John Burgess was 20 when he met Helen.
The love-struck pair spent one week together in Sydney before the young soldier shipped out to a RAAF base in Malaysia, where he provided support for Australia’s Vietnam War effort.Two years and 144 letters later, the pair were reunited. A week later they were married.
Their story sounds fitting of a Hollywood romance and, 53 years on, it’s still one Mr Burgess shares with pride.
As the vice president of Seven Hills-Toongabbie RSL sub-branch, he’s also keen to see such stories passed on to future generations.
This month three members of the RSL youth club will join a group of 30 doing an exchange program in New Zealand.
The trip will not just be a chance for them to see the usual tourist sights, but also gain unique insight on the Anzac spirit from a Kiwi perspective.
Young athletes Daniel Taylor, Jason Mangion and Kaitlyn Waye said they are excited for the journey.
“I’m looking forward to the experiences we’ll be able to bring home and the stories we can share,” Kaitlyn, 14, said.
The youth club hosts a special service before Anzac Day each year to honour those who sacrificed for Australia. This year they expect 200 members to take part.
Sub-branch trustee Gordon Graham said he is happy to see the club’s youngest members getting involved in preserving the Anzac legacy.
Though the WWII veteran turned 90 today, he still takes part in the march every year.
“I’m the last bloke in NSW that marches with the HMAS Australia landing ship infantry. The rest are all the kids grown up with their dad’s medals,” Mr Graham said.
“I’ll march until I die. I’ll keep it going.”
Mr Graham said he has a second family at Seven Hills-Toongabbie RSL sub-branch, as well as with the relatives of the men he served alongside.
Both groups give him an opportunity to speak honestly about the past, although he prefers to focus on good memories.
“You think of the happy things, not the bad things,” he said.
“You only think of the funny things. I’ve been an alcoholic three times, cured three times.”
The veterans, who both speak in schools around the area, said it was good to see the next generation still learning about the Anzac legacy and holding their own services.
“They’re teaching them properly,” Mr Graham said. “They do a bloody good job.”
The pre-Anzac Day service will take place at 1pm on Sunday, April 23. Seven Hills-Toongabbie-Wentworthville RSL sub-branch members will walk from Seven Hills train station to the club cenotaph at 108 Best Road.
Written by Harrison Vesey, Blacktown Sun