Oh What a Night – the Soldier On Ball

Written by AHQ

1 September 2014

WOW!!!  What a night!

I started writing this post at 745am on Saturday morning.  My husband and I did not get to bed till after midnight but my head was buzzing from all the memories of the night so I figured I might as well get up and try and commit some of them to print.  It is now Sunday morning and I am still working on it.  It is taking a long time to write as I have to check facts and details to make sure I have all the names etc correct.
The wonderful people from Soldier On excelled themselves. They had a large list of volunteers and corporate sponsors who all contributed the the success of the evening and who should be incredibly proud to have done so.  It was indeed a grand and elegant evening. I have not been to a ball for about 20 years. 

The last time I went I was in the services and it would have been an Officer’s Mess Ball somewhere.  I had to do a lot of self talk to get myself there and, if it wasn’t for the fact that a lovely lady called Katrina had asked Aussie Heroes to donate a quilt, I would not have even considered it.   
Thank you Katrina!

Thanks also to Pearl who I know spent countless hours organising the ball and who also liaised with me about the quilt and sent me information I could use for last Thursday night’s post. I am so glad that I got to meet you, albeit briefly, on the night.

I had such a good time, but more importantly it reaffirmed my commitment to what I do and also to my determination to support Soldier On in whatever capacity I can in the future.   I think my husband and I have just started what will be an annual tradition for us, attending the ball each year.  Maybe twice yearly if Soldier On holds Balls in both Sydney and Canberra. That is how special the evening was. Once again, my heartiest congratulations to John Bale and his amazing staff and volunteers.

A simple sign place outside the room where the ball would be held gave only the slightest of hints of the night to come.

I haven’t mentioned this before but my husband, David, and I, were joined at the last minute by Pennie and Grant from South Australia.  I was supposed to be joined by Merida (you can read about her here if you don’t know who she is) but after arranging two tables of her friends to come along, she had to travel for work and was not able to be there.  We missed you Merida!  xx  We were both really disappointed but at the last minute at least we were able to transfer her tickets to the delightful Pennie and Grant.  They were in Canberra for the ADFA Open Day and Pennie mentioned that she and Grant had tried to get tickets for the ball but had had no luck.  Talk about a lucky coincidence.  You might remember that Pennie was in Sydney to welcome home HMAS Darwin but I had not met Grant before. It was strange though as I felt that I knew him after following the two of them on their recent overseas trip on facebook!

David and I were seated at a table with Pennie and Grant, and also Emma who is a recipient.  Jacqui S, your beautiful pink and grey quilt found a very appreciative home with Emma.  Her husband also commented that he noted that at the end of her deployment when most of her things were packed up including the quilt, the blandness of the room struck him and brought home to him how much colour the quilt had provided. 
Emma’s husband also gave me some tips on how to personalise a quilt for a certain person, AS, who is currently on my list, but as his suggestions included pink sequins for a Swan’s themed quilt I felt it necessary to confirm this suggestion with AS himself.  I am afraid that there must be some confusion as AS asserted that he would much rather GREEN SEQUINS!!  LOL

The Master of Ceremonies for the night was Anthony “Lehmo” Lehmann, comedian and radio personality.  Apart from his other professional achievements, Lehmo has become Australia’s number one “combat comic” having performed for our troops abroad over four tours in East Timor, Iraq, Kuwait and the Middle East.  He has also been a Soldier On Ambassador since 2013.  He did a fabulous job on the night.

It is not a great photo but John Bale is the CEO of Soldier On and with talented and committed young men like him in Australia we are doing well.  I can’t say enough about this wonderful, humble, generous young man and I am in awe of what he has achieved in the two years Soldier On has been up and running.  He spoke of the plans that Soldier On has for the future and I have every confidence that he and his amazing team will bring them to fruition.

Hugh Rimmington, well known Australian journalist and also a Board Member of Soldier On, interviewed two of the wounded warriors who recently completed the Trois Etapes Pro Am Cycle Challenge as part of the Soldier On team.  Andy from the RAN and Chad from the Army spoke of how challenges like these give our wounded warriors a hand up not a hand out which is one of the aims of Soldier On.

One these men, Chad, seen below with the microphone has written a blog – you can find it here.  Called Blogged Down By Life.  I recommend you read it.

