WHEN Redcliffe RSL had to cancel its Anzac Day services this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, president Neville Cullen was devastated, but then he had an idea.
The Vietnam veteran thought the RSL could broadcast a Dawn Service on community radio station 99.7fm, featuring most of the elements that drew tens of thousands of people to the foreshore every year. But instead of taking in the service at Anzac Place, they could listen to the service on the radio in the safety of their own homes.
The radio station agreed and so it is set – a Dawn Service will be broadcast at 5.15am, featuring poetry from Rupert McCall, hymns by David Taylor, prayers from the Salvation Army, an address from Neville and hosted by vice-president Cheryl Barrett.
It will be prerecorded to ensure those taking part are not at risk of contracting COVID-19. Cheryl may be the only person in the studio,” Neville explains.
And the 5.15am start means it will be finished in time for people wanting to “standto” on their driveways at 6am for #lightupthedawn.
“It seems to have taken off very quickly,” he says. “I think, possibly, we’re one of the only RSLs doing this sort of thing.”
While the service will give veterans, families and the broader community an opportunity to pause and remember the sacrifices made by Diggers, it sadly won’t replace an important reunion that also takes place on Anzac Day.
Diggers won’t be able to see their mates, but Neville says they should still make an effort to connect by picking up the phone and ensuring no one feels alone. “I think it’s vitally important that we still keep an eye on our younger vets because they’re going through hell at the moment,” he says.
This year’s service was to focus on nurses and medics in times of war, so Moreton Life asked Neville to share his service as a medic during the Vietnam War.
He joined the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps in 1964, aged 17¾, after his grandmother gave her consent.
His grandfather Edward Denis Neven was a Light Horseman in WWI, his mother served in the women’s air force in WWII and his father was a trooper in Papua New Guinea during WWII.
He did two tours of Vietnam – the first from 1966-67 as a medic with the First Armoured Personnel Carriers Squadron (1APC) and then with 2 Field Ambulance, and the second from 1971-72 as a Sergeant with 8 Field Ambulance.
He was in charge of the dust-off medics. “These are the medics that go out in the helicopter and pick up the wounded from the field and bring them back. It was pretty dangerous because we used to have to go in where they were fighting and do ‘hot extractions’ while they were still under fire,” Neville explains.
“We virtually became the doctor and that’s what they called you, Doc,” Neville says.
His service in Vietnam had a lasting impact and shaped the man Neville has become.
“One thing I wanted to do was to become a registered nurse.” And so, when Neville returned home he became a hospital orderly, studying for the nursing entrance exam at night school. He became a charge nurse at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Sydney and quickly rose through the ranks.
Before his retirement in 1987, he was a principal policy officer with Queensland Health.
He visited Redcliffe for the first time when he was on leave from exercise with the Army. He remembers travelling on the old Hornibrook Bridge and thinking how beautiful the Peninsula was.
When he was working at Ipswich he and a friend opened a restaurant at Margate and Neville moved to the Peninsula in 1982. He joined the Redcliffe RSL soon after.
It was his first contact with the RSL and he’s now Redcliffe’s longest-serving president, clocking up more than 14 years in the role.
“At that time, it was after the big march in Canberra for the Vietnam Veterans, I could see the RSL was changing because we weren’t welcomed by the RSL when we first got back,” he explains.