News Coronavirus COVID defence: 103-year-old Digger says wear a mask, ‘for your own life, not mine’
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COVID defence: 103-year-old Digger says wear a mask, ‘for your own life, not mine’

Isolation birthday: Newcastle's Alf Carpenter at his 103rd birthday party earlier this year. Photo: ABC
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One of Australia’s oldest World War II veterans, Alf Carpenter has a message for those finding coronavirus restrictions too much to bear – do the right thing to save, not just the elderly, but your own life.

As some Victorians indulge in a daily social media whinge about the supposed privations of their life in lockdown, the lively 103-year-old from Newcastle told The New Daily that young people should listen to the experts and act accordingly.

“I think they have got to realise what the government gets them to do is to save their lives and and other people’s lives too,” said Mr Carpenter, who later would lose an eye as a result injuries sustained on Crete. He saw his best mate blown up from artillery fire and later suffered malaria in the Pacific Theatre.

“This is what they have got to look at, and I believe they have just got to understand [the anti-virus measures], and I don’t think there are many very problems about it.”

With the global pandemic taking a heavy toll on elderly people, the coronavirus is accelerating the loss of World War II veterans.

The generation that grew up in the Great Depression were called to war service on September 3, 1939, with many of those remain with us once again in the firing line as pandemic ravages aged-care centres that have been made more vulnerable by federal government privatisation.

Alf Carpenter was in the thick of the AIF action during World War II. Photo: AAP/supplied

Almost a million Australians served in WWII, with just 12,000 estimated to remain with us after the numbers dropped from 23,000 in 2017 to around 13,300 in 2019.

Key military milestones have passed in 2020, with the 105th anniversary of the Gallipolli landings and this month’s 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

Thursday marks 81 years since Prime Minister Robert Menzies said in a national broadcast that it was his “melancholy duty” to inform Australians that they were now at war with Germany.

Those anniversaries are usually marked with expansive services attended by political leaders and big crowds, but this year the events have been solitary affairs beamed to veterans and their families online.

And while politicians are quick to attach themselves to the legend of Australia’s veterans, the Prime Minister’s response to the crisis in aged care would seem to be a little light on the melancholy.

Scott Morrison this week backed his aged care minister, Richard Colbeck, despite the senator overseeing a system where hundreds of people have died.

Thankfully, Mr Carpenter – who fought in Syria, Libya, Italy, Greece and Crete, before ending the war in Bougainville – has not been affected because he lives alone in his own home and remains mostly self-sufficient.

“That’s no worries to me because I’ve lived by myself for the last five or six years. For me to stay in the house is no trouble at all because I’ve only got myself to worry about,” he said by telephone on Friday.

So I don’t bother going out much, but when I have to go and get groceries I have a mask and I get no trouble with that. I go put my mask on to get to Coles or wherever, I get my groceries, and I put my mask on.

“But I’ve no worries about being hold up in [my] place and made to stay there – I was doing that already.

“I’ve got a person comes once a fortnight and puts the vacuum cleaner over and cleans the house up and any other jobs for me … makes sure the place is spick and span.”

Veterans around the nation have been supported through the pandemic by the Returned Services League, with the Victorian RSL saying it had not experienced any increase in calls for assistance because an outreach program had mostly met the needs veterans at the beginning of the outbreak.

With RSL clubs closed and no daytime club activities, a Victorian RSL spokesperson said most elderly people outside of aged care just needed regular phone contact.

“We’ve got 2500 World War II veterans … for those who are isolated by themselves it is more about having a chat and having that interaction,” said the spokesperson.

The Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) has provided regular updates to the veteran community throughout the pandemic, including on where to access the latest health advice.

The Department of Health is the lead agency on National COVID-19 advice, but veterans can still access all of their health benefits through DVA.

And while there’s still some way to go before Australia wins the battle against coronavirus, Mr Carpenter well recalls where he was on August 15 when World War II ended – laid up in a Bougainville medical centre.

“I had a double dose of malaria and dengue fever and my mate, Ted, came along with a pannikin of some rum in it and he said ‘the war is over’, so he said ‘you better had a swig of that’.

“Well I was that sick that I had no hope in the world. I had one taste of it, but I said ‘Sorry Ted, thanks for it but i cant drink it I’m too sick’. That’s where I was when the war ended.”

With any luck, a feisty and healthy Mr Carpenter will get his rum this time round.