League of com­rades


Cockburn Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - Bryce Luff

MATE­SHIP and ca­ma­raderie are the big­gest things the Re­turned and Ser­vices League (RSL) can of­fer vet­er­ans with their tran­si­tion to civil­ian life, ac­cord­ing to Dig­ger Cleak.

He knows be­cause he sought out the ser­vice him­self for help with his own strug­gles af­ter his time in the Royal Aus­tralian Navy.

The cur­rent Cock­burn RSL pres­i­dent, one of 170,000 RSL mem­bers in Aus­tralia on the eve of its 100th an­niver­sary, ad­mits he did not re­alise how much war had changed him dur­ing his ser­vice be­cause he was sur­rounded by his “army broth­ers” who were al­ways there to sup­port.

But it is un­sur­pris­ing when you con­sider ex­actly what he and other vet­er­ans have ex­pe­ri­enced on the bat­tle­field.

One of those mo­ments hap­pened in the early hours of June 17, 1968, and although it was close to five decades ago, Mr Cleak has lit­tle trou­ble re­count­ing what hap­pened.

It was just af­ter 3am and HMAS Ho­bart was hold­ing sur­veil­lance mis­sions around Tiger Is­land af­ter re­ports of North Viet­namese he­li­copter ac­tiv­ity.

On that hot night, Mr Cleak could not see any­thing and did his best to keep cool.

In an instant that all changed and the Ho­bart was “lit up like a Christ­mas tree” af­ter a plane fired a mis­sile at the ship.

Mr Cleak’s crew­mate, an 18year-old named Ray­mond John But­ter­worth, was killed.

The plane dou­bled back for a sec­ond pass, fir­ing more mis­siles.

That time West Aus­tralian Ray­mond Henry Hunt was killed and more were in­jured. Mr Cleak fired from the mounted gun he was man­ning. He missed but did enough to en­sure the plane was warned off.

He sur­vived but it would not be the last time mis­siles and bul­lets were di­rected his way.

“There are lots of other in­ci­dents like this,” Mr Cleak told the Gazette last week.

“You brush th­ese things off; you laugh. It’s not un­til af­ter, when the adren­a­line is gone, that you re­alise what has hap­pened.”

Mr Cleak spent 20 years in the Royal Aus­tralian Navy – nine years in the fleet in the gun­nery sec­tion, be­gin­ning in 1961, and a fur­ther 11 years with the Naval Po­lice.

When he set sail for Viet­nam he was mar­ried with a young fam­ily, in­clud­ing a daugh­ter barely a month old.

When he re­turned, he had changed.

“I would get an­gry at the drop of a hat,” he said.

“It would be an out­burst of anger with­out re­ally know­ing where it came from.

“Even to­day if some­one drops some­thing large be­hind me I jump.”

He ad­mit­ted his be­hav­iour cost him his first mar­riage.

Mr Cleak sought pro­fes­sional help and re-mar­ried his “rock” Kay.

He also found sup­port in the Re­turned and Ser­vices League and is now pres­i­dent of the Cock­burn RSL.

Mr Cleak said he was at­tracted to the RSL “be­cause it’s all about mates”.

He en­cour­aged oth­ers to take up the com­pan­ion­ship.

“Some peo­ple need help; they need sup­port,” he said.

“What we do is lis­ten. Vet­er­ans are very good at lis­ten­ing.

“Many want to tell their story. We wait un­til they’re com­fort­able enough to do that. We’re not sug­gest­ing we do the work of pro­fes­sion­als, but we’re there to help where we can.”

This year marks 100 years since the RSL was founded.

RSLWA pres­i­dent Gra­ham Ed­wards said hun­dreds of re­turned sol­diers re­ceived wel­fare and ad­vo­cacy sup­port ev­ery year from the RSL and its 1200 sub-branches through­out Aus­tralia.

“There is no doubt that wel­fare and ad­vo­cacy ser­vices are of para­mount im­por­tance and dozens of vol­un­teers in WA pro­vide this ser­vice,” he said.

“But we should not ig­nore the im­por­tance of com­mem­o­rat­ing those who have served and fallen, and this year the RSL in WA will hold more than 110 ser­vices on An­zac Day.”

Mr Cleak and his team will again host Cock­burn’s An­zac Day ser­vices at the Me­mo­rial Hall in Hamil­ton Hill.

“Vet­er­ans, who are the heart and soul of the RSL, ap­pre­ci­ate and ap­plaud the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties who show their grat­i­tude by at­tend­ing the An­zac Day ser­vices in ever-in­creas­ing num­bers,” he said.

Pic­ture: Matt Jelonek www.com­mu­ni­typix.com.au d452730

Mates for life: Dig­ger and Kay Cleak with Tiny Small, Arthur Stan­ton and Ray See in the back­ground.

Pic­ture: Matt Jelonek www.com­mu­ni­typix.com.au d452730

Tiny Small, Arthur Stan­ton and Kay Cleak with Dig­ger Cleak and Ray See.

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