Australian retirement living and aged care operators have taken the opportunity to use Anzac Day to commemorate residents with military service, including some aged well over 100.

Bolton Clarke used the occasion to highlight a number of its resident veterans.

For Ralph, a resident in the Bolton Clarke Milford Grange Retirement Community at Ipswich in Queensland, April is always a poignant time.

With the Centenarian’s 103rd birthday only days before Anzac Day, he remembers with great pride the time of his service.

Ralph, a resident in the Bolton Clarke Milford Grange Retirement Community

Born in Roma, in central western Queensland, on 21 April 1919, Ralph served Australia in World War II in the Citizens Military Forces and then the Australian Imperial Force, spending time in Labuan, Borneo working on 40,000-gallon prefabricated steel fuel tanks.

Remarkably Ralph is still living independently, a testament to his hardy nature.

Much like Bill, Ralph credits his long life to a healthy lifestyle of no smoking, regular exercise and sensible diet high in vegetables, fruit, grains and the occasional glass of sherry.

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Galleon Gardens resident Bill in his 
military days

Bill, who is living in Galleon Gardens in Currumbin Waters, celebrated his 101st birthday on 19 April.

A former Leading Aircraftman, Bill grew up in the small Victorian farming community of Toora and enlisted in the RAAF at 20, working alongside the American Air Force in the Pacific during World War II.

Serving in Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Borneo, he helped build airstrips as part of the No. 3 Airfield Construction Squadron, discharging in January 1946.

On the secret to living a long life?

Well, Bill says it’s simple:

“I never smoked; I wasn’t a party boy. I always ate healthily and avoided drinking.”

Alec, a resident at Bolton Clarke’s Inverpine’s residential aged care community, also in Queensland, enlisted when he was only 17 years old, making him one of Australia’s youngest serving members. 

The now 97 year old was in the Navy for three years and four months.

He was working in an office in Melbourne when he saw the recruitment office down the street.

Deciding to enlist, Alec was told he would be called when they were ready for him. Six months later he was sent up and down the coast of Australia to Japan. 

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Alec, a resident at the Inverpine
care community

Arthur was just 21 when he enlisted for military service.

He has vivid memories of his time as a graphic surveyor in Darwin and further time in Borneo and Papua New Guinea during World War II.

Art, or Artie as he is lovingly called, celebrated his 104th birthday in March and claims he still has a few good years left! 

He has played a vital role in the rich history of the Bolton Clarke Fernhill community as well as the wider Caboolture surrounds which he has always called home.

Meanwhile, trans-Tasman retirement living operator Ryman published a Stories of Service tribute book.

The special commemorative books recall the wartime memories of 62 Ryman residents in Australia and New Zealand. 

The book includes the story of Steve Costelow, a resident at Ryman’s Weary Dunlop village in Melbourne.

At the age of 21 years, Steve’s name was drawn from a ballot determining which young Australian men would be called up for two years’ compulsory military service during the Vietnam War.

“I found out living at home with mum and dad and I can remember mum sitting on the end of my bed crying,” Steve recalls.

“[The Vietnam War] wasn’t really on my radar because I was working, I’d just started in the rag trade and I didn’t take a lot of notice of what was going on.”

The magnitude of what was about to happen hadn’t yet dawned on Steve.

“It probably upset me to see mum crying, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. It probably took me a while for it to sink in.”

Deployed near Saigon

Steve was assigned to ordnance – “that was just luck of the draw, you couldn’t ask where you wanted to go” – which, after 12 months’ training in Australia, saw him deployed to the Second Advanced Ordnance Depot (2AOD) in Vung Tau, near Saigon.

2AOD, where Steve would serve for a year before returning home, was a fast-moving logistical hub of Australia’s war effort.

“Once a month a ship would come in that we would unload. We had huge warehouses and it was our daily job to issue something as small as a screw or as big as a tank. Arms, ammunition, whatever.

“It was always full on, and when the ship was in and unloading we’d work all night.”

Steve was good at his job and was quickly recommended for promotion from private to lance corporal.

While Vung Tau was a relatively peaceful part of the county, the grim realities of the war were ever-present.

Public sentiment when Steve returned home

In some respects, though, the hardest thing for Steve and many Australian soldiers who served in Vietnam was returning home.

Public sentiment towards the controversial conflict had soured, and the returning servicemen bore the brunt of it.

“When I finally came home, you wouldn’t want to be wearing your uniform. People were spitting on you. They didn’t agree with the Vietnam War, but it’s not our fault – we got told to go.

“We didn’t have a choice – we were over there for our country, doing what we could.”

Vietnam soldiers weren’t officially welcomed back to Australia until 1987.

Steve travelled to Canberra for the ceremony, and “that probably closed a lot of issues that most of us had.”

More than 50 years after that fateful letter arrived in the mail, Steve can see his service with the kind of clarity only time affords. 

He’s made peace with any bitterness about how Vietnam veterans were treated when they returned, and in its place now there is a strong sense of pride.

“I’m proud that I’ve represented the country. I like wearing my medals when I get the opportunity to wear them, and people’s attitudes these days have changed. They now say, ‘well done’.”