Across Australia, Aveo communities are home to many brave people who have dedicated their lives for our nation. One of them is John McKernan, resident at Freedom Aged Care Balwyn, who joined the Navy during World War II out of a desire to help protect the freedom of Australia.
In his own words, this is his story:
"I joined the Navy in the year 1943, at the young age of 17. I voluntarily enlisted as I yearned to join my brothers to help fight for the freedoms of all Australians during World War II.
"My brothers were both servicemen. One an engineer in the Navy. The other a fighter pilot in the Air Force, stationed in Africa, Italy and India. My Mum, a widower since I was in my early teens was left to run the family farm in Euroa.
"I became an ‘Able Seaman’, graduating from ‘Class 7’, following a few months of strenuous training at Flinders Naval Depot. That’s where I learnt the art of sailing and gunnery with “young blokes’ from all over Australia, “who were as mad as snakes”!
"The parade over the Queens Bridge and along Swanston Street in Melbourne is memorable to this day. Folk lined the streets cheering: cheers of respect, we were heroes to those families simply by wearing the uniform. It identified our sacrifice, our commitment to the people and the love for our country. Even the publicans at Young & Jackson wouldn’t let us pass without a celebratory drink at the bar!
"I never got the chance on a major ship, which was a God send in hindsight, as it would have meant one of the Aussie ships had been destroyed and in need of a new ship and crew to fill it! I did get posted to Sydney which was central to deployment, then later posted closer to the war-torn conflict at Madang Island, North of New Guinea some months later.
"Arriving at Madang Island: it was quite a holiday at first, mostly playing cricket, fishing with the boy’s – hanging with the fellows, all waiting to be drafted.
"Then the boats came in…… full of makeshift boxes – inside those boxes were men whose battles were over. Some a few days gone, others, months. One of the bodies I recognised as a mate I went to school with. As a serviceman, my job was to transfer the bodies into the Army issued wooden boxes, remove the dog-tags from the necks of the young men– pin one on the wooden box and the other was posted home to their parents. It was a harsh reality of war.
"Finally, I was drafted to HMAS Lysander - a timber vessel with a crew of six. Our mission: to retain and guard the Japanese Prisoners of War. I remained on this boat for some months, occasionally mooring into shore for supplies.
"Then came the news we had all been longing for... I will never forget the day the war ended: I was at sea in the Pacific on the ‘HMAS Lysander’ when the signaller intercepted the radio announcement. It was such an overwhelming feeling of relief, it was just great! No more killings, everyone simply had had enough!
"Then strangely, there was the feeling of, now what? War had been our way of life for some time... now what?
"I had a couple of months to contemplate this thought, as the crew and I remained on the Lysander for a couple of months following the announcement, still holding the P.O.W. on board.
"I was awarded five medals for my contributions during the war. I am most proud of the Australian Service Medal – a very rare medal for active service in peace time. I earned this for naval service, bringing in Japanese soldiers to be Prisoner of War after peace was declared.
"All the while, my Mum remained working on the farm in Euroa. She was known as the local post office, receiving letters from her three boys from all corners of the globe, then passing them onto residents throughout the community. It somehow gave the locals hope. Mum could not have been prouder of us, and so fortunate having her three sons survive the war whilst thousands never were to return home.
"I only know of one other mate from my Navy days who is still alive today, Jimmy Foreman. Jimmy became my overnight buddy from Class 7, back in 1943 – we still keep in touch but not often enough.
"Here I am today, 96 years young, along with my beautiful wife, Lorraine, sharing a marriage spanning over 71 years! I value every day, as if it’s my last!
"Lest we forget."