• Loddon Herald

Passing the baton


WHEN the Boort community gathers on ANZAC Day, it will be the first commemoration without World War Two veterans.

The town’s three surviving veterans from the war that ended almost 76 years ago have passed away in the two years since ANZAC commemorative services have been held.

Indeed, 2020 was very emotional for the Boort RSL as we lost our last three members from that war - Kel Jeffery, Lance Slatter and John Makeham.

COVID restrictions meant that at the time, we were unable to fully remember and thank them.

Their passing also means the baton for commemoration has fully passed in 2021 to veterans from later wars and conflicts in partnership with the community.

As far as we know there is only one World War Two servicemen left who enlisted in the Loddon Shire - Harvey Bawden from Pyramid Hill.

He enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force in 1942.

Harvey became a gunner in a crew of seven men who flew a Lancaster on bombing missions over Germany. Harvey now lives in Bendigo.

This year’s Boort commemoration on ANZAC will allow us to recall the service to nation and community of our last locally-resident veterans.

Flight Sergeant Lance Slatter started training at the Initial Training School at Somers for three months.

Lance learnt that there were too many pilots already and as there weren’t enough planes, he trained to be a navigator and bomber-aimer.

Lance soon found himself at Port Pirie, South Australia, where he trained and graduated as a sergeant bomber, training mainly on Anson Bombers.

In his own words Lance said: “On one occasion while training for low level map reading the slip-stream lifted the canvas roof off a car, we convinced ourselves that we could see the heads of Saffron

“Thistles just above the wing tips.” Exciting times for 18 year olds.

Lance was then sent to Tocumwal training on the Liberators for bombing where they were lead to believe that they were training to attack Tokyo Harbour.

He recalled: “There we were all ready to save the world when some bloke dropped the first Atomic bomb and that was the end of it.

“Most of us were not even 20 years old and my service career was quite un-distinguished.

“I suppose you could say we were re-enforcements that were never needed.”

Lance was president of the Boort RSL sub-branch for many years.

Flight Lieutenant Kelvin Jeffery served mainly in England, his role was mainly to train other air crews before they went onto bomber planes.

Private John Makeham enlisted for war service in Wedderburn on January 29 and after basic training served in the Australian Army in the Northern Territory.

His b Jeffreyattalion was stationed at the RAAF aerodrome, he was living in a tent beside the aerodrome when Darwin was bombed by the Japanese.

They had no warning and at first thought that the Americans were flying in but soon realised that they were the enemy.

John Makeham’s father, John William Makeham was one of three men from Boort who served at Gallipoli. He was wounded with a bullet in the arm and sent to the hospital in Egypt.

He also served in Egypt, France and England and once again was injured and sent to hospital. This is where he met his wife Ada Wilson who came to Australia in 1919 where she married John. Ada was a nursing sister in the British army.

John was very active in RSL duties until he was forced to spend the last few years of his life in the Boort Hostel and Hospital.

John was the last surviving World War Two soldier from the Boort district, marking the end of an era.

* Paul Haw is president of the Boort RSL sub-branch.

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