Soldier Sam drops in for a visit

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By Robyn Bristow

Sam stood tall in front of Amberley School students.

The model soldier wore full uniform and bit-by-bit the students learned how he dressed, slept, what he ate and what equipment he carried.

On the eve of 100 years since the Battle of Passchendaele Amberley’s James Drewery, an RSA member and keen historian of things military, took students on a journey of endurance and survival, pointing out what function each part of Soldier Sam’s uniform had, the name of different hats, his gas mask and equipment he carried.

Mr Drewery, along with fellow RSA members – in this instance Rear Admiral Peter McHaffie and British Royal Marine Bob Halliday – are touring Soldier Sam around six local schools to educate children about what soldiers slept in, ate, their equipment and the conditions they endured.

Other visits and sessions are planned as Anzac Day and the commemoration of Passchendaele nears.

Each session is about half to three-quarters of an hour and the Amberley students quickly became immersed in the presentation, answering questions and passed around this “lemon squeezer” hat, which was called that “because that is what it looked like”.

There was the helmet, covered in khaki sacking like the earth to stop it reflecting in the sun and to camouflage the soldiers, a cigarette case and cigarettes, given to each man, a gas mask for man and beast (horses), and a pocket knife and a pay book.

“Everyone had a pay book with their date of birth and next of kin it, and then there is their wee Bible,” Mr Drewery said.

The eager students had arms held high at question time. They had been absorbed and were keen to learn more about Soldier Sam and the special names given to soldiers and their gear.