We remember them
Flemington will come to a pause on Remembrance Day, Saturday 11 November, as we pay our respects to our service personnel that contributed to Australia’s war efforts. Not only did Flemington play an important role as a training ground for soldiers, Cup Week 1918 was an emotional time, occurring just days before the end of the First World War.
Melbourne Cup Day, Tuesday 5 November 1918. Rumours abounded that the First World War, raging for more than four years, was about to end – that an armistice would be signed, that Peace would soon be declared. The excitement at Flemington was palpable. Maybe today?
Night Watch won the Cup. It seemed a great omen. Soon, surely, the dawn would come!
Extra emotion surrounded this win. Night Watch was the son of Wakeful, one of the greatest mares ever to race in Australia. It was as if a son of Black Caviar or Winx or Makybe Diva were to win the Melbourne Cup today.
Two days later: VRC Oaks Day, Thursday 7 November 1918. A large crowd returns to Flemington. This time rumour turns into mayhem, but it was a false dawn. Where do rumours begin? This was the era before loudspeakers and public address systems at the racecourse, or of social media on your phone, but word spread instantly. Here was the newspaper report next day:
FALSE PEACE REPORT
EXCITEMENT AT FLEMINGTON: Betting Temporarily Forgotten
Great excitement was created at the Flemington racecourse yesterday afternoon by a false report that Germany had surrendered to the armistice terms of the Allies. Betting was in progress on the third race … when somebody made the announcement over the [betting] rails that the war was over … In a moment all was excitement. The news spread like wildfire, and the betting ring became packed with cheering people. Backer and bookmakers gave no further heed to the wagering. The National Anthem was sung several times, and three cheers were given for the Allies, for Marshal Foch and for the boys at the front. Captain G. A. Burkett who was one of the original speakers at recruiting rallies on racecourses in Melbourne, made a speech, which was punctuated by great cheering … The band on the lawn played the National Anthem.
After a while the excitement partially subsided and betting was resumed. Mr L.K.S. Mackinnon, chairman of the VRC, hurriedly sought confirmation of the report. He soon received a telegram from the Acting Prime Minister (Mr Watt) stating that the rumours were without foundation This was posted in the ring and evoked expression of keen disappointment—but the people were fortified by the belief that they had only slightly anticipated the good news of the near future.
Showgirl won the Oaks, a daughter of another Melbourne Cup hero from before the war, the 1910 winner, Comedy King.
Two days later again: Saturday 9 November, the final day of Cup Week. The Sydney horse Kennaquhair, gallant runner-up in the Cup to Night Watch, won the main race, the C.B. Fisher Plate. Again the course was crowded. Quieter this time, still no news from Europe, but anticipation simmered. The big difference to the previous four years was the attendance of ‘so many gaily dressed women’.
Cup Week ended. The following Monday, 11 November 1918, Peace finally came, the armistice was signed. The place was France, the time there was actually 5am with hostilities to cease at the 11th hour. In practical terms that translated to 2pm and 8pm, respectively, in Melbourne, which was not on daylight saving time.
That evening, celebrations took over the main streets of Melbourne. People from the suburbs poured into the city, waving flags, climbing trees and street signs, bringing traffic to a halt: cheers and songs, shouting and bands, tin whistles and kerosene tins as improvised drums, tears of joy, private moments of grief. It was meant to be the end of the war to end all wars.
This was a Melbourne Cup week and aftermath not to be forgotten. And, symbolically, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month has stopped the clocks ever since, in parts around the globe, for a minute’s silence, for Remembrance Day.
Remembrance Day 2023 at Flemington
The Victoria Racing Club (VRC) is joining forces with the Victorian Branch of the Returned Services League of Australia (RSL Victoria) this Remembrance Day on Saturday 11 November, which coincides with the final day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, TAB Champions Stakes Day.
The race day will raise funds for the Annual Poppy Appeal, a fund that has supported Australian veterans and their families by delivering life-changing support for more than 100 years.
Racegoers will have the opportunity to contribute to the Poppy Appeal by purchasing a red poppy lapel pin with prices ranging from $2 to $50 from on-course RSL Victoria volunteers, with the poppy set to replace the iconic red rose as the official flower for the race day.
In recognition of their service, free General Admission entry will also be offered for all past and current service men and women with approved ID.
The gates at Flemington Racecourse will open at 10:40am, with a Remembrance Day Commemorative Service held in the Mounting Yard at 10:53am. The service will feature a bugler sounding the Last Post, a minute of silence at 11am and a recitation of the Ode of Remembrance by State President of RSL Victoria Dr Rob Webster OAM.