(Photo copyright Kerri Statton)
It has taken her a few weeks to come back down to earth, but Kerri Statton could not be more pleased with how the recent first ever gathering of descendants of all 15 Tasmanian Victoria Cross recipients at a gala luncheon at the prestigious Tasmania Club went off.
“It was absolutely wonderful,” she said.
“The descendants brought things with them and they were sharing them around the room and listening to stories.
“And Reg McDougall (descendant of Stan- ley McDougall VC MM), who is 96, he was absolutely wonderful.
“He was telling all these funny stories about my great grandfather (Percy Clyde Stat- ton VC MM) Stanley McDougall (VC MM) and John Dwyer (VC), how they went and played golf together and all this sort of stuff.
“It was amazing, it was just really emotional, because that was the first time I was meeting them all face to face, putting a face to the voice that I’ve been talking to on the phone for 12 months.
“All the families have just passed on so many compliments and said how much they really needed to come together and share the day.
“It ran so smoothly, it was just wonderful.”
Aided by Vietnam veteran, war historian and Victoria Cross specialist Richard Yielding, who also attended the luncheon, Kerri had prepared a presentation on the VC recipients and the action that had seen them so honourably decorated, some of them posthumously.
Richard said that about half of the 101 Victoria Crosses awarded to Australians have been done so posthumously, which is part of why there is such an air of mystique around the medal and those who have undertaken the actions that have been deemed worthy of the honour.
Richard served 32 years in the Australian military, and he has spent his retirement researching Australian VCs, which he hopes to publish as a pictorial record.
This common interest in keeping the memory of our war heroes alive soon brought Richard and Kerri together and Richard generously allowed Kerri to use some of his rare and previously unseen photographs for her VC luncheon presentation, which was just one of the treats that were in store for the descendants on the day.
There were also memorial medals and lapel pins, special VC luncheon cupcakes in presentation boxes to take home, as well as a celebratory cake cut by Kerri with a ceremonial sword on the day.
Perhaps most special of all was a series of oil paintings generously donated to Kerri, a portrait of each of the 15 Tasmanian VC recipients painted by Canadian artist Tyler Briley, which will be kept as a collection to be loaned for memorial occasions with the guest book from the luncheon, which has been signed by each of the descendants who attended.
“I’m going to keep them as a set, but I’ll loan them for functions or what have you, so the public can actually see them,” said Kerri.
Kerri said the generosity of sponsors and donors was overwhelming and the reaction of the descendants when they received their gifts was priceless.
“It was so emotional, you could hear the gasp when the first one was opened because the descendants didn’t know what they were going to get at all, so it was a lovely surprise.”
Kerri said she was particularly over- whelmed by transport company CTST, whose volunteer drivers went above and beyond, staying long after their job was done to ferry descendants safely to their dinner reservations following the luncheon and drinks at the Officer’s Mess.
While late additions to the list of VC winners (Teddy Sheean VC), COVID travel restrictions, venue changes and tracing of distant and far flung relatives had all been monumental challenges for Kerri, she said the emotion of the day, the generosity of her supporters and the gratitude of the descendants had made all the effort worthwhile.
“Caroline Gee, she’s the daughter of Lance Corporal Bernard Sidney Gordon VC, she was just marvellous, and she wants a reunion,” said Kerri.
“I said you might need to give me a year or two, but we’ll definitely have a reunion!”