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School's heroes wars apart

Date

Phillip Thomson

Hugh Poate, right and Michael Garbelotto after a memorial service.

Hugh Poate, right and Michael Garbelotto after a memorial service. Photo: Graham Tidy

THEY were two adventurous men from Canberra who did not know each other but were tied together by their school, their experience of war and a sad historical fact - the day they died.

Peter Haydon survived jumping out of a burning plane during World War II and being smuggled to safety by the French and Belgian resistance forces.

On August 29 this year, as old age finally took the seasoned warrior, an Afghan National Army sergeant shot five Australian soldiers, killing three of them, including 23-year-old Robert Poate.

The "Poatey machine" - a bushmaster that his fellow soldiers painted his name on the side of in honour of Robert after his death. Robert was the commander of this vehicle.

The "Poatey machine" - a bushmaster that his fellow soldiers painted his name on the side of in honour of Robert after his death. Robert was the commander of this vehicle. Photo: Supplied

Today, memories of the two men will be rekindled during a Remembrance Day ceremony at Canberra Grammar School.

Mr Haydon's distant relative Prue Watters said she was until recently unaware two men with such a strong Canberra link had died on the same day.

She noted the school played a big part in the lives of both men, whose plaques are the latest to be added to the institution's memorial garden.

Mr Haydon, Canberra Grammar School's oldest living old boy until his death, was a foundation student of the school on its first day of classes in 1929.

Believed to be the first person born in Canberra, he grew up in Haydon House in Duntroon. His father was the Royal Military College's first professor of modern languages and was one of the men for whom Australian National University's Haydon-Allen Building and Haydon-Allen Lecture Hall were named.

''He had a toughness and resilience,'' Ms Watters said.

''He used to come through Canberra from Melbourne in his 80s and visit Duntroon.

''He slept on the verandah of his family's house when he was younger, despite the cold.''

Robert Poate, known for his gregariousness and sporting prowess, spent 15 years of his life at Canberra Grammar School.

One family story has an experienced house master saying the young Mr Poate was the only local student he knew who had volunteered to become a boarder.

His father, Hugh, said November will now be a difficult month for the family.

November 11 marks Remembrance Day while the 15th is Robert's birthday.

If not killed, he would have turned 24 this Thursday.

''In a few weeks, my wife Janny and I will be going to the homecoming for soldiers Robert served alongside,'' Mr Poate said.

''Regrettably, Robert won't be there.''

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