Lilydale’s veteran stories teach kids

Jax with a picture of Ernest Albert Pearson and the historic bugle. Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS. 371755_02

By Mikayla Van Loon

Lilydale RSL’s educational sessions program has grown yet again, with the first primary school making use of the newly renovated space.

Lilydale Primary School’s Grade 5 and 6 students visited the RSL on Thursday 9 November where they heard from Vietnam War veterans, a Royal Navy sailor, a bugler and an historian.

Engaged in asking questions and amazed at some of the experiences and artifacts presented to them, the students were given an incredible opportunity to learn of how wars gone by impacted local people.

Vietnam veterans Bill Dobson and John O’Donohue shared stories of their time in the jungle, the equipment they carried and how they slept.

Questions of experiences with landmines and as well as agent orange also arose during the question and answer session.

As president of the RSL, Mr Dobson said he was extremely impressed with how well informed the students were but also their inquisitive nature.

“They were fantastic. We hope all students we have will ask intelligent questions like this. They seemed to be engaged, they laughed in all the right spots and they asked great questions,” he said.

Mr O’Donohue was pleasantly surprised at the knowledge the students had coming into the session particularly at their age.

Knowing the basics of the Vietnam War, Mr Dobson said for primary school level it’s good to give them that overview of the terrain and conflict but leave out the more political details.

“We don’t try to complicate it, we just keep it simple. We wouldn’t want to go too far into how conscription works. We more just focus on what the jungle was like and where we would sleep,” he said.

For Grade 5 and 6 teacher Michelle Matthews, the program just extended the relationship the school already has with the RSL and the importance it places on continuing the knowledge of war.

“We’re part of the dawn service, our captains go, we will be part of the Remembrance service and we’ve been involved for the last five years,” she said.

Reading books relating to World War I and II in the school’s book club, Ms Matthews said that is mostly how students were exposed to war, so to have a first hand experience was incredible.

“They do get exposed to a lot of issues of war, so they are interested,” she said.

Ms Matthews said asking intelligent questions of Mr Dobson, Mr O’Donohue, bugler Wally Dunkley and former Royal Navy sailor Chris Newell was a sign of deep interest from the cohort.

Two of the school’s captains Zac and Nunkim said their favourite part of the day was hearing about Ernest Albert Pearson, a teenager who survived shellshock as a messenger in World War I.

“That fact that he was underage but he still wanted to volunteer [was interesting to me],” Nunkim said.

As a bit of a history buff, Zac said learning from local people put into perspective what war was really like, especially in Vietnam.

“It was certainly interesting to hear, usually when I hear about war it’s from YouTube, people that haven’t experienced it, but it’s certainly a different side to hear from people who have experienced it themselves so it was really interesting,” he said.

“I learnt that most of the time they weren’t usually fighting, I had it in my mind that they were always usually fighting each other but that didn’t happen.”

This was just the first primary school session of many the RSL hopes to host. To inquire about the sessions, email