Anzac Day medals and memories

Living Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 18 April 2019

World War II veterans remember ‘good times and terrible times’.

Weighted down with medals and memories, Bert Biggs will join other diggers at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance on Anzac Day.

Aged has wearied this World War II veteran so he no longer marches but watches the Anzac Day parade, then sits in peaceful reflection during the commemorative service.

The 95-year-old has an RACV volunteer driver for the day as part of a free service that picks up veterans for the march and takes them home afterwards.

RACV volunteer driver Trevor Hayes sits next to world War II veteran Bert Biggs

Bert Biggs with RACV volunteer driver Trevor Hayes.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” says Bert. “When I joined up it was for an adventure, but it was more than that. I met a lot of good people, I lost a lot of good people; there were good times and terrible, frightening times. And I remember.”

As an aircraft fitter for the RAAF’s 451 Squadron, Bert recalled the squadron being bombed at its base on the Mediterranean island of Corsica in 1944.

“We lost men, others were injured and our Spitfires were almost totally destroyed, but we cobbled together bits and pieces [of aircraft] and resumed operations the next day,” he recalls.

In 2016 he was awarded France’s highest order, the Legion of Honour medal, and last year returned to Corsica where he was feted by local military commanders, residents and the press.

His driver this Anzac Day will be Trevor Hayes, 63, volunteering with RACV for the seventh time. “I get enjoyment out of it and want to show respect for war veterans who gave their all,” says Trevor.

Bert, a great-grandfather, is one of about 90 veterans who will use the RACV’s long-standing door-to-door pick-up service this year, while 100 RACV volunteers will drive veterans in the march.

Moira Fulton of the WAAAF sits in a car at the 2018 Anzac Day march

Moira Fulton at the Anzac Day march in 2018.

Black and white archive photo of world War II veteran Bert Biggs working on a Spitfire aeroplane

Bert Biggs (left) working on a Spitfire in World War II.

He will be joined at the Shrine by Moira Fulton, 96, who also uses the RACV transport service. 

Moira was one of the 27,000 Australian women who joined the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) from 1941 to 1947, doing “men’s” work at home to free up men for service.

She was already a pioneer when she joined, completing Year 12 in an era when women were expected to leave school early, and she became an aircraft rigger.

“I watched the boys join up, some were killed, and I wanted to do my part,” she says. “As a rigger I worked on every part of the aeroplane except the engine, and I was sent into the tightest parts of the plane because I was the smallest member and only female in my team.”

She says it is important to remember the losses and lessons of war. “Even in 2019, there are so many people still at war,” she says.

RACV’s Anzac Day transport services evolved from its history of driving injured service personnel during World War I.

In the five years from 1915, in an era when car ownership was rare, Automobile Club of Victoria members met almost 300 hospital ships at Station Pier, Port Melbourne. The Volunteer Transport Unit collected more than 93,000 returning troops and nurses, taking many injured soldiers straight to hospital. The club was recognised for its war-time contribution by King George V in 1916, hence the change of name to the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria.