‘I was lucky I never saw any mates die’: Murray Bridge veterans reflect on Anzac Day 2023
A dawn service and “gunfire breakfast” have honoured those who served and died in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.
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An Anzac Day dawn service and “gunfire breakfast” in Murray Bridge have honoured those who served and died in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.
The dawn service began with a march of service veterans from the flour mill down to the Murray Bridge war memorial at Sturt Reserve at 5.45am.
As darkness turned to light, a stirring service followed, accompanied by the sounds of kookaburras.
Noel and Karen Kneebone expressed in song the emotion of the morning through a moving version of Redgum’s I Was Only 19, about a soldier’s first-hand experience in the Vietnam War.
In front of about 2000 people, various RSLs, schools, politicians and their delegates laid floral wreaths at the memorial, with the 45th Army Cadet Unit marching in uniform and raising the Australian flag.
A bugle player on a hill above the war memorial played the traditional Last Post.
Various attendees at the dawn service wore either their own or relatives’ service medals and spoke about what the service and Anzac Day meant to them.
Chris Tilley served as an infantryman in the Australian Defence Force for eight years and had postings in East Timor and Afghanistan in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
In his subsequent role as a corrections officer at Mobilong Prison, Mr Tilley led the establishment of a veteran’s support group there after recognising that many of the prisoners he was guarding were veterans.
Mr Tilley and his wife and children attended the dawn service, and his daughter Chloe expressed what Anzac Day meant to her.
“I feel that we get to celebrate and remember the people who’ve died in the wars,” she said.
Another family unit who attended the dawn service together was Ken Wells and his son Martin.
Mr Wells’ father served at Gallipoli in World War I, mainly as a messenger.
“My father was over and back in six months – he had ill health, and he came back to Australia with wet feet (blisters, trench foot and foot fungus),” Mr Wells said.
“My father moved to Murray Bridge, and my son’s now third generation here.”
RSL chaplain Pastor Paul Calnan and Longriders Christian Motorcycle Club members Paul Marsden and Gus Slotegraaf gathered at the service, which the Longriders have attended for over 25 years.
Mr Gus Slotegraaf said he was at the service “to remember what the guys done way back in World War I and all the other wars, but primarily the quality of life as a result”.
“We live in a great country, so we’re certainly blessed,” he said.
After the dawn service, a “gunfire breakfast” was held at the Murray Bridge RSL, where Lions Club volunteers served bacon and egg sandwiches.
Jim Shepherd and Roy Deacon, two of the veterans at the breakfast, said they had served together in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in Vietnam and still got together as mates, particularly on Anzac Day.
Mr Shepherd, from Callington, came close to being killed during a contact in the Vietnam War.
“I was lying on the ground, and a bloke comes running backwards firing and kicks me in the head,” he said.
“I pointed the gun at him, and it wasn’t cocked.
“He sprayed on top of us – he fired at me and he missed me.”
Mr Shepherd said that he still thought about the horrors of the war every night.
Similarly, Roy “Boots” Deacon was overcome with emotion as he recalled his time in the Vietnam War.
“It’s a very emotional day,” he said.
“I didn’t have any mates in close proximity to me die.
“I was lucky I never saw any of my mates die, but … it’s a really sad occasion for me.”
Get mental health help for veterans: Talk to your GP or call Open Arms on 1800 011 046.