Sapper Jamie Larcombe farewelled on Kangaroo Island
March 05, 2011
IT felt like too nice a day to say goodbye. The clouds had parted to let the autumn sun shine through, the wind was gentle and faraway surf crashed.
High on a bluff on Kangaroo Island, overlooking a sparkling blue sea, the younger sister of Sapper Jamie Larcombe read a poem farewelling her beloved brother, her voice catching on emotion and tears.
Sapper Larcombe was killed in Afghanistan two weeks ago.
"I miss being your little sister," Emily Larcombe began. "I miss hearing the sound of your voice. I wish I got to say I love you before you were given to the sky."
On a day when the heroism and valour of Sapper Larcombe, of the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment, was commemorated at his funeral service, it was the voice of his family that brought the devastating loss of war home to the 1000 people gathered at Flagstaff Hill on Kangaroo Island. Sapper Larcombe's three sisters all read poems in honour of their brother as his parents Steven and Tricia looked on. The pain and the grief was in their voices and words, and in the hush of those who had gathered to pay their respects to the 23rd Australian to die far from home, fighting a ruthless enemy in Afghanistan.
They came from everywhere to say goodbye. Climbing the hill from Kingscote were the young and the old, the workers and the retired, those who never knew Jamie Larcombe and those who'd known him forever.
There was Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, Defence Minister Stephen Smith and Acting Premier John Rau.
It was a sad and solemn day but there were moments of lightness and laughter when family friend Ted Speed delivered the eulogy for Sapper Larcombe.
There were old tales of horse rides gone wrong, motorbikes that had crashed, injuries to sisters.
Mr Speed spoke of the gratitude that Sapper Larcombe's long-time girlfriend Rhiannon Penhall had been able to speak to her boyfriend less than 24 hours before he was killed. He told the life story of a boy who became a man who was widely loved and respected. A fanatical Crows supporter, a keen fisherman who always got seasick, a member of the Country Fire Service who lived by the motto "Give it a Go".
His hero was Crows' legend Andrew McLeod. Larcombe sported McLeod's number 23 when playing for the Western Districts Football Club and Mr Speed noted the irony that Sapper Larcombe was the "23rd Australian to pay the ultimate price in Afghanistan". "Jamie left me in no doubt that he fought for what he believed in and he believed in what he fought for," Mr Speed said. "He was courageous, he was strong and a caring young man."
Sapper Larcombe grew up in the small community of Parndana. Fittingly, it was established as a soldiers' settlement after World War II and features the Soldiers Settlement Museum. All his schooling was done in Parndana and he graduated from the local area school in 2007.
He joined the army in 2008 and he was killed four months into his first tour of Afghanistan. Brigade Commander Gus McLauchlin told the crowd that sappers such as Larcombe were the heart and soul of the regiment. Often dirty, regularly cheeky, most likely to be found in the pub, the sappers of the 1st Combat Engineering Regiment also took on the most dangerous jobs the army had to offer.
The regiment had a motto that said simply: "Follow the Sapper".
On the day he was killed, Sapper Larcombe was at the head of a mission that was forging into the Taliban strongholds in the Mirabad Valley, not far from Tarin Kowt, to establish forward bases for Australian and Afghan forces . His job was to clear improvised explosive devices from the way ahead to make the route safe for others to follow.
Sapper Larcombe was doing his job when he was cut down by Taliban gunfire in an ambush. As Anzac Day approaches, Brigadier McLauchlin reminded us that: "He shall not grow old as those that are left behind grow old. Age will not weary him, or the years condemn.
"Whoever reads the Ode this year is talking about Jamie Larcombe. We will remember him just as he is for the rest of our lives."