Seventeen years ago former prime minister Gough Whitlam was part of a record breaking crowd in Parkes to celebrate Anzac Day as part of a World War II reunion.
The theme for the reunion of soldiers who trained at the RAAF base in Parkes was ‘They Were Here’.
During WW2, Parkes airport became RAAF Base Parkes, accommodating No.1 Air Navigation School, No.2 Wireless Air Gunners School, No.8 Operational Training Unit and after the war No.87 SQN operated from Parkes. The former prime minister did his training in Parkes in 1943 before serving in the Pacific.
Organiser of the reunion and secretary of the Parkes RSL at the time, Arthur Parker, still have very fond memories of the event and is wondering where they are now. He added that most of the soliders had since died, including Gough Whitlam who passed away on 21st October 2014 at age 98.
Among the hundreds of people who attended the reunion weekend were also ex Italian interns and their families.
Arthur said while the weekend took months of organising, it was all worth it. The programme ran over three days from Friday, 23rd to Sunday, 25th April 2004.
The program on Friday included a Morse Code display, a street parade and flyover and a civic reception at Council chambers with children singing wartime songs.
Saturday included visits to the Parkes Radio Telescope, Parkes cemetery with a short commemorative service and a visit to Parkes airport and barbeque lunch. There was a Catholic Anzac service before a reunion dinner at the Parkes Services Club and wartime songs performed by a group of Parkes singers.
On Sunday the Anzac Day program started with the usual dawn service at Memorial Hill, followed by a breakfast at the Parkes Services Club before the program continued in Cooke Park at the cenotaph.