Borneo veteran honoured on Anzac Day 2021 in Murray Bridge

A stalwart of Murray Bridge RSL has been awarded life membership in the first dawn service at the city's new war memorial.

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MP Adrian Pederick surprises John Meers with life membership of the RSL at the end of Murray Bridge’s Anzac Day service. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

A stalwart of Murray Bridge RSL has been awarded his life membership during the first Anzac Day dawn service at the city’s new war memorial.

About 800 people gathered around the gleaming marble plinths in the dark hours of the morning to pay their respects to Australia's servicemen and women, including – as a surprise at the end of the service – John Meers.

Mr Meers served as an engineer in Borneo and joined the RSL in 1968.

He has since served as president of the Murray Bridge sub-branch, a member of its committee and the hospital board, and has done every job from laying wreaths to pouring drinks.

“The dedication that John has shown to the Murray Bridge RSL and the wider community has been outstanding,” state MP Adrian Pederick told the crowd.

The presentation gave a cheerful conclusion to the otherwise sombre ceremony.

Local musicians Noel and Karen Kneebone sang I Was Only 19 and wreaths were laid, the Last Post played and prayers said in memory of the soldiers, sailors and airmen of generations past.

Murray Bridge RSL president Rod Harris used the occasion to highlight the plight of younger military veterans, including those who had served in Afghanistan.

The Brereton report into alleged Australian war crimes in that country had been a “dark cloud” over the heads of those veterans in recent months, he said; and the Australian Defence Force’s response – including the withdrawal of a citation from about 3000 veterans, later overturned – had denied the accused a fair trial.

“These are young veterans who defended Australia,” he said at Sunday’s service.

“They put themselves in harm’s way to protect you.

“That black cloud still hangs over many young soldiers’ heads, and we need to recognise it for what it is: a blight on the younger veteran community.”

He urged any young veterans who were suffering to reach out to the RSL for help.

The service also included a poetry reading by Kaitlyn Jaensch and a short speech by Deputy Mayor Wayne Thorley, who paid tribute to the five veterans who had proposed moving Murray Bridge’s war memorial from Diamond Park to the riverfront: Merv Schopp, Mick Loeckenhoff, Keith Woods, Jerry Wilson and Mr Harris.

Perhaps 200 people crossed the bridge to Murray Bridge RSL after the service for a “gunfire” breakfast.

Kyle Cranfield, of Berri, Chris Tilley, of Murray Bridge, and Stuart McClelland, of Mypolonga, congregate at the RSL. Photo: Peri Strathearn.