Final volume of Lillydale Shire’s war history to be completed

Historian Anthony McAleer has partnered with the Lilydale RSL to publish the final book in his war history series. Pictured RSL president Bill Dobson and secretary Chris Newell. The image held is of Sgt A Studeman from Lilydale erecting the First Royal Australian Regiment badge over barracks in Japan, 1950. Picture: MIKAYLA VAN LOON.

By Mikayla van Loon

The Lillydale Shire’s final chapter of war history will be forever documented after a grant to fund the project was received by Lilydale RSL.

Historian Anthony McAleer, backed by the sub-branch, was a recipient of the Federal government’s Saluting their Service grant program to complete the fifth installment of his war history books.

Having conducted 30 years worth of research starting with the colonial wars, the $10,000 grant will go towards the production of The Shire of Lillydale and its Military Heritage: Vol 5 Korea to Kuwait (1945 – 1995).

The series of books, Mr McAleer said, began in 1994 as a way of “uncovering the military history of the area” and the “role this area would play in Australia’s military history”.

Two years later the Shire of Lillydale became the Shire of Yarra Ranges but Mr McAleer remained within his original boundaries of Lilydale, Wonga Park, Coldstream, Yering, Gruyere, Wandin, Seville, Silvan, Monbulk, Olinda, Kalorama, Mount Dandenong, Montrose, Mooroolbark and Mount Evelyn.

With veterans still living in these suburbs who fought in some of the main conflicts of the time, especially Korea and Vietnam, Mr McAleer said it will be the perfect time to record their stories to ensure they are enshrined in local history.

“It’s probably one of the first areas that’s ever looked in any detail at that period. Usually, there’s a lot of books about World War One and World War Two but not so much about this era,” he said.

“We’re hoping the fact that there’s still a lot of people around who have memories of that we’ll be able to access their memories.”

It will focus on occupation forces in New Guinea, the Pacific and Japan post-World War Two, the Korean War, the Malayan emergency, the Borneo confrontation, national service of the ‘50s and ‘60s, army reservists, the homefront, peacekeeping operations and ending with the Gulf War.

“Over the past 30 years, I’ve been slowly researching this and I’ve interviewed quite a lot of people who had experiences in those conflicts but I’ll also be looking at doing more interviews and getting more research together,” Mr McAleer said.

“And certainly going out there and trying to find people who lived in the area during that period, and what their opinions were on the military aspects that affected that era.

“One of the major aspects is the whole thing about communism and whether that was going to be a danger to us and looking at how do we stop communism affecting our lives.”

Despite having access to impeccable military archives for World War One and Two, Mr McAleer said it is somewhat of a different story for the more recent conflicts.

For those who served in Vietnam and Korea especially, only the veterans themselves, or in the case of their death, the next of kin can read their military file.

“There’s limited information available. Certainly with World War One and World War Two, what makes it so much easier is where they enlisted from is also detailed on the nominal role.

“For Vietnam and Korea it doesn’t have where they enlisted from, it has where they were born.”

That’s why speaking with veterans and their families about their service is a necessary way of holding onto the Lillydale Shire’s war history.

This final chapter of a 30 year long project, Mr McAleer said, is also possibly one of the most important in providing recognition to the sometimes forgotten veterans of that time.

“Certainly Korea is known as the forgotten war because it came between two large wars that had a huge impact on Australia and Australian society, being World War Two and Vietnam.

“We all would agree there’s been a huge change in attitude in the last 10 years in regards to how we look at our involvement in the Vietnam War and there’s been more of a concentration on those who served and there’s certainly been a great pride that’s developed in the community about those who served our country in Vietnam.

“Whereas going back 20 years ago, there was still a lot about the anti war movement and did these guys do the right thing. Nowadays, we accept that their services were certainly extraordinary and deserve to be acknowledged.”

Lilydale RSL president Bill Dobson said the club was “delighted to be part of the project” and he too is looking forward to learning about the region’s unknown war history.

After many years, Mr McAleer said he expects the fifth and final volume to be released in mid-2024.

“To be able to put it out there as a permanent record for the community to see, to learn from, to be educated from will be good.

“It will certainly be a great gift that we’re giving to the district because it’s one of the very few that have ever had its military heritage ever recorded in such detail and over such a long period.”