Lieutenant General Peter Leahy (Ret’d) introduced the Keynote Speaker for the night and that was

former Prime Minster, Mr John Howard.  I had been looking forward to hearing him speak and he did not disappoint.  He was passionate and funny and a very popular choice.   

A rare opportunity presented itself for five of Australia’s Heroes to be celebrated on the Stage.  From the left Keith Payne, VC, OAM, Mark Donaldson VC.  Both of these gentlemen are recipients of the Victoria Cross, the highest award in the Australian Honour System –  it is awarded for valour “in the face of the enemy” to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth Countries.  The other three gentlemen are Mr Darryl Tree, Timothy Britten and Allan Sparkes,  all of whom have been awarded the Cross of Valour.  

Later in the evening I was introduced to Mr Payne and what a wonderful generous gentleman he was. He asked me to show him the quilt and was kind enough to pose with it for a photograph.  I asked him if he was likely to put in a bid on it but for some reason he seemed rather more interested in the Marilyn Monroe picture! LOL

Guess who now has my business card.  I know there are some of you out there (who shall remain nameless) who think I have more front than Myer, but it is not easy going up to talk to important people to introduce myself and Aussie Heroes but I can’t expect everyone else to spread the word and not do it myself.  Besides you never know where a chance introduction will lead. You can see I was wearing my “I Sew for Heroes” pin with pride as I was instructed to by a whole bunch of you on the Facebook Page.

Mr Howard was very gracious, accepted my business card and allowed me to tell him a little about Aussie Heroes and what we do before I left him in peace.

I was also privileged to meet Mark Donaldson who absolutely made my night by telling me that he has one of our laundry bags.  He received one in 2012 when I was sending them to the Special Ops Task Group

During the evening a number of items were auctioned to raise funds and three of them can be seen here.  The one on the left (below) is a World War I original bayonet framed with the Gallipoli tribute of the 11th Battalion at the Great Pyramids, Cheops.  

The one on the right is a personally signed print – 1 of 100 limited edition prints. Ben Quilty was commissioned by the Australian War Memorial in 2011 as the official war artist in Afghanistan to record the experiences of the ADF personnel participating in Operation Slipper.   This one is of 19 year old Trooper Luke Korman.

The picture in the middle was a last minute surprise presented by Dr Brendan Nelson, Director of the Australian War Memorial.  He introduced it himself and explained its provenance so that all would understand what was being auctioned.  The painting is of George Lambert’s “The Nek” which depicts the charge of the third light horse at The Nek 7th August 1915.  The framed piece is an extremely high quality print of the original on canvas.  

It is framed in Lone Pine timber.  The story goes that after the battle of Lone Pine a soldier spent three days searching among the dead for his brother.  When he could not find him he retrieved a pine cone from one of the branches used by the Turks as overhead cover for their trenches.  He sent it to his mother.  She propagated three seedlings and one of the them she sent to the nursery at Yarralumla.  Dr Nelson went on to say that she wrote every six months to enquire as to the welfare of that seedling. 

On 24 October 1934, HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, planted that seedling, a small Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis), in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial. He decorated it with a wreath of red poppies he had brought with him.  At that time, only the Memorial’s foundations had been built. The tree was surrounded by an almost empty paddock and came to be known as the Lone Pine.   There is a plaque on the low wrought iron fence around the tree that explains the significance of the tree.  

Shortly after the ceremony, a severe thunderstorm hit the area. The storm washed away a bridge over the Molonglo River, but the sapling stood firm.
In December 2008, the tree received Australia-wide media coverage when another severe storm caused a large branch to fall. Fortunately the tree survived.
Branches which fall from the Lone Pine tree are recycled into collector’s items that are available from the Memorial Shop and online.  The frame around this picture is made from wood from that branch. It is handcrafted and took 70 hours to make. 
When the print was auctioned the bidding was quite fierce and I believe the final price for it was over $30000 dollars! A very generous donation by the Australian War Memorial to a wonderful organisation!

And now for my favourite story and surprise of the night. It is a bit long winded and I hope I can explain it well enough. 

At the end of 2013 I found out that one of the members of the Dolphine Quilters, a NSW quilt group that sews for us, was the mother-in-law of a senior officer who I had wanted to send a quilt to for some time. I knew his job was demanding and I also knew that he had not requested a quilt.  Often these men don’t as they prefer the quilts to go to their subordinates. I appreciate and respect that, but I still believe these officers also deserve our appreciation.  I asked this mother-in-law if she would let me send a quilt to her son-in-law.  The answer came back yes please.  

