26 July 2023

The guiding light for families of fallen soldiers - Legacy marks centenary with torch relay through the Illawarra

| Keeli Royle
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Greg Keir holding torch with servicepeople and Legacy sign behind him at Wollongong Lighthouse.

Veterans, volunteers and beneficiaries marked 100 years of Legacy as the centenary torch made its way through the Illawarra. Photos: Keeli Royle.

From the front line to the Wollongong foreshore, local veterans have joined the Illawarra community to commemorate 100 years of an important organisation which supports the families of fallen servicepeople.

The Legacy Centenary Torch Relay made its way through the streets of Wollongong after travelling all the way from France and England earlier this year.

The Governor-General David Hurley, who walked hand-in-hand with his wife Linda for a leg of the relay, said Wollongong had made a significant contribution to Legacy over the past century but it was also personally an important place for him.

“I’m the patron of Legacy Australia so I have a responsibility in that sense, but Wollongong is my hometown and with the torch relay going through Australia it’s a good place to be involved.

“These are very important occasions and for me, it’s a link to my military career, to my position I hold with Legacy, and now to the history of Legacy, it all comes nicely together here,” General Hurley added.

Volunteers, beneficiaries and veterans were among the 20 torch bearers selected with the special task of representing the Illawarra region in the relay.

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Philip McNamara transferred his flame to fellow Vietnam veteran Greg Keir at the war’s memorial on Flagstaff hill.

Both men have been with Legacy for decades after seeing firsthand the impact the organisation can make.

“I lost my platoon sergeant and Legacy looked after Joan and young Mark tremendously well,” Mr McNamara said. “I joined Legacy in 1984 and I’ve been part of Legacy ever since, trying to pass on something back for all the good work that it did to look after Joan and Mark and all the other people who have been affected by war.”

“It’s one of those things, you’ve got to look for an area where you can give back,” Mr Keir said.

“You can join the RSL or the Vietnams Veterans society and I’m a member of both but it’s all focused on the veteran themselves,” he added. “At Legacy we focus on the wives and children and it just makes a difference.”

Mr Keir said that when he joined the organisation there were 4000 Legacy widows in the area but over time that number had significantly reduced.

He said the organisation was also focused on the next generation and those growing up without the support of that parent who made the ultimate sacrifice during service.

“We’ve still got a lot of kids and put them through school and university, whatever they need. Essentially what we do is we take the place of the veteran because he’s not here.”

Legacy Australia Chairman Eric Easterwood said personal experiences and stories by these veterans helped create a community for families.

“Servicemen and women have stepped up to support the families of those men or women who have given their life or health and it’s the comradeship among those people, the legatees, all volunteers, it’s the friendship, comradeship and then the connection with the families.

“We’re the only ESO (ex-service organisation) that has that personal contact with the families to hear what the issues are and say to the family in some cases that they understand what they’re going through because they are service men and women as well,” he added.

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But the charity still relies on support and donations from the wider community to continue its important work.

And the Governor-General said that although people may buy a badge around ANZAC Day, the services extended well beyond a single event.

“This is another reminder that it’s not one day a year, it’s a constant thing, Legacy is 365 days a year and work can be done, so thank you people who’ve supported it.”

The torch relay will continue through towns in NSW, ACT, Victoria and Tasmania, before it makes its final stop in Melbourne on 13 October.

To find out more or to donate visit the Legacy website.

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