Reflections of the Life Governors

Mr Ray Andrews: I'm Ray Andrews, a former Australian serviceman and a friend of the Shrine of Remembrance in St Kilda Road in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. The Shrine was founded in 1934 as the national war memorial of Victoria. The Shrine exists to engage all Victorians in remembering, valuing and commemorating both service and sacrifice.

Today, at the end of July 2021, I’m seated in the Western Precinct of our awe-inspiring Shrine called the Visitors Centre. In my company are four very remarkable men: Colonel George Mackenzie OBE RFD, Lieutenant Colonel David Ford CVO AM GM, Lieutenant Colonel Adrian Lombardo and Mr Peter Whitelaw. All four of these men were appointed as Trustees of the Shrine for life; George in 1978; David in 1982; Adrian in 1987 and Peter in 1995. Later they were appointed Governors of the Shrine for life, hence their title of Life Governors.

These men with me today are the last four living from a total of 31 Trustees appointed since 1933. Together they've provided 142 years of continuous service to the Shrine and thereby to us all. The service of the Shrine Life Governors is voluntary. Their only reward—apart from the honor of being appointed and of serving Victoria—is that the Shrine flags will be lowered to half-mast at the time of their death.

Today, I'll be interviewing George, David, Adrian and Peter on their military experience, the significant events that occurred during their terms as Trustees and, since 2001, major Shrine developments and events during their time as Life Governors. Lastly, I'll ask about the future the men's views of what the next several decades might look like as far as the Shrine is concerned.

George is the most senior Life Governor present. Can we start with you please? Tell us about your military background and experiences.

Colonel George Mackenzie OBE RFD: I was a self-employed solicitor in 1962 when I joined the Citizen Military Forces. I was also elected to the City of Kew Council and I was fairly busy at the time as I became the Mayor of Kew in 1966. But despite that, I kept up my army reserve requirements attending parades and weekend bivouacs and the like.

In 1970, I was asked by the Minister for the Army—who happened to be a personal friend—if I would be willing to go to Vietnam to take over the role of Deputy Assistant Director of Legal Services for the Australian forces in Vietnam; relieving an Officer who was on his second tour of duty and who was extremely tired. I spoke to my partners in my legal practice and to my family and with some reluctance they agreed to allow me to go. So, in November 1970, I hopped on the big white bird and went to Vietnam.

My duties in Vietnam, as the senior legal officer in that country for the Australian forces, was to supervise the administration of discipline, pay compensation to South Vietnamese if they suffered loss or damage as a result of Australian military activity—unless that activity was in pursuit of the war—and to see that we observed the Geneva Conventions with respect to any prisoners of war we had. I had two other lawyers in Vietnam with me—one at Nui Dat and one at Vung Tau—and i would travel to see each of them once a week.

Life was risen reasonably quiet until Christmas Day 1970 when a soldier under the influence shot and killed two Sergeants and seriously injured a third and the following day an Officer was charged striking a soldier with a pistol and the following day a Warrant Officer on his first day in Vietnam was doing a tour of Nui Dat in his Land Rover with two other Warrant Officers. They'd visited the sergeant's messes and he crashed the Land Rover and seriously injured himself and his passengers. So I suddenly found myself with a plethora of courts martials lined up. One of the consequences of this was the arrival in Vietnam of another 10 military lawyers. The Director of Legal Services—who was well known for looking after the legal corps—made sure every lawyer he could lay his hands on got a guernsey. So the country was alive with lawyers—including a Supreme Court Judge and a couple of QCs from Sydney.

The courts martials themselves were a bit of a problem because they had to be conducted at Vung Tao. The officers who arrived from Australia to constitute the court included a Brigadier—who's known to my fellow Life Governors—he found himself in an area commanded by a Colonel. The colonel didn't like the Brigadier's presence. I mean, the Brigadier insisted upon life as it would be in Canberra which is a bit difficult in a sandy climate.

The court martials went off. I participated in a number of them. Finally at the end of May of 1971 I returned to Australia and I was certainly very popular with ex-service organisations because I was a 40 year old who'd seen service and i was a bit active. So i found myself invited to join the RSL as a state executive member, as a Trustee of the RSL. I was invited to join the Australian Legion of Ex-Servicemen and Women. I was made a member of the Services Canteen Trust Fund and a member of the Patriotic Funds Council of Victoria which is now the Victorian Veterans Council. So I was fairly involved in ex-service activities in 1978.

One of the members of the Patriotic Funds Council Colonel Edna Doig, who was a Trustee of the Shrine, nominated me to become a Trustee. And so I became a Trustee in December 1978. I think I was the first Trustee who had not had service in World War One or Two. So I was a bit of a junior and as such I think I was expected to take a reasonable share of the load when it came to attendance at pilgrimages and services and i was relieved when my colleague David Ford was appointed to Trustee because we could now share the burden.

Mr Ray Andrews: Thank you very much George. A good segue into your military background and experiences David.

