Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Centenary poppy tile in Rochester

A centenary poppy tile has been placed on the grave of veteran Major General George Rankin at Rochester.

GRAHAM WILLIS September 3, 2014 3:23am

Rochester RSL member John Glover with Stewart McBeath.

Rochester RSL Sub-branch members honoured one of the district’s soldiers, placing a centenary poppy tile on the grave of Major General George Rankin recently.

RSL member John Glover and Stewart McBeath, Major General Rankin’s sharefarmer for a decade, attached the poppy tile to the headstone, identifying the grave as that of a World War I veteran.

Major General Rankin was born at Bamawm, the 10th child of Irish farmer James Rankin and Sarah (nee Gallagher).

He attended the local state school and became a farmer at Nanneella.

In 1907, he joined the Militia, and was commissioned in the 9th Light Horse Regiment in 1909.

He married Annie Isabella Oliver at Rochester on July 7, 1912.

In 1914, he was appointed a lieutenant of the Australian Imperial Force and posted to the 4th Light Horse Regiment.

Major General Rankin served in the 4th Light Horse Regiment and reached Gallipoli in May 1915, was wounded in July, became a captain in December and a major in March 1916.

He also served in the Sinai and was second in command of his unit from August 1917.

Rankin was present at the famous charge at Beersheba on October 31 and, in 1918, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his gallantry. His leadership subsequently earned him a bar to his D.S.O.

Mr McBeath recalled Major General Rankin telling him how hard and trying the conditions were at the front.

‘‘He always said the worst thing was having to shoot his horse when they left,’’ he said.

After the end of the war, Major General Rankin was sent to Egypt to suppress a rebellion, after which he returned to Australia.

He returned to the Militia, becoming a brigadier in 1936 and a major general in 1937. During this time, he developed an interest in politics, in particular the Country Party.

Major General Rankin was elected chief president of the Victorian United Country Party in 1937, but resigned later that year in order to contest the seat of Bendigo in the Australian House of Representatives which he won.

He became well known as an advocate of returned servicemen and wheat-farmers.

Mr McBeath remembered one Anzac Day service when the guest speaker, a pacifist minister of religion, stated soldiers were merely paid killers.

‘‘George took to him with vengeance,’’ he said.

He was a voracious critic of the Labor governments of John Curtin and Ben Chifley.

When in 1949, an electoral redistribution substantially changed Rankin’s seat to exclude Rochester and Echuca, he contested the Senate and won.

He was returned in 1951, but his parliamentary activity steadily decreased.

An immensely popular figure, Rankin always enjoyed a beer with his mates, usually on sale day in Rochester.

‘‘He was one of the true characters of the area,’’ Mr McBeath said.

‘‘And in my 10 years working for him I can never remember a cross word.’’

Major General Rankin died on December 28, 1957, aged 70.

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