Overlooking the Camberwell Sports Ground, Shenley Manor offers a peaceful setting with sunny courtyards and lush gardens.
Keith has been a resident here for nearly four years, he says, “It’s a good one. They are good to me, and it’s a great spot. I go around the gardens, I go down to watch the teams play footy or cricket – getting out is very important.”
Keith wants to share his message about Anzac Day; it’s a message of mateship and the enduring human spirit. He hopes that we as a nation continue to celebrate Anzac Day and honour the memory of the good men we lost.
Keith was 17 when he joined the war. It was 1942 and he celebrated his 18th birthday on the troop ship on the way to the Solomon Islands. It was on his way overseas that he met Ewart, who became a lifelong friend, “Ewi was 12 months older than me, and he’s been my mate right through. His army number was one after mine. He was really my left hand man.”
“In the army we used to do a lot of repairs on machine guns and pistols – that was our job until we got the call for our section to go down south [and fight]. Each place had a section which was about 15-20 men and they used to have to do their turn down south. It was pretty rough down there. You’ve got no idea how important mateship was, especially in times like those.
“When we came back we used to get a rest period of 10 days. We looked for things to keep us occupied and entertained and once we found a really old cowboy pistol but we couldn’t get ammunition for it. So Ewi drilled the barrel and the chambers out so it would take 45 ammo. He practiced shooting it and got really good at it. We used his skill to get some money out of the American’s. I’d say ‘Well you Americans are pretty smart with a pistol, but you ought to see my mate here, – he can draw and shoot a matchbox from 15 feet every time.’ They said ‘Rubbish’, so I’d say, ‘Put your money up!’ And they would put their money up and he would do it every time. Oh, he was an amazing fella.
“There was another time we made a still because we thought it would be another good way to make a bit of money off the yanks. We made a little brew using dried vegetables and ooh it was strong. We knew when it blew the plug out of the drum it would be ready to go. And when it was ready, it actually blew the whole top off that 44-gallon drum! We had a taste of it and ooh it was nearly pure alcohol, so we gave it to a big yank and [afterwards] he was hanging from a tent pole until he gradually just sagged down, it took his breath away, I thought he was nearly going to die. We made a bit of money selling that brew.
“One time we came back from a trip down south and the top of the drum was oval so we knew she was getting close to being ready. One night there was a huge ‘boom’ – it was the drum! We strained it and we ran it through a distiller which one of our smart fellas made. It came out pure spirit; you could use it in a cigarette lighter so we didn’t dare sell that.”
Ewi passed away about six months ago. “He kept in touch with me all the time, he used to always come and see me ‘cause he was more active than me, and he used to talk to me at least once a week on the phone. Oh he was a good bloke, he really was a good bloke.”
Anzac Day is very important to Keith. “The mateship has to be kept going because we lost a lot of good men, really good men. I don’t think people realise how good the men were we lost. And I always want to see Anzac Day kept up so we will always remember.”