WWII veterans raise bat

L-R: Thomas 'Tommy' Pritchard, Brian Coleman and Maxwell Llewelyn all marked their centenary in a joint celebration at Dandneong RSL. Picture: JONTY RALPHSMITH.

By Jonty Ralphsmith

“If you want to live ‘forever’, you join the Dandenong RSL,” according to club president John Wells.

Three WWII veterans and members of the league marked their centenary with a joined celebration at the RSL on Friday 27 May – with a further one expected to be there but struck down by illness.

Those there spoke with sharpness, nous and wit that belied their age – and each had a guilty pleasure that has helped them reach the milestone.

For Brian Coleman, a member of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) for two stints during the 1940s, it is tim tams that has helped him reach the three figure milestone he celebrated on May 15.

“I’ve been asked if I get anything back for advertising tim tams,” Mr Coleman said, tongue-in-cheek.

“They’re a nice little tasty biscuit I like very much. There are always a couple of packets in the cupboard my daughters make sure of it.”

Thomas Pritchard, who turned 100 on 24 August still enjoys an occasional Coopers beer and Maxwell Llewelyn jovially said he spends too much time looking at the same four walls, enjoying lots of sleep in his bed.

Dandenong RSL president John Wells, a Vietnam veteran, lauded their approach to life.

“They’re men of generous spirit and quite courageous still,” he said.

“They are all facing health issues of different kinds and doing so with humour – that’s all part of the digger character. We could have a yarn about different things because it doesn’t matter what war you were in, we can always crack a conversation about the experiences.”

Mr Llewellyn, who turned 100 on 15 May, was enlisted at Dandenong in 1941 and served until September 1946 in the harsh New Guinea tropics, always unsure where the enemy was in the dense canopy.

Mr Pritchard was one of many that lied about his age so he could venture to the war where he spent five years of his life.

Part of the Australian garrison at Libyan port Tobruk, he was among those trying to limit German and Italian supplies from reaching Africa before serving in Port Moresby.

Son Dave said his Dad had passed on the importance of gratitude to his four children.

“He’s taught us to be thankful for what we have here in Australia, a wonderful, free country and democratic and to be kind.”

The ex-servicemen lauded Australia’s celebration of veterans but are finding it increasingly difficult to attend Anzac Day services with age, highlighting the importance of marking their achievements.

“We have a strong policy where we celebrate our members and part of it is to ensure the old blokes aren’t feeling alone – they still feel value and connected,” Mr Wells said.

“Not only have they served their country at war but they have served the society.”

Arthur Pritchard – no relation to Thomas – was the returned serviceman unable to attend on the day, but served in the RAAF from April 1941 until November 1945. He turned 100 on 14 March.