Mildura World War 2 veteran Jack Braidie wasn’t able to make his traditional pilgrimage to Melbourne for Anzac Day this year, but the memories of his Army mates and the significance of the sacred day were still close to his heart. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

ANZAC Day this year was commemorated in a very different way, and for Mildura’s 97-year-old World War 2 Army veteran Jack Braidie it was a sad occasion.

Normally he would have journeyed to Melbourne to join his old company – a bit of a misnomer these days because there is just one other remaining member.

“I was disappointed,” Jack said simply. “Because for the past 10 years I have been saying ‘This could be my last trip’.”

“My unit was a signals unit, and in the four and a half years that I was in the Army there would have been more than 300 blokes in it. After the war, from about 1947 onwards, we’d have a reunion, where a hundred or more would turn up.

“Over the years that number slowly dwindled, and last year I went down and there was myself and a great old mate called Don Yates, who is in a wheelchair − there was just the two of us.”

Jack said that each year his group would take part in a ceremony at the Shrine of Remembrance involving some local school children.

“Just before the steps of the Shrine, under the last tree on the right, we have a plaque there − 3rd Division Signals – and we’ve adopted a school from Greensborough, Greenhills Primary, and those kids used to come every year and have a little ceremony, usually the day before Anzac Day, which was a lovely occasion,” Jack said.

While Jack didn’t rise early this year to watch the Dawn Service on television, he did listen to it on the radio.

“I’m 97, so it’s a bit hard to get up that early, so I settled for listening to it in bed,” he said.

Jack’s been around for a long time, and has led an interesting life, but he says he hasn’t seen anything like what the world is experiencing at the moment.

“The impact this pandemic has had on everyone, I’ve seen nothing like this,” he said. “We were never confined to barracks − we were told to be careful with the ‘flu when it was about, but never that you weren’t allowed to play sport or go fishing, which is a bit rough I think.”

Jack said he was pleased to see the community involvement with Anzac Day remain undiminished with people of all ages standing in the front yards or their streets at dawn to commemorate this most scared of days in our calendar,

“I live at the end of a small court, and while I didn’t hear any movement as I lay in bed, I think quite a few of the neighbours were up, because one of the houses across the road had its security light coming on and off,” he said.

“I had a good day, I rang the sons and daughters of all of my old mates − several phone calls to Melbourne – and I received heaps of calls from my kids and other mates, including my bowling mates from Merbein. Them ringing meant a lot to me. So it was a pretty good day, even though I was a bit sad about not being able to go to Melbourne. I missed that this year, but having said that, I’m bloody lucky to still be around when all my mates are gone!”