Anzac Day march: Calling veterans and volunteers
Meet WWII veteran Robert Jeavons, who takes advantage of RACV’s free door-to-door volunteer driving service to participate in Melbourne's Anzac Day march.
The medals pinned to Robert Jeavons’ chest tell the story of a family of naval men who served together, but apart, during World War II.
On one side of his chest Robert wears his own medals for service as a teenage able seaman, and on the other are two rows of medals marking the service of his late father and late older brother as naval officers.
Robert was just 17 and too young to join them, but he convinced his reluctant mother to sign papers saying he was 18, so he could enlist.
“We all loved the sea and I wanted to join them, but each of us were sent to different places across the globe,” he says.
The Brighton retiree is now 93, and age again is an obstacle but in a different way.
Like dozens of older veterans who find it difficult to get to the Anzac march and service because of age or disability, Robert takes advantage of RACV’s free door-to-door volunteer driving service to participate in the march to be held on Saturday 25 April.
RACV has a longstanding tradition of coordinating volunteer drivers to transport veterans to Melbourne’s Anzac Day march, and this year is extending an invitation to veterans to register early as well as asking for more volunteer drivers.
RACV’s head of partnerships, education and events, Megan Ballantyne, says the continued work of volunteers is vital to RACV’s support of veterans wanting to attend and participate in the Anzac Day march.
It’s an RACV tradition stretching back to World War I and it helps our veterans, regardless of their mobility, to attend the Anzac march and be honoured for the sacrifices they made for our country.
“It’s an RACV tradition stretching back to World War I and it helps our veterans, regardless of their mobility, to attend the Anzac march and be honoured for the sacrifices they made for our country,” she says.
She says RACV volunteer drivers find Anzac Day tremendously rewarding, especially those who form strong friendships with their designated veterans.
Robert, who led last year’s Melbourne Anzac Day march as a naval representative alongside veterans from the army and air force, says the RACV transport service takes the pressure off him attending this special day.
“When I go, I’m carrying the memories of my late father Bruce and late brother Bill,” he says. (More: Letters from the World War I trenches)
“Then I have the memories of all those I have left behind from my own ship HMAS Condamine; I think I’m the only survivor from the crew that came from Melbourne.
“There were only 10 of us from Melbourne and we’d all go to the [Anzac Day] march every year, but now I’m alone, I use RACV’s volunteer drivers.”
Robert says he didn’t see action but was involved in minesweeping around New Guinea and then witnessed Japanese prisoners of war after the war ended.
He and his wife Gwladys had two sons and a daughter (Anne, pictured above) after the war and now have 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Robert plans to share a diary of his war years and photos with them so the tradition of honouring Anzac Day continues.
“It’s an important day to remember and I have seen the popularity of Anzac Day grow with younger people over the years,” he says.
The importance of Anzac Day resonates with Ian Meates, a 73-year-old from Ringwood and RACV volunteer driver for 12 years.
“The veterans we drive are from a generation of people who are polite and so grateful,” says Ian, a retired policeman.
“I drove Betty, a former nurse, for three years and she was a lady with really good manners and a sweet sense of humour who always thanked me.
“Drivers get to park at the Shrine, then we have a great spot near the VIP area to see the ceremony where we enjoy cups of tea, sandwiches and biscuits.”
RACV has a proud history of helping veterans since World War I. In a time when car ownership was rare, RACV members volunteered their cars to meet almost 300 hospital ships at Station Pier, Port Melbourne.
By war’s end, RACV’s Volunteer Transport Unit had driven more than 93,000 returning soldiers and nurses from ships to hospital or to military barracks; a massive task for a club with only 1400 members.
The club was recognised for its wartime contribution by King George V in 1916, who gave the club its royal prefix, changing its name to the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria.
Ever since, RACV has continued to help transport veterans to commemorative services including the Anzac Day march.