The oldest and wisest people among us often have a calming effect on those around them, as decades of lived experiences pave the way for a clear and balanced perspective.
Australian veteran Harrie (Lewis) Wicking was born in the Victorian suburb of Prahran in 1920, with over 100-years of lived experience that included two of this country’s most important battles of WW2, Harrie’s perspective holds a lot more weight than most.
At the age of 16, Harrie worked in the carpeting area of a local department store and was inspired by seeing an older boy who would come into work wearing his military uniform.
“I decided to join at 16 with another boy my age, Doug. We trained on Thursdays and went on training camps,” said Mr. Wicking.
Although Mr. Wicking joined the defence force at such a young age, he actually had years of training experience by the time Australia became involved in the war several years later.
“I joined before the war had begun, so there were 52 officers including myself that trained 800 young men – all around the age of 19,” said Mr. Wicking.
“We were going to be deployed to the Middle East, but the Japanese joined the war so we were sent to WA where we protected our country from invasion.”
Throughout Mr. Wicking’s years of active service, he defended Australia’s borders at a time when allied forces were engaged in two of the most important battles with the Imperial Japanese Navy.
In early May 1942, Mr. Wicking found himself protecting Australian shores throughout the Battle of the Coral Sea, before being called upon again only one month later during the Battle of Midway.
Although most Australians are aware of the devastating effects that the deaths of fellow soldiers can have on servicemen, Mr. Wicking reminds us that many soldiers also returned home to devastating circumstances after their years of service.
“Losing family members over the years was the greatest hardship,” said Mr. Wicking.
“Losing my father at 19 changed the direction of my life, but many years later I also lost my first wife and my oldest son.”
Theses day, Harrie Wicking is a proud resident of a Vasey RSL Care facility in the Victorian suburb of Frankston South.
Vasey RSL Care facilities are renowned for their expertise in supporting elderly veterans and war widows.
And while social isolation is driving many people across the globe stir-crazy, it is no surprise that resilient people like Mr. Wicking and his fellow residents seem to be taking this current pandemic in their stride.
“I think I am finding isolation difficult too because I would normally go and visit friends, but I do have a few friends at my facility that I am close too – so we can visit each other and have a chat,” said Mr. Wicking.
Harrie Wicking also had some sage advice for people who claim that being told to stay at home is hard work.
“If they were to make it to 100 like me, they would probably change their mind,” he said.
“I am proud to have made it to 100, but I have seen many things both good and bad.”
Given the fact that Harrie Wicking chose to join the defence force at 16, there is no doubt that risk-taking and adventure were high on his list of priorities.
After thinking back to those times, Mr. Wicking’s stance on providing advice to younger people during the pandemic should not come as shock.
“You were younger once too, would you have listened to any advice that older people gave you?”
Point taken Harrie. Point taken.
-Photo Provided by Vasey RSL Care