Lieutenant Colonel David Ford CVO AM GM: Well, I was a career soldier. I went straight from school to the Royal Military College Duntroon. I did the four year course there and somehow managed to graduate. I became a logistician rather than a warrior—although I don't always describe myself that way. When we're out meeting people and someone comes along and says, ‘Well what do you do? What do you do for a living?’ If I don't like the people particularly, if I’m not attracted to them, I usually just say i was a public servant. That's a dead killer immediately and they move on to someone else. If it's someone who looks quite interesting, I say I was a trained killer. That tends to get their attention. But there we go. I was a logistician which meant I was with the corps that looked after transport and feeding and ammunition and that sort of stuff.

So the first appointment was with a transport unit. I was then attached to the British army

and served with a unit there in Kuala Lumpur and in Malacca. Having come back from there, I ended up being sent to the officer training unit where my two fellow colleagues who are here today are graduates there—I won't say I don't know how they made it because they did very well indeed—and that was one of my better postings.

What followed on from there was a time in Vietnam as the as the Officer on the headquarters, I was responsible for the ammunition and feeding and the most important thing which I found was the mail service. If the mail didn't get through I had an uncomfortable night with people having a go at me. Luckily that didn't happen terribly often.

So, I then came back from there as an instructor at the corps school and then did staff college down at Queenscliff. After that I ended up going to a staff job and I suddenly found that after having been on two of my best appointments—which was the Officer Training Unit and of course the active service in Vietnam—I found that peacetime soldiering wasn't all that it was cut out to be and I decided there must be something else to do. I happened to look in The Age one morning, one Saturday morning, and saw this job of Chief of Protocol advertised and I thought, ‘I can do all of that’ when I read the description.

So I did become the Chief of Protocol for the next 20 years. And you may be saying what on earth does the Chief of Protocol do? Well, it was a state government appointment in the Premier's department and it looked after the Premier's hospitality: looked after official visitors to the state, it looked after honours and awards and it looked after ceremonial things. So that followed on fairly easily from my military background and I served six Premiers—three from each side so quite obviously I was no political challenge to any of them.

During that time of the visitors I was very lucky in having the visitors we did. There were the royal family, heads of state, heads of government and the Pope. They had a United States President and Vice-President so they were quite enjoyable times. It was a great time.

Then I was invited to become a Trustee in 1982 and that of course is where it all started. In addition to that I was President of Melbourne Legacy. I was on the Vietnam Veterans Council also on the Veterans Council. I was also the Victorian representative on the Order of Australia Council and the Bravery Council. Did that for 10 years. So that was my background.

Mr Ray Andrews: Adrian over to you. Your military background and experience please.

Lieutenant Colonel Adrian Lombardo: Unlike David, I was a migrant kid arrived in Australia at age 10 and the last thing I ever wanted to do was to join the army. I think that Mr Menzies decided that I should  and I was conscripted in the first intake of National Service in June of 1965.

I vividly recall the effort over the next couple of weeks of interviews and psychology tests and all these other things that I'd never come across before which led to selection as an Officer Cadet. Some two weeks after I marched into Puckapunyal, I took my first flight ever from Mangalore to Richmond and then a bus to Scheyville which was a real eye-opener for me. But I really decided that I wanted to make the best of it and had no intention of serving more than the two years. However, after a short while I expressed some interest in languages and I was invited to attend a selection course at the RAAF School of Languages where I particularly wanted to do Japanese. But when tested the staff suggested that my hearing wasn't all that great—and hasn't got any better since—and they recommended I do Indonesian. Which I did and I passed with distinction on that course and as a result of that I was posted to Malaysia to the 8th battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment as a Platoon Commander.

I was fortunate to also have a sideline because I could speak Indonesian which is very similar to Malay. In terms of conducting and organising the battalion's civil aid to the civil power if you like or current affairs or civil affairs at least—where we actually looked after a Malaysian village and provided medical and dental support, engineering support, all those sort of things. I found that extremely interesting and because I was actually in meetings with the most senior people in in Malacca at the time. At the same time I trained with my platoon as a platoon commander and in 1969 returned for training for Vietnam

By November 69, we took off. It was quite interesting, the instruction was you must not wear uniform on the way to Vietnam because we ere  going by civilian aircraft. So we all strangely had army trousers but we all had to wear a funny shirt. So you can imagine the Hawaiian shirts and the like. Anyway, we arrived in Vietnam. On my first night in country the battalion which we were taking over from, 9RAR, had a pretty major incident and—unfortunately George wasn't there because he came the next year. One of the 9RAR Platoon Commanders was killed by one of the soldiers by what was called a fragging or a grenade. So that was the introduction and I suddenly thought Platoon Commanding might not be such a such a great deal…

But anyway, we started our duty and as the internship team commanders we generally spent a month sort of time in in the country and on patrol and ambushing. And unfortunately three months after my beginning of the tour I was wounded. So I had to be repatriated.

