First Anzac 'comes home' with plaque unveiling
"JOSEPH Henry Stratford has come home."
This is what Audrey Walker, a descendent of Lance Sergeant Joseph Stratford, said when a plaque was unveiled at the Goolmangar School of Arts, honouring the fallen First World War soldier.
Lance Sergeant Stratford, born near Goolmangar and raised in Lismore, was known to have been in the first boat to arrive on the shore of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, and was possibly the first soldier from NSW to die on that same shore.
Now, almost 100 years later, a plaque, stood between two Lone Pine trees, will forever stand in memorial to the local soldier, thanks to the City of Lismore RSL Sub-Branch and the Goolmangar Hall Committee.
Mrs Walker, of the Gold Coast, and Gavin Stratford, of Ballina, grandchildren of Lance Sergeant Stratford's siblings, headed up a clan of descendants in attendance at the ceremony.
Mr Stratford explained how eye-witness accounts described Lance Sergeant Stratford plunging into waist-deep water from his landing boat, abandoning his pack to charge up the beach with his rifle and bayonet.
Less than an hour later he was dead, although he was described as missing in action for 18 months, as his body was never recovered.
Accounts have said that in the short time he was ashore, he made a huge impact.
Lance Sergeant Stratford was held responsible for taking out a machine gun post at the top of a 100m hill that the Anzacs had to ascend.
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However, it was during this heroic act that he was reported to have been fatally injured, and was last seen making his way back to the beach.
Lismore man Barry Davidson had been a driving force, with Lance Sergeant Stratford's late great-nephew, Colin Stratford, in getting recognition in the local area for the fallen soldier.
Mr Davidson said it was wonderful to see this plaque unveiled on Lance Sergeant Stratford's home turf.
"He was a good bloke - well-liked by his men so we've heard," Mr Davidson said.
He said it was a shame Colin was not still alive to see this plaque unveiled, and knew that if Colin and Joseph were there today, they would have "the biggest smiles" on their faces.
President of the City of Lismore RSL Sub-Branch, Cecil Harris, said it was a wonderful occasion.