Airman’s first visit to great-grandfather’s grave

Inscribed between the names Morgan and Moore on Wagga Wagga’s Memorial Arch are the names of two brothers who served on the Western Front in France during World War I. One of them never returned home.  

Private John Mooney followed his younger brother Michael into the Australian Imperial Force, determined to protect him as best he could against the hardships of being a soldier at war.

Sadly, almost two years later, John Mooney was killed in action on 4 May 1917. Michael returned to Australia 10 days later.

The service and sacrifice of the late Private Mooney inspired future generations of his family to sign up and serve in the Australian Defence Force. His son, John Day, went on to serve in the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II, and his great-grandson, Leading Aircraftman Timothy Day, is currently serving in the RAAF.

Leading Aircraftman Day is posted to Australia’s Federation Guard – the Australian Defence Force’s ceremonial unit. He is in France to perform ceremonial duties at the Anzac Day Dawn Service at Villers-Bretonneux.

At the service, which will be held 100 years after the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, the Wagga Wagga native will serve as a member of the catafalque party that will be mounted at the Australian National Memorial.

This week, he had the opportunity to visit his great-grandfather’s grave for the first time.

“Coming here and re-connecting with a family member in this way really gives me even more perspective on Anzac Day,” Leading Aircraftman Day said.

“Taking part in the Dawn Service this year will take on a whole new meaning for me, knowing that I am connected to this story – that it’s not only an important part of our nation’s story, but also of my own.”

The Avionics Technician and Guardsman carried framed photographs of his great-grandfather with him on the 17,000km journey from Australia to France, and also placed his own military name-bar on his ancestor’s headstone.

“The photographs are a historic link for my family. These have been in our safe carriage for 103 years and it means a lot for me to be able to bring them here,” he said. 

“Placing my name with my great-grandfather’s is my way of telling him that he is definitely not forgotten; that his service and sacrifice will continue to live through my memory of him.

“I’d also like to think that my service will carry forward the legacy he started.”

The Vaulx Hill Field Ambulance Cemetery is surrounded by rolling hills of farmland in the Pas de Calais Region of France, roughly 160km north of Paris.

The site is so beautifully and respectfully maintained that it is near impossible to visualise the intense fighting that took place there during World War I – fighting so fierce the landscape was barren and pockmarked by shell holes.

As well as Allied servicemen who lost their lives during the war, German soldiers are also buried at the cemetery.

“My great-grandfather is lying here at peace, alongside not only his comrades but also the enemy,” Leading Aircraftman Day said. 

"It is truly remarkable to see that no matter what we do to each other at our worst, we can put our differences aside and truly find peace.”

By Lieutenant Sarah West