ANZAC Oration by Godsway Williams


This week we commemorated ANZAC Day with two services led by students. Godsway Williams gave the Anzac Oration by profiling Captain Norman Roff, our Headmaster before WW2, who died leading his Company of the Tasmanian 2/40th Battalion. Godsway was able to capture the importance of Roff to Launceston Church Grammar School and inspire us to find our way of serving and being peacemakers. You can read his speech below. 



Even though it’s simple to lose sight or omit the past as time goes by, some moments transcend the test of time. The heroic efforts of those soldiers who passed away are not forgotten, and these moments will live on in our minds and be honoured for years to come. Yesterday marked an unforgettable day in Australian history, along with your presence here I have no doubt in my mind that the 108th anniversary of Anzac Day isn’t just another day in the calendar. We stand here on Palawa land to honour the men and women who willingly gave up their futures, so that we could have ours. We acknowledge the resilience and selflessness of the young men who served in Gallipoli, paying the supreme sacrifice so that we may live in peace and harmony.

Today, I would like to share with you the story of our former headmaster Norman Roff, a man who not only served in World War II but also left a lasting impact on the education system in Tasmania. Norman Roff was a highly respected headmaster at Launceston Grammar, who was appointed to the position in 1936. He was a man of high principles and a strong mission to improve the school, and his impact was felt immediately. He demanded discipline and respect, he had no fear of any level in society, if a boy behaved badly or broke the rules, he was punished accordingly, irrespective of whether he came from the “landed gentry” or the upper echelons of Launceston’s society.

On September 3, 1939, after a song at St George’s in Invermay, a group of Grammar boys went to their prefects’ study to listen to the radio. There they heard the British Prime Minister announce that Britain was at war with Germany, and that Australia, was involved. This announcement marked the beginning of a difficult period for the school and the nation. Like in the First World War, Launceston Grammar remained loyal to Australia’s war effort. The war impacted the school immediately, with news of Old Boys enlisting and some losing their lives in action. John Sadler, an Old Boy, was the first Tasmanian and probably the first Australian to be killed in action, shot down in an RAF leaflet raid over Germany in the opening days of the war. Many Old Boys enlisted, and news came through of their activities; for example, Alan Bowman was one of the youngest squadron leaders in the RAF and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Meanwhile Roff had been debating over whether he should enlist. He felt that his duty called him to stay at Grammar, and to defend the Empire, thus he asked the Governor for advice. The Governor replied that he had originally felt that Roff’s role was too important to waste by becoming a soldier, but on reflection agreed with Roff’s view that a man who is fit and trained, and does not go, will be discredited in the eyes of the rising generation. In March 1940 Roff told the Board that he wished to join the AIF, and his enlistment was announced in September. The war was a constant presence for senior boys at Grammar, with most of them expecting to become involved in it. Cadet training was taken seriously, with field drill and training in near-war conditions with machine guns and other equipment. War news was avidly followed, and many boys left school to enlist as they turned eighteen.

Perhaps the most telling event of the war for Grammar was the fate of the 2/40th Battalion, which was sent to Dutch West Timor in a desperate attempt to stop the Japanese. Norman Roff was captain of his company with Roy Gatenby his second in command, and other Old Boys in the battalion included Gratton Horne. The battalion was overwhelmed by the Japanese, and many men were killed or taken as prisoners of war. News of Roff’s death did filter back to Australia but was not officially confirmed until December 1942, The war affected everyone at Grammar, from the boys who found it far removed from their daily lives, to the seniors who expected to become involved in it. The deaths of Old Boys were a constant reminder of the sacrifices made for the war effort, and memorial services were often held for the 46 who lost their lives. These were saddening, especially for those who could remember the boys from their time at school, while older boys often wondered whether they would become one of the names listed at the morning memorial services.

As we continue to reap the rewards off those who paid the supreme sacrifice, we do it in remembrance by shining light on the memory of lives lost. Like how many across the nation come together on a special day, let us pray that when faced in strife in the future, we may have the same courage and resilience as those before us to keep this land free whilst contributing peace to those around us.
As people like myself begin to understand the feelings that inspired the monumental moment that is Anzac Day, it becomes our responsibility to remind future generations that freedom comes at a cost. There is no happiness without; and in most cases to achieve freedom you must show the courage to fight for it.


– Godsway Williams (Grade 12)