Anzac badges make a difference

Gladys and John Allwood with their Anzac Appeal badges.

Stopping to buy a poppy for Remembrance Day six years ago led John Allwood to join the Mount Evelyn RSL Sub-Branch.

“Within a couple of week I was treasurer,” he laughed.

On Thursday afternoons the club hosts an afternoon tea and a get-together.

John’s wife Gladys left him to it, at first.

“I thought John could do that, and I could have an afternoon to make my cards,” she said.

She started going to an occasional meeting and soon got roped in as appeals officer.

Gladys now enlists the help of volunteers to sell badges in the lead-up to Anzac Day, on 25 April.

“I’m surprised at how generous the public are in buying badges, particularly young people,” she said.

“The volunteers help us sell them. They’re mostly RSL members.

“People have been doing this for a lot longer than I have and they’ve put a lot of time into it all.”

John said he’d met some wonderful people while selling the badges, as well as some who queried why they were “glorifying war”.

“I explain that the money is spent on veterans and local community people who are feeling the pinch,” he said.

Gladys said half of what the sub-branch raised went back to RSL head office for welfare, and the other half supported members and the wider community.

“Part of it goes to the afternoon tea, for members and visitors,” she said.

“We also go to the Athenaeum Theatre four times a year and that’s subsidised by that money. A Christmas lunch, that’s subsidised.

“It’s to get people out and about.”

RSL Victoria’s appeals manager Peter Smith said support for veterans funded through the Anzac Appeal ranged from help with medical and other household expenses, education and employment assistance, and advice and support with claims through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Traditionally we have been known to provide pension advice and advocacy on behalf of older veterans,” he said.

“But, more and more the RSL is being called on to support a new and younger cohort of veterans, those from the more recent conflicts and peacekeeping operations of East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

John explained that Her Majesty invited him to join the forces from 1955 to 1957.

“I was conscripted for two years,” he said.

“I still remember standing at the bus stop that first morning leaving home.

“I can still see myself there, suitcase tied with string waiting for the bus.”

He served with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) in Germany.

John and Gladys came to Australia from Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, England, with their three children as “10-Pound Poms”.

“We had a young family and we couldn’t see much future there,” he said.

They started their lives in Australia at the Enterprise Hostel in Springvale and then rented in Oakleigh.

Their home was about to make way for a supermarket when they spotted a newspaper advertisement for a four-bedroom house on half an acre for $21,500 – in Mount Evelyn.

“A lady I used to work with in Box Hill, she said ‘Mount Evelyn? What the bloody hell did you want to go to Mount Evelyn for?’,” Gladys said.

But they moved in in 1975 and never looked back.

The couple celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on 28 March, and now have four grandchildren.