Bob Stretton helps Dale, Linda and Don Birt lay a wreath for the fallen.
Bob Stretton helps Dale, Linda and Don Birt lay a wreath for the fallen. Craig Warhurst

'Ash' joins tragic honour roll

A RECORD crowd endured searing heat yesterday to bear witness to Gympie's saddest and most significant Remembrance Day service in recent memory.

For the first time in 41 years, another name joined the honour roll of Gympie's war dead and Gympie was united in its grief at losing one of its favourite sons.

Afghanistan and the war on terror are distant battles no longer.

The murder of 22-year-old Corporal Ashley Birt in southern Afghanistan on October 29 has pierced the heart of this community and delivered to our doorsteps the true terrible cost of war.

Cpl Ashley "Ash" Birt's death rocked the Gympie community, a fact borne out by the almost 300 people who attended the Remembrance Day service yesterday.

Not in many years have so many laid poppies and paid tribute to the fallen at Gympie's service.

Cpl Birt's mother Linda, father Don and brother Dale were stoic in their grief during the service.

The three held hands as they approached the cenotaph to lay a wreath at its base, Don and Dale flanking Linda, and Dale putting a protective arm around his mother as they turned to face the silent crowd and return to their seats.

While many in the crowd managed to find pockets of shade for the service, many others had to endure the blazing sun, some wearing heavy suits and ties.

One high school student succumbed to the heat, fainting on the grass, but she was quickly helped by members of the crowd and ambulance officers.

Following the service, the crowd moved across Reef St to Memorial Lane, where a temporary plaque in honour of Cpl Birt was unveiled by an emotional Mayor Ron Dyne.

Ashley is the first soldier from Gympie to be added to the roll since 22-year-old Private Dennis Niel was killed in Vietnam in 1970.

"Today, I perform a duty that no one ever wants to do," Cr Dyne told the crowd.

"Today is a day that we remember one of Gympie's sons who has made the supreme sacrifice in Afghanistan.

"Today we add Cpl Ashley Birt's name to the honour roll that started in the Boer War through the First and Second World Wars, Vietnam and now Afghanistan.

"It gives me no pleasure to perform the unveiling of this, the latest plaque to honour our war dead.

"May Ashley's name be forever remembered as a son of Gympie who has made the supreme sacrifice for his country."

Remembrance Day, Poppy Day or Armistice Day remembers the members of the armed forces who have died in the line of duty.

It also recalls the end of the First World War, when hostilities formally ended "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" of 1918.

The red remembrance poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day due to the poem, In Flanders Fields. Poppies bloomed across some of the battlefields.

Cpl Birt's funeral will take place at The Pavilion at 11am on Monday.

Gympie Times


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