Sir Roden Cutler's Final March

Images from the state funeral progression for Sir Roden Cutler in February 2002.

28 February 2002

In the aftermath of a battle in Syria in the early stages of the Second World War, a young Australian lieutenant lay seriously wounded for a long day and night before it was possible to rescue him.

Those painful and no doubt terrifying hours cost him his right leg, but he survived to collect the Victoria Cross for his conspicuous courage under fire and his inspiring leadership. Yet this was only the beginning of a long and illustrious career of service to others.

Australia, and indeed the world, was to know him as Sir Arthur Roden Cutler, VC, AK, KCMG, KCVO, CBE, prominent diplomat, patron and benefactor of numerous charities and community groups, and longest-serving Governor of New South Wales.

That a man so distinguished and dedicated was accorded the honour of a State funeral, following his death at the age of 85 on 21 February 2002, will come as no surprise. Perhaps the only person who might have been taken aback was the man himself.

Many commentators have acknowledged the persistent humility of Sir Roden, a devoted husband and father who brought his special brand of courage to every role in his life. WN Bull Funerals was charged with the mighty task of arranging the State funeral of this reluctant hero.

The State Funeral and Service of Thanksgiving took place on 28 February 2002 at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney. John Harris, former owner of WN Bull, was in a perfect position to oversee the ceremony he helped to organise. “We marched down George Street to King Street, then to South Head cemetery,” he recalled.

“The military acted as pallbearers and marched in the procession as well, along with a military band.”

Crowds of people lined George Street behind hundreds of Australian soldiers standing shoulder-to-shoulder, as the gun carriage bearing Sir Roden’s flag-draped coffin passed slowly by.

A muffled peal of the cathedral bells was rung before the service, conducted by Archbishop R H Goodhew.

Tributes were delivered by New South Wales Premier Bob Carr and by Mr G E Priest, President of the New South Wales branch of the RSL. Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC, Governor of New South Wales, and the Most Reverend Peter Jensen, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, read the lessons. After the service, a salute volley was fired when the coffin and its military pallbearers reached George Street.

For Patsy Healy, General Manager of WN Bull, the impressive occasion is one she remembers vividly. “In my 21 years with WN Bull, Sir Roden Cutler’s funeral is one of the services that stands out in my memory because of the sheer magnificence of the ceremony.”

Sir Roden Cutler fulfilled the role of Governor of New South Wales from 1966 to 1981. An unpretentious boy from Manly became one of his generation’s greatest heroes and never stopped serving his community.

WN Bull was proud to play its part in allowing that community to give him a farewell on a scale he doubtless never anticipated but so justly earned.