GRAFTON schoolgirl Caitlin Nash will be forever grateful to Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr for going missing in action at Menin Gate.
Ms Nash, a Year 11 student at McAuley Catholic College, was among a group of students touring the Western Front battlefields last month when they attended the Last Post ceremony in the Belgian town of Ypres.
Senator Carr had been scheduled to read The Ode of Remembrance, but failed to show up. Instead, the Belgian MC turned to Ms Nash, whom he knew through Rotary connections, and asked her to read the poem in Mr Carr's place.
"It was an amazing opportunity. I stood on the road under the Menin Gate and read the Ode to about 1000 people," she said.
"There was complete silence. They played the Last Post and I spoke. There was no microphone or anything. Then there was a minute's silence, then they played Reveille."
A teacher accompanying the students, Matt Lobsey, said Ms Nash read the piece faultlessly.
"I was so proud of her, she handled the whole thing so well," he said.
It was not until she sat down that Ms Nash realised what she'd done.
"It all happened in a few seconds, so there were no nerves," she said. "It was only after I finished that I realised what I'd done and how many people I'd just spoken in front of."
Ms Nash also spoke at the Anzac Day ceremony at Villers Bretonneux two days later. "Mr Carr spoke to some McAuley students there, but I didn't get the chance to ask him what happened," she said.
"Not that I'm sorry, but I'll always be grateful for the opportunity." Ms Nash said the Menin Gate was a moving place.
"To see so many names and realise all those families have no grave site to visit is special. This place is all they have to remember them," she said.
Menin Gate contains 54,896 names of soldiers who died in battle around Ypres in the First World War. When a body is identified, his name is removed from the monument.