WITH COVID-19 restrictions preventing Australians from gathering at Anzac Day services and marches, Centacare has joined many other organisations and individuals to honour the bravery and sacrifice of servicemen and women in a different way.
The Archdiocese of Brisbane’s aged care provider is telling the stories of its clients, who served their country from the battlefield and from their Brisbane homes.
The stories look at how this formidable generation view the crisis, and what they can teach us about how to survive it.
Mick Servos OAM, 94, lives in Zillmere.
He lives a peaceful life, each day walking a 1.6km-long route around his suburb and raising his Australian flag on the front lawn of his home.
He visits Centacare’s Aspley community hub one day a week, where he wins all the games and keeps the chocolates for his great-grandchildren.
But in his younger life, Mr Servos survived a machine gun attack and 126 day and night jumps as a paratrooper with the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment.
Thelma Tayler, 97, lives in Virginia.
She has been visiting Centacare’s Northgate community hub for more than 20 years, where she’s had some “beautiful times” with her friends.
Her strongest memory of the war was receiving the telegram informing her that her brother had been killed in action in Papua New Guinea.
“He was a Sapper in the 2/7th Field Regiment. We were very close, me and my brother Harold,” she said.
“We had received a letter from him that morning and, in the afternoon, news of his death.
“He was killed on August 7, 1945, just eight days before peace. It broke my heart.”
Kevin Dean OAM, 86, lives in Durack.
He loves playing cards with his mates at Centacare’s Jamboree Heights community hub and receiving visits from his daughter Michelle.
He joined the army at the age of 18 and served with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in Japan, Korea and Malaya.
Describing his younger self as a “skinny little weed”, Mr Dean vividly remembers his first experiences on the frontline.
“I was a rifleman stretcher-bearer – a medic,” he said.
“I carried field dressings, morphine and cigarettes, of course. It was just like MASH.
“We spent the first couple of days learning to kill at night and then I was off, pulling bodies from the frontline.
“War leaves a terrible scar on your memory, which you can’t get rid of.
“But this virus is the worst thing that’s happened to me.
“The isolation, the lock down – I call it germ warfare.
“At least in Korea and Malaya, you could see your enemy and were armed against them.
“This enemy you can’t see and the only way to fight it is with a vaccination that we are yet to find.”
Growing up in an orphanage north of Rockhampton, Mr Servos knew hard times well before the war.
When his older brothers enlisted to fight in the Second World War, he desperately wanted to follow suit.
When he tried to join the army at the age of 16, he was turned away by a recruitment officer who told him “we aren’t taking any kids today, but the air force is”.
Of the crisis, Mr Servos shares the sentiments of Mr Dean.
A highly decorated ex-soldier, with a military career spanning 30 years, he says he has never seen anything like coronavirus.
“Resilience is always useful in situations like these,” Mr Servos said.
“And Australians have it in spades – strength and resilience is what will get us through.”
Mr Dean says Australians are to be admired for heeding the advice of governments and staying inside.
“War was about pulling together and putting aside other considerations. Soldiers did what they were told, and we need to as well,” he said.
For Mrs Tayler, surviving hardship is about “doing your bit”.
Her parents’-in-law served on the Western Front in the First World War and both her husband and brother had enlisted in the Second World War.
She desperately wanted to join the army as a nurse but her father forbid it.
So she did everything she could to support the war effort from home.
She made uniforms for the army and sick bags for the air force.
Every Friday night she volunteered at the TOC H Services Club in Adelaide Street, where she served meals to soldiers and did the washing up.
When Centacare called Mrs Tayler to talk about this story, she had peanut biscuits in the oven and had just finished baking a cake for her neighbour.
“It’s the little things that see us through – the small acts of kindness that give a sense of hope during difficult times,” she said.
“This pandemic is going to have a big impact on the lives of all.
“We need to take care of one another and keep on smiling.
“It’s the only way to get around.”