Last week we presented a quilt to a very special gentleman. Lynn and Andrew, a serving member, joined together to present it and they have both written a report of what turned out to be a very special event.
On Wednesday of last week Arthur and I had the opportunity to be part of a quilt presentation. This was held at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway at Concord at 11am.
We met Andrew, a man who has become a dear friend, and he did the presentation on behalf of us all.
The recipient, aged 99, was a delightful Veteran, Mr Reg Chard, who had fought along the Kokoda Track as a young man of 18 years. He was there to recognise and remember his two best friends who were killed on that very day – 80 years ago.
We walked to the central display of the Memorial where Mr Chard gave us all the most interesting and moving talk about each of the 5 carved display panels and the stories of the actual people depicted in them. After telling us the names of his 2 mates he then recited The Ode. The experience for us was very moving and, along with Mr Chard, we were all a little misty eyed.
At this point Andrew presented the quilt and thanked Mr Chard for his service and his dedication in keeping alive the memory of all that fought along Kokoda. You see, even at his marvellous age he acts as tour guide for the school bus tours that visit the memorial site and I know that the personal knowledge he imparts gives the history of the Track an added impact. He certainly taught us an awful lot about events he experienced that will stay with both Arthur and me for a very long time.We told him what AHQ does and he was delighted to hear about the way we all support and thank our troops, past and present. He told us that his son would ensure that his quilt would be hanging on his wall before we made it back to our home.
Lynn & Arthur F.
And from Andrew…
As a kid with a love of all things military history growing up, the Second World War was a period I had a particular fascination with. Of all the campaigns in this global cataclysm, one in particular drew me in, which was the New Guinea campaign of 1942. 1942, a year when the Allied fortunes were at a low, when the Japanese were rampant in the Pacific and were at the doorsteps of the Australian mainland. With the bulk of Australian forces either in the Middle East fighting the might of the legendary German Afrika Korps or in the doomed fortress city of Singapore and the islands of the Pacific, young Australian volunteers including militia men (the forebears of the modern Australian Army Reserve which I am a part of) were the last line of defence against a foe yet to be defeated. The rest is history and their deeds form the proud traditions that men and women who wear the slouch hat and the Rising Sun badge of the Australian Army live by to this day.
You can imagine with all the background information, when I was contacted by Jan-Maree to assist with the presentation of a quilt to a veteran of the famous campaign, I jumped at the opportunity. When she told me who it was, it was as if worlds collided. The veteran was Reg Chard, one of the last members of the thousands of young men who answered the call and fought in the muddy hell of Kokoda. I had met Reg on a number of occasions from my connection with Concord Hospital and the nearby Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway. Reg is 99 years old, but the clarity which he speaks about events of 1942 and the people from that time has to be seen to be believed. I was fortunate to sit next to him on a number of occasions at a Victory in the Pacific and Kokoda Day ceremony at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway and it was the most enjoyable history lesson you could ever have. Recently the rest of Australia got to experience the national treasure who is Reg when he was interviewed by Channel 9’s A Current Affair and his memoirs were published in a book “The Digger of Kokoda”. Reg was a volunteer at the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway where he spoke with school children and visitors and conducted tours to educate a whole new generation of young Australians to ensure his mates were never forgotten.
It was the interview on Channel 9 that resulted in a nomination by a past quilt recipient for a Quilt for Reg. Jan Maree was able to get in touch with the author of Reg’s book, the sports journalist Daniel Lane, and before too long the ever reliable team of Lynn and Arthur worked their magic and created a masterpiece for the old soldier. Throughout the process, lots of emails and phone calls were made between Jan Maree, Lynn, Daniel and I with the quilt ready to be presented by late September. Like a real military operation, the original plan didn’t last too long with work schedules, a COVID-related isolation and Reg being one of the most social 99 year olds around, however all parties somehow managed to keep the presentation a secret from Reg.
Daniel eventually came up with a cunning plan to present the quilt to Reg on the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Sanananda on December 7th when he was going to the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway to remember two mates from his battalion. The mates he had befriended in Sydney when their battalion were getting ready to deploy to New Guinea. One of them had asked Reg to be his best man when they returned to Australia, but would never make it. Reg’s mates were standing on either side of him and were both shot dead during the battle. As far as the presentation was concerned, Reg was told there would be a number of people who wanted to meet him and he not only agreed, but offered to conduct a mini tour as long as they participated in his commemoration of his two mates lost at Sanananda 80 years before.
On Wednesday 07 December 2022, Lynn, Arthur and I joined Daniel Lane and representatives from Pan McMillan who published Reg’s book at the commemoration ceremony Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway. Lynn and Arthur experienced the living treasure who is Reg Chard as he conducted his tour leading us all to the part of the memorial where iconic Kokoda photos have now been etched in stone. Many are Reg’s long lost mates whom Reg not only served with but also gave intimate details only known by those who were there with these men who have now passed into history.
At the end of the commemoration and Reg’s mini tour, it was our turn to honour this old soldier. One of the first times I met Reg, I made the cardinal error of referring to him as a hero. It was one of the only times I have seen Reg be short with anyone. He made it very clear that he was no hero, the real heroes were the ones who never came home. Keeping this in the back of my mind, determined not to mention the “h” word, the quilt was unveiled and Reg had the look I have seen many times on deployment and at home when an Aussie Hero Quilt is presented to a recipient who was unaware they were receiving one, but for this old soldier, I saw his eyes shot straight to the photo of him as a young soldier with his beloved wife Betty which was on the quilt and the tears flowed again (and not just from Reg).
Reg like many a recipient was stunned by the personal nature of the quilt, the incorporation of his battalion’s colours, the embroidering of his personal details and the pictures of the two passions of his life, his beloved wife Betty and the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway. Daniel and the Pan McMillan team all remarked it was the first time they had seen him speechless and they were themselves blown away by the quilt and it’s contents. Reg then spoke at length with Lynn and Arthur asking about the whole process of making the quilt and remarked on more than one occasion, “I’ve never seen anything like this. This is wonderful”. There were more tears, but Reg assured us these were happy tears. When Lynn showed Reg the rod pocket had been sewn ready for the quilt to be hung up, Reg cheekily asked “When are you coming over to help hang it up?” Lynn promptly volunteered Arthur for the task, before Reg called off Arthur’s assistance as his son would do the job. “If he wants the quilt after I am gone!”. Reg was supposed to go home shortly afterwards however he stayed on for another hour, proudly showing the quilt to all the volunteers at the Memorial Walkway’s visitor centre as well as to members of the Memorial Walkway committee who were there.
If I could bottle up the looks on the face of Reg and everyone else who was present and may not have seen or heard of Aussie Heroes, I would as it is something that is so special and is something that will stay with me forever. During the visit, Reg indicated that he would love to meet more of the quilters especially if they were coming for a tour of the Kokoda Track Memorial Walkway and Resource Centre. On behalf of all soldiers of the Australian Army, both past and present, I want to thank all the quilters and volunteers for the work that you all do. You have no idea the joy and happiness your contributions have to so many men and women. There are no words that can do you all justice. You are the true heroes.
Reg’s book is called The Digger Of Kokoda: The Official Biography Of Reg Chard written by Daniel Lane.
The story on A Current Affair – A Current Affair, The Digger of Kokoda