Ninety-two names are inscribed on the Bellingen War Memorial. Ninety-two brave souls from the Bellingen community have lost their lives in the many wars since WW1.
If you have wondered about the significance or relevance of ANZAC Day in this fast-paced, modern world, just take a walk to the top end of town to pause and read these names. This was the advice I was given by Rick Maunder, current President of the Bellinger River RSL sub-Branch.
“Most died overseas, in circumstances that I can’t even imagine. Many are missing without any physical remains. So ANZAC Day is a day of reflection, to think about what happened to them and their families left behind,” said Rick.
Rick served for 38 years in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), having only retired in 2012. Since retirement his attention is firmly on the role of the RSL in supporting all veterans and their families, a role that this organisation has provided since WW1. Rick has generously shared details of his time in the ADF and his current role with the Bellinger River RSL sub-Branch……
Rick what motivated you to join the ADF?
I left school in 1974 and joined the Australian army weeks later. Military Service wasn’t a mystery to me. My father served in the Royal Australian Air force for 27 years and his father was a soldier as well. At that time in our history most people had living memories of the realities of war, whether that was WW2 or the Vietnam War. Military service was seen as a necessary and important career path. But for me- I think I was looking for something to do for a few years. I never imagined it would become my career.
What was it that made you stay in the ADF?
Quite quickly I could see the worth of it. The ADF structure allows young people to become part of a team; in fact small teams are the building blocks of the army. This type of structure and culture suited me.
What path did your career take?
My army career was very much a peace-based career, having spent 25 years of my army life in non-operational service. I was a reasonable soldier and progressed through the ranks quite quickly, a combination of being smart and lucky. I was keen for progression and advancement and certainly sought it.
My career started as a private and ended up as a major, a fairly normal progression for an infantryman, fulfilling many senior roles throughout this progression. Eventually I was commissioned and stepped up into the world of officers.
Did you see operational service?
I spent 8 months in East Timor as second in charge of a rifle company and became a company commander during my time there. Again, this was primarily a peace-keeping role, which involved maintaining a very visible presence, but being willing to engage if needed.
Due to the ongoing occupation of the country by the Portuguese and then Indonesia, the East Timorese hasn’t had much experience at democracy, or organising their own procedures and infrastructure. My time there was spent doing infrastructure repair, supporting the setting up and running of local schools and setting up vaccination clinics. The sight of children with polio still stays with me now.
I also served in Iraq for 8 months. This made me very aware of how lucky we are to be living in a democracy with independence.
Ongoing PTSD and mental health problems plague many ADF veterans. Has this affected you personally?
There are times I ponder and look inwardly. However, I have been fortunate on a few fronts. I missed the intensity of combat that many soldiers have experienced. Real threat has only manifested itself to me on a few occasions when deployed. Even more importantly, I am blessed with a strong family and relationship stability and an upbringing that bred resilience.
I’m one of the lucky ones. However, ADF veterans have always suffered. This was the very reason the RSL was first established during WW1.
Can you give us a bit of the RSL history?
The RSL is the oldest ex-service organisation in Australia. RSL NSW was formed in 1916 and currently has 35,000 members in nearly 350 sub-Branches throughout New South Wales. The Bellinger River sub-Branch has been serving this community since Nov 1918.
As I said, the RSL was originally formed as a means of debriefing for returned soldiers. They needed to talk and be in the presence of others who had experienced what they had. Psychological injury was not recognised back in the WW1, but the establishment of the RSL meant that soldiers could at least talk to each other.-
Even today the key mission of the RSL is in the support of veterans and their families. Camaraderie is essential, where a group of veterans can come together to talk, using a shared jargon and having been through similar experiences.
A misconception is that the RSL sub-Branches are linked to the commercial clubs. They are not.
How active is our local RSL sub-Branch?
There is up to 130 active members in the Shire, across the three sub-Branches- Dorrigo, Bellingen and Urunga. The Bellinger River Sub-Branch meets once monthly at the Bellingen Golf Club. Quite a percentage of veterans don’t belong to the RSL, but you don’t need to be a member to be entitled to the benefits that the local branches can provide. All veterans and their families are provided for.
One of our charitable aims is to conduct commemorative services, like the ANZAC Day Services. We also have a role in educating people about the role of Australia’s Defence Force personnel over the years.
And how important are commemorative ceremonies like ANZAC Day Services?
The ADF has many rituals and traditions. Honouring past service is one of these rituals and one that should be upheld. It is a very important day to me personally, being able to honour those who have left Australia to never return. We have two surviving veterans of WW2 still living here in Bellingen, Valda Watt and Newton Howard. This day is for them and all of the veterans who have given so much.
ANZAC Day Services 2021:
Dawn Service Repton War Memorial (Corner of Mylestom and Repton Roads) 5.30am
Dawn Service Bellingen War Memorial 5.30am
Service Bellingen War Memorial 9.00am
NB: No breakfast after the Bellingen Dawn Service, and no march in town with the Main Service
The ceremonies will be different in a number of ways
- Controlled numbers around the memorial
- Use of the NSW Govt QR code
- No breakfast after Dawn Service
- No Marching to and from the monument
There will be a seated area in the controlled zone.
Dawn Service Dorrigo War Memorial 5.30am
Dorrigo RSL Sub Branch Women’s Auxiliary will have a sausage sizzle at the RSL Club after the Dawn Service
Dorrigo March and Wreath Laying Service will commence at 11.00am. The Dorrigo Monument will be rededicated during this Service. Marchers are to assemble outside the RSL Club at 10.40am. Order of March will be Golf Carts, Light Horse, Colour Party, Schools and Community Groups, Veterans & Ex-Servicemen and Women.
Wreaths may be ordered from the Dorrigo RSL Women’s Auxiliary by completing an ANZAC Day Wreath Order, available from the Dorrigo Memorial RSL Club, by 20th April. Cost of a wreath is $25.
The ANZAC day lunch will be served in the RSL Club for Ex-servicemen and Women and invited guests only.
For further information, contact the RSL Sub Branch Secretary, Bob Denner on 6657 1145 or
0429 406 535.
The public is welcomed to all the above services