The Simpson Prize is a national History competition funded by the Australian Government. Each year students across the country are invited to submit an essay in response to a question related to Australia’s experiences in the Great War.
In 2017, the question read: Some historians have described 1917 as “the worst year of the Great War” for Australia and Australians. To what extent is this an accurate statement?
Holy Cross College student Daniel Docker entered the competition for the second time in 2017 and was selected as the winning entrant for Western Australia. In March 2018, he travelled to Canberra for the Simpson Prize awards presented at Parliament House and in April, toured London, Paris and the Western Front as a representative of the Australian Government.
Here are his thoughts on the experience:
My experience on the Simpson Prize tour was incredible. The tour of the battlefields of the Western Front where 100 years ago many Australians, among other Allied soldiers, paid the ultimate price was very eye opening. Often when we speak of the Great War, we make mention of the great sacrifice and huge tragedy of the conflict – but words don’t truly explain it. In this case, seeing is believing, and I don’t believe that without this experience I would truly be able to understand what took place a century ago. The cemeteries that I visited had the bodies of someone’s sibling, someone’s parent, every single one had a story. Some stories may never be told, as those people are now known as “A Soldier of the Great War.”
One of my favourite parts of this tour was the Menin Gate Last Post Service, where I had the privilege of laying a wreath along with some Queensland students. The memorial itself was stunning but being a part of a service that is so important to Australia’s history regarding the war was very special to me. The most revealing part of the trip was the Notre Dame de Lorette French military cemetery, with nearly 40,000 French soldiers of the First World War buried there. Unlike the Commonwealth war graves, the French did not have headstones – rather simple crosses for each burial. Looking out upon the thousands of crosses that stand over the vast cemetery really hit home how much loss was in World War One – and this was only French soldiers.
The dawn service on ANZAC day for the Centenary of Villers-Bretonneux was very moving, with speeches from Malcolm Turnbull, Edouard Phillipe and Prince Charles. The memorial itself is stunning and was used creatively in the service, at one point images were being projected onto the tower which was deeply moving. The Simpson Prize tour was a life changing experience for me, no longer will I think of the death toll of the First World War as a number but rather thousands upon thousands of individual soldiers – each with a story that may never be told.
Daniel DockerYear 11 StudentHoly Cross College
Daniel’s prize-winning essay may be found here