When I first heard of the ANZ RSA Cyril Bassett VC Speech Competition, it was during my sister’s journey in presenting her own speech. Despite not winning, she successfully provoked powerful emotions in me. Feelings of gratitude, our duty to honour those fallen and, most importantly, a strong reminder for me to always remember my own privileged lifestyle.
Now, one year later, I have taken the opportunity to be involved in my own commemoration to those who fought for our freedom. To think of those we perhaps often forget – the nurses. I have always been in awe of their incredible dedication to caring for the men they followed to the battlefield.
As I began my research, it became clear to me that there was one particularly special woman who deserved recognition. Evelyn Gertrude Brooke, the only New Zealand nurse to be awarded the Royal Red Cross (1st Class) and Bar. Her efforts stretched far and wide. Her commitment seemingly infinite. Evelyn was originally called for duty in 1914, as Second-in-Charge of the nurses heading to German Samoa. Soon after, she found herself aboard the hospital ship Maheno, sailing for Gallipoli. It was her efforts here, under the most brutal conditions, that made me really connect with Evelyn. And, I considered if I could have been in her position. Would I have had the courage to commit myself to the terrible challenges, as all those nurses did?
When the day finally arrived for the Regional Competition in Nelson, I loved listening to the other speeches. Waiting in suspense, and with a great deal of nerves, I was to be the last speaker. I never imagined for a minute that I would be announced as the winner! I was so impressed by the skill of the other speakers. But, next stop Wellington and little did I realise that the adventure was only just beginning.
Having spent the morning mesmerised by Peter Jackson’s World War I Exhibition, I took my place in the Hall of Memories for the National Final of the competition. So many emotions and so much to think about. Another chance to do my best and to hear great speeches from my peers. Once again, the sound of my name accompanied with ‘winner’ made me feel light-headed. I was truly surprised, amazed and in complete disbelief by this point. As I turned to see my emotional mother, it finally registered that I was going to Gallipoli! This was a prize like no other. The chance to represent my country at the Anzac services was a very humbling thought. I am still, even now, lost for words in thanking all who have made this possible for me. From the support of my family and friends, to the generosity of the RSA and ANZ, to the other competitors themselves, this is the opportunity of a lifetime.
Written by 2016 ANZ RSA Cyril Bassett Speech Competition winner Stephanie Simpson