Our Honorary Member Gerry McPherson features in this Anzac Day article in the Herald Sun
Anzac Day 2017: Generations of men and women who served Australia reflect on their experience
Aaron Langmaid, Herald Sun
April 23, 2017 10:37pm
FROM the dark skies over Germany to the dusty plains of Afghanistan, AARON LANGMAID discovers how war has touched the lives of servicemen and women of each generation.
LEE WEBB, 68 — VIETNAM, 1968
NEWLYWED Lee Webb wrote to his wife every single day of his service in war-torn Vietnam.
“I didn’t miss it,” he said. “It was just me and one other bloke writing to our partners every morning or night.
“Sometimes, it was just a short note. Other times, it could get a bit mushy.
“But it was important to keep that connection.”
Aged just 20, the father of one arrived in Saigon ready for adventure. But he soon changed his tune.
Lee Webb wrote letters to his wife daily.
His job was to ensure vital messages got to their destination but he admitted the bad news often outweighed the good.
“Within three or four months, the work and what was happening over there had really started to take its toll,” Mr Webb said.
But he said the experience of war, both now and then, was just as difficult for families waiting at home.
“Everybody thinks the guys overseas did it hard but so did the wives, the parents and kids,” he said. “War took its toll in so many other ways.”
The love letters are long gone, but it matters little. Mr Lee and wife Linda have now been together for 48 years.
Russell Topp says his Vietnam experience helped mend bridges with his veteran father.
RUSSELL TOPP, 66 — VIETNAM, 1970
RUSSELL Topp never really saw eye-to-eye with his dad, a World War II veteran. He could be gruff, often difficult and never talked of his wartime experience.
“I could never understand why,” Mr Topp said. “Then I went to Vietnam and realised.”
It was a sad reality, he said, that the shared experience of war helped repair his relationship with his father.
After stints working as a communication officer in Nui Dat and Vung Tau, Mr Topp was forced to listen in as the brutal war unravelled.
“It was 374 days of hell.”
He was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was certain his dad had it too.
“But back in those days, they were considered cowards if they came home shell-shocked,” he said. “Finally, we understood each other. We had a connection we’d never had before.”
Rae Hutchinson and her husband both served in wartime.
RAE HUTCHINSON, 90 — WORLD WAR II, 1944
AT 17, Rae Hutchinson signed up to serve as an office clerk at the height of the war that shook the world. It seemed a natural progression for the teenager whose entire family had been affected by war in some capacity.
She was positioned at home, thousands of kilometres from the frontline but the reality of what was happening was just as real.
Mrs Hutchinson was put to work at the busy barracks at Albert Park and at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which was requisitioned for Australian and US forces. She clung to news of her husband, who was serving aboard the Australian minesweeper, HMAS Lithgow.
He returned in one piece, and when the war ended, they attended dawn services together. Now aged 90, she attends alone — but medals of service are pinned with pride to her lapel; hers on the left, her husband’s on the right.
“It’s a sad day but it’s also reason to be extremely proud,” Mrs Hutchinson said. “Our service was a very important part of our lives.”
Glen Ferrarotto now runs an agency that places ex-servicemen and women in employment.
GLEN FERRAROTTO, 37 — AFGHANISTAN, 2007-08
AGED 28, Glen Ferrarotto was a vehicle mechanic for the Special Operations Command tasked with keeping vehicles moving on patrols for up to two weeks outside the wire.
He was the only tradie on each trip — a big responsibility.
“If anything stopped, irrespective of the threat, you had to get out there and fix the problem,” Mr Ferrarotto said.
The experience definitely changed him. He doesn’t like sharing the worst stories. But he’s certain the experience made him a better person.
“It put me in situations that were far beyond any level of intensity or pressure and risk that I have and ever will experience,” Mr Ferrarotto said. “It’s very hard to readjust your mindset when you are thrust into an environment like that. You behave differently. You act differently. But I also think it has changed me for the better and given me an understanding of how lucky we are.’’
He now runs Ironside Recruitment, an agency that specialises in placing ex-servicemen and women in employment.
Gerald McPherson was a rear gunner in World War II.
GERALD McPHERSON, 92 — WORLD WAR II, 1944
IT was Gerald McPherson’s 37th flight in a rattling old bomber in his role as a rear gunner — and almost his last.
Nine months into his tour of duty, his plane was caught in the searchlights high above enemy territory.
The pilots threw the plane around like a fighter plane in a bid to get out of sight, back into the dark sky above Kiel, a major naval base in Germany’s north.
“The pilot put the plane nose down; we dived over the North Sea,” Mr McPherson said. “I looked below and suddenly I saw two gunners in another bomber looking straight back at me.
“That’s how close we came to a midair collision.
“To this day, I have never forgotten it. We shouldn’t have been there in the first place and we almost didn’t make it back.”
Claire Baker left daughter Maddison behind while serving the country.
CLAIRE BAKER, 42 — MIDDLE EAST, 2016
THE hardest part about being deployed to one of the world’s most troubled regions had nothing to do with Lieutenant-Colonel Claire Baker’s role as a commanding officer of communications.
It was leaving behind her nine-year-old daughter, Maddison.
“I downloaded a countdown app on her iPad,” Lt-Col Baker admitted. “I wanted to make it as easy as I could for her so she could see how many sleeps until mummy came back between each deployment.”
In charge of more than 120 personnel providing strategic communication and IT support across the conflict zone, Lt-Col Baker said it was a privilege to see a team making a difference.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be in command of really intelligent and committed people who think outside the box,” she said.
Lt-Col Baker, who has also served in Australian border protection operations in 2014 and a stint on the Solomon Islands in 2011, said 24 years on the job had taught her what could be achieved for troubled nations, beyond the landscape of frontline warfare.
“The military is doing amazing things to rebuild and help strengthen nations for future generations,” she said.
“There is a real sense of achievement when you know you are contributing to that.”
KATE KENNEDY, 37 — MIDDLE EAST, 2016
Kate Kennedy served in the Middle East.
KATE Kennedy was standing on the corner of Collins and Swanston streets selling poppies for Remembrance Day last year when she was personally thanked for her service for the very first time.
But not just one person. There were American and British tourists as well as everyday Aussies who filed past and offered their appreciation.
“It was one of the moments when I felt most proud,” Flt-Lt Kennedy said. “It’s was very humbling.”
The public affairs officer had only recently returned from the Middle East where she worked alongside military personnel and soldiers in several countries including Iraq and Afghanistan.
The mother of two said the reality of her work hit home as her first flight touched down in Baghdad.