Everyone on the tour was a son, daughter, wife or brother of a POW or a serviceman. Words cannot explain how I felt visiting these locations, learning about the war, the horror and suffering of the POWs and their loved ones.  A constant question in my mind was how could a human-being treat another human-being like this? As an Australian, I was humbled to stand where Allied POWs and local civilians built by hand, a 245km railway for the Japanese. The men were tortured, beaten and murdered. Numerous stories of mateship and bravery brought many a tear.”

It was at this point that the raw emotion experienced “hit [Laura] at once.”

Throughout Laura’s entire pilgrimage there is a recurrent theme – “words cannot describe.” She’s entirely correct, one cannot conjure a phrase, or any amount of words which accurately portrays the gravity of the plight that the Australian (in addition to the British and Dutch) POWs suffered.

Laura soon attended a Dawn Service at Hellfire Pass – a pass cut through rock entirely by hammer and chisel, where it is said by locals that the haunting echoes of the ‘hammer and tap’ will forever endure. Here, after having traced the footsteps of Australia’s ancestors, Laura and her company laid a wreath to commemorate and honour Australia’s fallen soldiers. Laura listened to an especially emotional rendition of the Last Post by two Thai Army buglers, whilst Bagpipes echoed throughout the entire pass as dawn broke over the chiselled rock. When describing this scene to me, she spoke of pure “amazement” – this was the point of her journey in which her jaw dropped and an epiphany was reached. This is without doubt a moment which will forever be etched in her memory.

Following this, Laura attended a ceremony at Kanchanburi War Cemetery. She was taken aback by the sheer amount of foreign delegates such as Canadians, Swedes and Spaniard who had made the pilgrimage to pay their respects to the Australian, British and Dutch fallen heroes. This reverence exhibited by dignitaries from countries which had little to do with the Thai-Burma Railway serves as a testament to the respect commanded by these fallen soldiers.

This journey had provoked an epiphany and altered Laura’s mindset. She stated to me that she had gained a “better appreciation” and upon returning was “more grateful” for the life she had been given, a life which may not have been possible without the sacrifices of those whom she was honouring. Thus, fuel was added to her burning desire to serve her nation, instilling deep within her a “[pride in] what [she] wants to do.”

After detailing her experiences to me, I asked Laura to sum up her extraordinary journey in one word – “Proud” she stated humbly. She is proud of those who have served this nation past and present, she is proud of those who accompanied her to commemorate their fallen heroes, she is proud of the mateship which superseded the horror experienced on the Thai Burma Railway, and this without doubt makes her proud to be Australian and proud to follow the footsteps of the Australian POWs in Thailand.

I for one am proud of a young leader and idol such as Laura so willing to serve our nation and honour our history. She is an exemplar of honour and integrity and our country should see her as a valuable asset.

Words: Jake Breheny

Photo: Sean Porter

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