Following that however, I managed to do some interesting postings. I was asked to be the elector in charge of Indonesian—where I'd learnt a few years before—which I did for three years. Then I became the Officer in Command of one of the 6 Battalion rifle companies which I enjoyed tremendously. And then I was selected for staff college in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia as the sole Australian student. Following which I came back and had some staff posting just to across the road from the Shrine. And it was interesting how at that stage that that was the first time really I’d been to visit the Shrine when I was posted across the road here.

I got involved quite heavily in computing which I did for a number of years and that led me to postings to the US where I undertook quite a number of computing and management training modules with the US army then came back on promotion and finished off here in in 1987. So that that was my military service.

In terms of the Shrine, I was invited by these two gentlemen on the right, George and David, to consider becoming a Trustee. I was then interviewed by Peter Isaacson who was the Chairman and Bill Littlejohn, the Vice-Chairman and was then appointed in September 1987 as a Trustee. So that's my sort of brief story

Mr Ray Andrews: Thank you very much Adrian, thank you. Peter yours please, your military experience your military background.

Mr Peter Whitelaw: Thank you, Ray. I was a young green 20 year old in 1966 when my marble was drawn out of the barrel as far as the National Service call up was concerned. I had the option of deferring because I was doing electronics engineering at RMIT at the time. But I decided in view of the delays to my career that I'd probably be better getting over my National Service over and done with and so I complied and a few weeks later was marching into South Melbourne to join the army.

Along with several hundred others I was bused up to Puckapunyal, cold as it was in the middle of June in 1966. Given my roles I was introduced immediately to haircuts. I'd already had a short haircut but I had two in the same week! Soon on arrival a number of vaccinations—which is fairly topical today—and some pretty stringent lessons in marching , weapon control, fitness and all of those sort of things. But most of my first two weeks were in fact sitting in the kitchen peeling potatoes and carrots and I figured if this is going to be my army career for the rest of my life I better do something different and I heard about the option of applying for Officer Training.

At OTU Schyeville, which I did, I was fortunate to pass the selection criteria and flew like Adrian um from Mangalore to Richmond and bused into Scheyville which was the uh sort of premier Officer Training Unit of the era.

I had the sudden realisation as this bald headed Warrant Officer Class One stuck his head in the bus and yelled with all his might and told us to get off the bus and from there on we were quick marching everywhere.

Scheyville was probably a seminal experience in in my life. It probably changed my direction forever. It was tough. We did significant military exercises. We were on an education program with courses up until nine o'clock at night and field exercises with helicopters weapons and whatever else. But fortunately I managed to scrape through and graduated from Scheyville in December 1966. My then girlfriend, and now my wife, pinned my pips on my uniform at that graduation ceremony.

I was also very pleased to find out that I wasn't going to be posted to Vietnam as a Platoon Commander and because of my electronics background i was selected to move into a role within army headquarters. This was a section of army headquarters based at Albert Park Barracks just down the road here and I marched in there in early January 1967 to meet my staff who consisted of three Warrant Officer Class 2 who looked at this green 20 year old Second Lieutenant and realised that they were supposed to salute me—which they did but not very often.

My assignment was to look after the electronics maintenance aspects of a number of systems, particularly what was then a top secret project called the Rapier Missile Project. As a consequence I spent the remaining 18 months of my national service in a pretty cushy job working in Albert Park, living at home and being able to having a pretty free life. Lots of my friends and relatives said, ‘What are you doing in the army?’ because it was rather unusual and of course all I could answer was that I was in administration.

So I served at my two years. When I left the army I was able to finish my electronics diploma. I was able to join with two or three major multinational electronics technology companies and enjoyed a career of what was initially as an engineer and later as a sales and marketing person because that's where there was more money.

Through most of most of those years I, in1985, caught up with some of my OTU classmates and we decided we should form an association and I was one of the founders of that organisation. We've gone on and now some have something in excess of 600 members across Australia. Our major activity—apart from patting ourselves on the back and saying how good we were—has been to sponsor youth leadership programs particularly the Lord and Lady Somers camps over all those years.

In 1995, I had caught up with Adrian here and I was nominated to come and join the Shrine as a as a Trustee. I fortunately knew David Ford as well and Bruce Ruxton who was an old mate—a neighbour of ours in Beaumauris who had convinced me to join the Beaumauris RSL—supported my application so that's how I came to join the Trust. Since then I've had a number of projects. Thanks to George I was nominated to become the Chair of the Gallipoli Oaks Project which was run by the National Trust in Victoria and through that in the Centenary of Anzac we managed to propagate some 600 Gallipoli oak trees which were planted in the gardens of schools throughout Victoria

A little later I joined the Woodend RSL and took on a major project there of creating a wall of remembrance at the Avenue of Honour in Woodend which was a great success to commemorate those from the district who had served in World War One—one of whom was my grandfather. I later became the President of Woodend RSL and for my sins I was just recently awarded RSL life membership. Thank you, Ray.

Mr Ray Andrews: Thank you very much peter and I thank the four of you for sharing your military background and your experience with us, it's been most interesting,


Reviewed 20 August 2021