A quilt was sent off and, as luck would have it, it arrived on Christmas Eve, just days after our recipient returned home.  I later received a beautiful hand written and heartfelt thank you letter.   After Christmas, the wife of our recipient, who is an officer in the RAAF Reserve, took the quilt in to her work to show her friends, Adele and Amanda, also reservist officers.  As soon as Adele heard my name she knew who I was as both our husbands were cadets together at Frognall – if you are too young to know what Frognall is then, in brief, Frognall is where the Engineering Cadets used to live whilst they did their engineering degrees.  It does not exist these days.  I was told that the other lady, Amanda, was actually Amanda Brown, wife of the Chief of Air Force, and she had said she was going to make sure her husband knew about Aussie Heroes.

Actually, Chief of Air Force, Air Marshall Geoff Brown, AO already knew about Aussie Heroes as he had written a letter of appreciation to Aussie Heroes in November 2013 to be read out at our dinner in Brisbane.  Still, it doesn’t do any harm for him to hear about us from his wife!  🙂

Now the good part.  Shortly after walking into the ball last night David and I met up with his friends, Lee and Colin, both fellow cadets at Frognall.  I spoke to their wives, Adele and Helen.   We chatted a bit and then I saw a lady who I remembered from my days as a FLGOFF (Flying Officer – junior officer rank)  in the officer’s mess at RAAF Base Richmond.

Talk about a blast from the past!!!

  t was so nice to see her again and she was just as lovely and friendly as she always used to be. In fact, I don’t think she has changed one bit. Her name was Amanda.  You can probably see where I am going with this, but it was not till the end of the night when Amanda was saying goodbye  that I saw her with her husband and the penny dropped!!  It turns out the Amanda I had now bumped into 20 odd years later happens to be the same Amanda who saw the quilt with Adele. 

We had a good laugh over it. Amanda had not recognised my name when shown the quilt as she had known me by my maiden name and in those days I was Jan….not Jan-Maree or even JM!

Of course we had to have the obligatory photo…..
after we had swapped notes about our kids….. as you do!  

It was also nice to have the opportunity to thank Air Marshall Brown for his letter as well.

I wore my “I sew for Heroes” pin with pride as so many of you told me too. I met so many wonderful people but I think one of my favourites was John Bale.  What an amazing and humble young man.  What Aussie Heroes has achieved in the last two years can not compare at all with what Soldier On has achieved and when I congratulated John he said humbly “it is all about the guys”.  

I know some of you want to know what the quilt went for in the Silent Auction but we don’t know as I write this.  Apparently that will be revealed on Monday. Not sure if I will find out who bought it.  I just hope it raised lots of money.  
As a wrap up I had a wonderful weekend in Canberra. Most of what I did, apart from the Ball was personal, but I did have dinner on Thursday night with a recipient who had promised to catch up when he got home.  It was wonderful to meet him and to be able to spend time chatting about Aussie Heroes and things in general.  On Saturday my husband and I joined Colleen, who was matron of honour at our wedding for brunch.  Colleen is still in the reserves, so still around the defence world. Her husband, Simon, now ex-RAAF, was our best man but he was sadly held up in Sydney with a cancelled flight so did not make our reunion – it was the first time in 16 or so years that we have seen each other.  Finally, just before we left Canberra we had a late lunch with Glenda, another past colleague from the RAAF. We had been posted to RAAF Richmond as Air Traffic Controllers together in the early 80’s.  There is something about the friendships you forge with those you have served with – a gap of 16 years means nothing and you can almost pick up where you left off.  I know many of you will know exactly what I am saying.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed the write up of the Soldier On Ball. I just hope I did it justice as it was such a special night and a well deserved success for those that worked so hard to put it together.  

Till next time………………keep spreading the word and happy stitching!  
Jan-Maree xxx

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  1. kiwikid

    Thank you Jan Maree, was a wonderful read..good to hear you had such a wonderful time!

  2. Sue Niven

    A wonderful read, I am glad it went so well, I hope the quilt helped raise a lot of money, How good it must have been to be able to catch up with so many friends too. Thanks for all the info!


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