November 17, 2015
The Dutch and Queensland flags flew proudly side-by-side at Murgon RSL Club on Monday afternoon to signify the special relationship which has been forged between two towns on opposite sides of the world.
Murgon and the town of Dodewaard in the Netherlands are forever linked by war.
For more than 70 years, the townsfolk of Dodewaard have been tending the graves of two Australian airmen, Patrick Tiernan and Alf Burns, shot down over their town in June 1944.
The special commemorative lunch at the Murgon RSL Club on Monday was an opportunity to say “thank you” to at least some of the people who have been keeping the two fallen Aussies in their hearts.
Three Dutch couples were the special guests at the lunch. Paul and Annelies Struik, Cees and Monique Van Meer, and Anke and Ries Hoogakker are members of Dodewaard’s “May 4 Committee” which organises the town’s annual Remembrance Day commemorations.
To mark the 70th anniversary of the explosion of the Halifax bomber over Dodewaard, the May 4 Committee started to research the history of their two mystery airman.
Local mayor, Kees Veerhoek, emailed South Burnett mayor Wayne Kratzmann to ask if he knew anything about Patrick Tiernan.
Mayor Kratzmann admitted he very nearly deleted the email because at first he thought it was spam, but when he glanced further he realised the Neder-Betuwe mayor was asking about one of Murgon’s best-known families.
And so began a process which led to a small delegation from Murgon, as well as representatives from the Tiernan and Burns families, heading to Dodewaard last year for a special commemoration ceremony,
The Australians were overwhelmed by the hospitality of the Dodewaard community and invited their new Dutch friends to visit Australia in return.
May 4 Committee member Paul Struik said it was difficult to organise a time when Burgemeester Veerhoek could make it because of his official duties, but finally a date was set in November. Unfortunately, the mayor had to cancel his trip at the last moment because of the refugee crisis in Europe.
The three couples that did come over have been visiting with members of the Burns and Tiernan families. Their trip to Murgon was one of the last items on their agenda before their trip back home.
The Murgon RSL Club was filled with more than 100 people for the lunch, including local MPs and councillors.
Members of the Tiernan family were special guests as well as Yarraman resident Paul Tunn – another Aussie airman who flew that night back in June 1944 in a Halifax bomber. Unlike Patrick Tiernan and Alf Burns, Paul’s aircraft made it back to England.
A highlight of the afternoon was “The Patrick Tiernan Story”, a Powerpoint presentation by Nanango author Liz Caffery.
Copies of Liz’s book “Patrick Tiernan – The Cobber From Murgon” were then presented to the Dutch visitors, members of the Tiernan family and representatives from Murgon State High School and Murgon RSL.
This is a second edition of the book.
The first version, prepared before the Australians visited Dodewaard, has been updated with information about the visit, as well as the death of Sr Philomene Tiernan, who in a tragic coincidence was killed when her aircraft was shot out of the sky over Ukraine on her way home from the Dodewaard trip.
Liz was given a standing ovation by the crowd at the end of her talk.
[UPDATED with correction]