War experiences link veterans generations apart

World War II diggers Ula Agnew, 97; Fred Bainbridge, 94; Noel Mooney, 93; Mervan McGrane, 94; and Herbert Woodward, 100.

Meet the known surviving World War II veterans in Bundaberg: Ula Agnew, Fred Bainbridge, Noel Mooney, Mervan McGrane and Herbert Woodward.

For former full-time Australian Army soldier Tyson Kemps, spending time with our living treasures this week was an honour.

“There is a reason why they are the greatest generation of war veterans,” he said.

“The things they have experienced are things that just haven't been seen since.”

At just 25 years old, Mr Kemps is one of the region's youngest returned service personnel, having recently arrived back in Bundaberg after spending six years with the Australian Army as a Quartermaster.

On Thursday, he sat down with veterans almost four times his age for an RSL Queensland video project highlighting the history and sacrifices of local gallant soldiers, then and now.

World War II veterans give their advice to younger generations.

“Even from the military in their days, there are still a lot of similarities with being in the Army today,” Mr Kemps said. 

“While the equipment we use now has evolved and become better, most of the procedures have remained the same over the course of history.”

Fred Bainbridge chats with Tyson Kemps about their former military days.

RSL project

The group met for lunch and interviews at the Bundaberg Services Club on Thursday, hosted by RSL sub-branch president Cr Helen Blackburn.

“We really don't want to lose the memory of our World War II Diggers so RSL Queensland is putting together a documentary highlighting the stories of these amazing people,” Cr Blackburn said.

“We have Diggers ranging from 94 to 100 years of age that served their country; it is just an absolute honour to be in their presence.

“This is about keeping a history of their service to their country and honouring them.”

Local heroes

Mr Kemps was joined by Ula Agnew, 97; Fred Bainbridge, 94; Noel Mooney, 94; Mervan McGrane, 94; and Herbert Woodward, 100 years old — decorated service personnel who served in New Guinea during various stages of the Second World War.

When discussing their time serving, all five agreed the mateship was special during some of the most difficult times of their lives. 

“I was a Sapper, which is another word for a Private, and I served in New Guinea. I served for 1597 days,” Herb Woodward said.

Herbert Woodward holds up a photo of himself from his days as a Private during World War II.

“War is hell. It is just hell.

“I wasn't attached to everybody. I was a bloke that, if they wanted a job done, I went. It didn't matter where.”

When asked what being involved in the war had taught them most, the group agreed they had gained skills that had lasted a lifetime.

“Patience. Definitely patience,” Mr Bainbridge said.

“The war taught me a bit of discipline,” Mr Mooney added.

“I had a lot of freedom before and that was lost when I became a soldier.”

Merv McGrane with a photo of himself as a soldier.

The group of five are the only World War II veterans remaining in Bundaberg.

They attribute their long and fruitful lives to keeping a positive mindset and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

“I walk and exercise. Not fast, not quick; don't overdo it,” Mr Woodward said.

“I walk everywhere and I have a garden; it keeps me young,” Mr Bainbridge said.

Mr Mooney is an active member of the Burnett Bowls Club, playing a couple of times each week, while Mrs Agnew has a passion for cards, playing twice a week.