The nation breathed a collective sigh of relief yesterday when SAS hero and Victoria Cross winner Ben Roberts-Smith announced that he was staying in the army for the time being.
Corporal Roberts-Smith is the poster boy from central casting for the Australian Defence Force and he had previously told senior officers that he planned to leave the service following 18 years in the army and nine tours of duty with the SAS.
“Like any member of the ADF, there will come a time for me to move on. However, if and when that time comes, I will remain connected to the SASR, the Army and the ADF,’’ he said.
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Brave men don’t often waste time with words. So it’s no surprise that Corporal Daniel Keighran admitted yesterday that his wife was one of the last to know about his courageous efforts in Afghanistan.
The 99th soldier to be awarded the VC, Corporal Keighran told reporters yesterday he only shared the real details of the battle at Derapet in the Oruzgan province a fortnight ago.
“She’s been brought into the loop now and let me just say she wasn’t impressed to start with but it’s all good now,” he said.
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We all know what the Victoria Cross is, but do we really know what it means and what it represents? Perhaps I am a bit old fashioned but I truly believe that Australians do understand and appreciate the significance of this award. That is, until I heard the comments made on Channel 10’s The Circle program this week, comments the network has since apologised for, faced with national outrage.
Whatever the story behind how each of us learned about the Victoria Cross, whether it was from a school excursion to the War Memorial or from a family member who served ‘back in the day’, we forever remember that it is the highest award presented to a member of the Australian Defence Force for acts of bravery in wartime.
We all know that the acts of those who have been awarded the Victoria Cross are nothing short of heroic. In the case of Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, VC, MG, he was involved in a hunt for a senior Taliban commander in Afghanistan when during an engagement with a fortified enemy he exposed his own position in order to draw fire away from his mates. He then stormed two enemy machine gun posts, quickly dispatching the enemy.
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Welcome to this week’s I Call Bullshit, a regular Punch column that looks at crap and calumny, fibs, fictions and forgeries. This week we’re looking at humour, and whether The Circle panel’s jokes about Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith were, in fact, jokes.
Australians are born with a bile-duct whose juices are triggered by any real or perceived slights on past or present members of the armed forces. We also have an overdeveloped part of the brain that tells us we are ‘larrikins’, that we are all proud owners of a knockabout, irreverent sense of humour.
This is why brains explode when jokes about soldiers – particularly soldiers who have received awards for bravery – bring these two parts of our national character clashing up against each other. We want to both protect the idea that we can laugh at everything, and simultaneously exempt sacred subjects.
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Here’s a tip for Yumi Stynes and George Negus. When you stuff up by calling a Victoria Cross winner a brainless dud root - it’s best to say “I’m terribly sorry.” Then stop. Right there.
Don’t crap on about the reaction to your lighthearted slur making you “feel sick”. Don’t use the old “If I’ve offended anyone…” caveat, and never, ever pull the “you should know us all better to think we would ever deliberately try to hurt people” cop out. Because here’s the thing - it’s not about how you feel.
We all get things wrong sometimes. We all need to apologise sometimes. But people seem to have forgotten how to do it.
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The death of Ted Kenna has reminded us again of the breathtaking bravery exhibited by him and all winners of the Victoria Cross.
Mr Kenna, who with his wife spent the final years of his life in Geelong in order to be near their daughter, is the fifth VC winner to have a connection with the Geelong region.
To survey the stories of these five winners of the VC is to touch a special part of Australia’s regional history. They tell of a haulage contractor and an apple packer, an accountant and council worker, along with a professional soldier who displayed a rare bravery at a moment of extreme pressure.
It’s hard for anyone under the age of at least 50 to say they truly understood Ted Kenna, except for his family and perhaps anyone who’s almost died in combat.
And Ted was probably easier to understand than others famed or prominent among his World War II generation, a laconic, uncomplicated country guy who happened to have been given a medal called the Victoria Cross.
For valour. It’s the highest honour you can get.
But judging by the muted reaction to Ted’s death, at 90, a lot of people didn’t really get what he was about.
The story broke in the local Geelong news media on Thursday, which covers where he lived his final few years in a nursing home, in an understated manner befitting Ted, (”Nedda” to his mates).
By 4 pm, ABC radio in Melbourne hadn’t picked it up or, if maybe they did they didn’t think the news worthy to include in their bulletin.
In one way you can’t blame them, for not ‘getting it’ because 20 or 30 years ago many people of my baby boomer generation may not have only been indifferent, but possibly hostile to men of Ted Kenna’s background.
How could you expect much younger people, in their 20s, to rate the significance of a VC holder?
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