|Anzac Day this year will be a new experience with the public asked not to attend any of the limited services that may be held, but there will still be opportunities to pay respects to those who served our country in times of war.
Cemeteries across the district contain links to these chapters in our history, including the Upper Regions Cemetery to the south east of Dimboola.
Amongst some majestic pine trees in the corner of a paddock beside Petchels Road near Wail is a collection of graves that make up the Upper Regions Cemetery, which is also known as the Kornheim or Wail cemetery.
An unusual memorial, in the form of a tablet mounted on the grave of Minna and Christian Petschel, commemorates the death of their son and former local resident, Victor Edward Petschel, who died when the aeroplane he was a gunner in was shot down over Germany in March 1945.
Petschel was born 20 August 1918 in Dimboola and grew up on the family farm at Wail where he also attended to local Wail State School before later attending Immanuel College in Adelaide. Following his formal education, he returned to work on the family farm.
Very soon after the outbreak of what would become known as the Second World War, Petschel enlisted in the army and served with the 19th Machine Gun Battalion which was at this time based at Adelaide River, south of Darwin in the Northern Territory.
This Battalion was formed in Horsham and was made up primarily of men from the Horsham, Wimmera and Southern Mallee districts, and was involved in the defence of Darwin when it became under attack by the Japanese from the 19th of February 1942.
At the end of 1942 Petschel applied to transfer to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and at the end of March the next year he was accepted and began his training with the No. 1 Initial Training School at Somers, south of Melbourne on the shores of Western Port Bay, and the next month he was made a Wireless Air Gunner.
In July 1943 he returned to Dimboola to marry Verna Schultz from Nhill.
His training continued at the Wireless and Gunnery School at Ballarat and then the Bombing and Gunnery School at Sale. He gained his Air Gunners Badge in November and by January 1944 was in England where his training continued, first on twin engine ‘Wellington’ bombers, and then on the four engine ‘Lancaster’ bombers in which he would see service over Germany.
In August 1944 he was posted as a mid-upper gunner to 97 Squadron RAF, a ‘Pathfinder’ squadron whose task it was to be the first aircraft to fly over a target and mark it, usually with flares for night bombing, for the wave of following bombers.
Overnight of the 20th and into the 21st of March Petschel and his crew embarked on their 22nd mission which was to attack the synthetic oil plant at Bohlen, south of Leipzig, Saxony in eastern Germany.
The attack was considered successful as it achieved the objective of putting the plant out of action, but ten ‘Lancasters’ failed to return, including Petschel’s.
Despite the conditions over the target being clear with good visibility, no communication was received from the aircraft and no-one witnessed it being shot down, but when it failed to return to England its crew was reported missing on the evening of the 21st, seventy five years ago today.
As was the case with every missing serviceman, his disappearance was investigated after the war, but no trace of the aircraft or crew was ever found and in 1949 Petschel and his six crew mates were officially listed as presumed killed in action with no known grave.
With this status, Petschel’s sacrifice is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial in England for aircrew who lost their lives in the European theatre during World War Two and have no known grave. His name also appears at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, and the National War Memorial of South Australia in Adelaide.
Locally he is memorialised on the tablets at the Dimboola Memorial Secondary College, a tree in the Avenue of Honour, and at that lonely cemetery under those pine trees.
The Upper Regions Cemetery Restoration Project was a finalist in the Cultural Heritage Award in the 2019 Tidy Towns - Sustainable Communities Awards.
This cemetery was established in 1877 and is the resting place of at least fifty people, with the last of whom was burial in 1962, with many of these being early German settlers of the area.
As relatives of those buried in this cemetery that was established in 1877 left the district the site fell into a decline, but since 2012 a small band of supporters have worked to clean up the site and show respect to those who rest there.