Mackay veteran Donald Laird, with Murray Smith, father of Scott Smith who died in Afghanistan in 2012, will attend Monday's Remembrance Day service in Mackay.
Mackay veteran Donald Laird, with Murray Smith, father of Scott Smith who died in Afghanistan in 2012, will attend Monday's Remembrance Day service in Mackay.

Wife’s heartbreak: he never got to meet his baby

MONDAY will be an emotional time for Col Benson as he shares the saddest story he's ever heard and talks about the need for society to be mindful of the return of service personnel to civilian life.

He will be joined by other veterans, servicemen and women and their families and crew members of the HMAS Huon, currently docked at Mackay Marina, at a Remembrance Day ceremony at Jubilee Park.

It is one of many services to be held around the region at 11am on November 11.

Mackay RSL historian Col Benson with an image of Pte Gordon Harding, who died in World War II.
Mackay RSL historian Col Benson with an image of Pte Gordon Harding, who died in World War II.

Mr Benson, a Mackay RSL historian, will tell the story of Pte Gordon Harding and hopes his daughter, Jean Harding, will be found before Monday so she can attend the service.

Mr Benson first heard of Pte Harding in 1995 when his widow approached Mackay RSL for assistance in finding information about her husband.

"It's the saddest story I have ever heard," Mr Benson said.

Mavis Harding had been in Barcaldine hospital after the birth of her second child, Jean, when her husband, Gordon, had to leave and fight in World War II.

He diverted from the railway station as his train was leaving to visit the hospital to say goodbye to his wife and newborn daughter. But the hospital matron stopped him before he could see them and he never returned home.

The couple also had a nine-month-old son.

Gordon Harding was 27 when he died and his widow was 22.

Mr Benson said Mrs Harding, who had been living at Bakers Creek during the time of their chat, had a folder of letters from her husband.

The letters stopped two weeks before his death on February 8, 1943.

During the war years servicemens' letters were censored and Mrs Harding had no idea where her husband was at any time. Mr Benson found clues within the pages which helped him track Pte Harding's movements.

"She never learnt anything of her late husband's movements or where he was in action before, or when he was killed," he said.

"A letter from the Army dated March 1, 1943, stated that Pte Harding died of wounds and said any personal effects would be returned."

Mr Benson said from examining the letters it indicated Pte Harding most likely went to New Guinea in July or August 1942 after basic training.

He wrote in his letters, "I am doing all right … so far we cannot write about anything we have been through … we get plenty of coconuts on this island. The (natives) kick up a row here at night time … nearly all have big mops of hair, some of them dye their hair red …"

Mrs Harding knew her husband was serving with C Coy. 2/5th Battalion AIF when he received a stomach wound from sniper fire and died of his wounds.

"He was buried in Wau but now lies in the Lae War Cemetery," Mr Benson said.

Mr Benson was able to unite Mrs Harding with a man who served with Pte Harding during his last days.

"After they spoke she said she was able to let her husband go," Mr Benson said.

Mrs Harding died a few months after the meeting, but Mr Benson would like to find Jean Harding, the couple's daughter, who he met briefly in 1995.

"I have been searching for her," he said.

Mr Benson said it would be fitting if she was able to attend Monday's Remembrance Day service, which will be held from 10.30am at Jubliee Park.

The ceremony will start with a Call to Order and will include the laying of poppies, The Last Post and two minutes of silence.

"Two minutes of silence were observed on the battlefields at 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when the Armistice ended the hostilities of World War I," Mr Benson said.

 

Saving our Diggers - the difficult transition back into civilian life

REMEMBRANCE Day is more than a day to think about those who died in war - it's also about caring for the people who came back.

That is the message Mackay RSL historian Col Benson wants to get across during Monday's commemoration service.

"We remember those who have fallen but we have to mindful of people on active service or deployment and pay respect to them and the family behind them," Mr Benson said.

The others who needed to be supported, he said, were service people transitioning back into civilian life and dealing with the difficulties they could face.

Mackay veteran Donald Laird, with Murray Smith, father of Scott Smith who died in Afghanistan in 2012, will attend Monday's Remembrance Day service in Mackay.
Mackay veteran Donald Laird, with Murray Smith, father of Scott Smith who died in Afghanistan in 2012, will attend Monday's Remembrance Day service in Mackay.

Mr Benson is highlighting the subject after the deaths of ex-servicemen since leaving the armed forces.

"They are broken down, built up as soldiers and on the day of being discharged they are shown the gate," he said.

Mr Benson said although there is support offered by numerous services and government bodies there is a lack of understanding.

"Four hundred veterans have died in the past eight years," he said.

What he recommends is a "wind down" time that allows veterans to slowly transfer back into everyday society.

He said it was seen after the Vietnam War, those who travelled back by ship had weeks to wind down while veterans who flew home went immediately from battle to an Australian city.

Mr Benson said it still happened, going from a conflict zone to home.

"We need to be mindful of the young comrades," he said.

 

 

Where to find Remembrance Day services in the Mackay, Whitsunday, Isaac region - Monday, November 11

Airlie Beach:

When: 10.45 - 11.30am

Location: Coral Esplanade, Cannonvale

Blackwater

When: 11am - 11.30am

Location: Arthur St, Blackwater

Bucasia

When: 5pm - 6.30pm

Location: Bucasia Esp, Bucasia

Calen

When: 11am - 11.30am

Location: McIntyre St, Calen

Carmila

When: 10.50am - 11.30am

Location: Music St, Carmila

Clermont

When: 10.45am - 11.30am

Location: Daintree St, Clermont

Eton

When: 10:30am - 11:30am

Location: Kitchant Dam Rd, Eton

Finch Hatton

When: 10.30am - 11am

Location: Mackay-Eungella Rd, Finch Hatton

Koumala

When: 11am - 11.30am

Location: Brown St, Koumala

Kuttabul

When: 10.45am - 11.15am

Location: Bruce Hwy, Kuttabul

Mackay

When: 10.30am - 11.30am

Location: Jubliee Park, Alfred St, Mackay

Marian

When: 10.30am - 11.30am

Location: 137 Anzac Ave, Marian

Mirani

When: 10.30am - 11.30am

Location: Victoria St, Mirani

Proserpine

When: 10.45am - 11.30am

Location: Main St, Proserpine

Sarina

When: 10.30am - 11.30am

Location: 34 Central St, Sarina

Seaforth

When: 10.45am - 11.15am

Location: Palm Ave, Seaforth

Walkerston

When: 10.50am - 11.30am

Location: Cnr Bridge & Dutton Sts, Walkerston