Ken Bridges in full uniform in 1951.
Ken Bridges in full uniform in 1951. Contributed

Ken's been connected to the RSL since childhood

AS FAR as dedication to the RSL goes, Ken Bridges is a shining example.

Humble yet passionate, the 90-year-old Tewantin veteran has lived his life in the service of his country and fellow veterans.

It was his early experiences which proved to be a driving force throughout Ken's life.

His father Cyprian (known as Sep), a World War One returned soldier, was allocated an allotment at Griffith in NSW to develop a small navel orange farm as part of the soldier settlement.

He was also instrumental in the development of the Griffith RSL Sub Branch, where Ken spent his early years attending functions and gatherings with his father.

"I became aware of the values of the RSL when, as a six-year-old, I attended many occasions and activities of the league, because of my father's very busy involvement," Ken said.

 

 

Ken Bridges, now living in Tewantin, has had a life-long connection to the RSL.
Ken Bridges, now living in Tewantin, has had a life-long connection to the RSL. Contributed

"In those days with my father and in the gatherings there was nearly always several other boys involved with their fathers, and we were able to get a fairly detailed explanation of what they were doing - mainly the mateship side of things.

"On some occasions there'd be a bit of reminiscing about wartime days but not very much, mostly it was the positive of now and what they're going to do; it was always forward thinking.

"The Griffith RSL was a place for ex-service men and their families to gather, with regular social events, Saturday night dances and Sunday afternoon sport providing opportunities to congregate.

"Because they had that, with all the hard work they were doing in developing these properties, they had a leisure outlet that they appreciated very much; it was so important.

"Kids would notice it because we were part of it too."

While Ken's father managed to achieve his goals with the farm despite ill health, he succumbed to the toll of the war and the physical labour of the property at the age of 36.

At this time, 10-year-old Ken and his mother moved back to Sydney to be with her family and Ken grew up with one goal in mind: to serve his country.

He joined the Merchant Navy at the age of 15 in 1942, serving in the Pacific until 1945.

"My admiration for dad and his mates was foremost in mind when I managed to get to sea in the Merchant Navy," Ken said.

Being trained as a seaman gunner meant that he could go north and with Cairns being a cargo port, he would stop in at the RSL sub-branch and club.

 

 

"Whilst quenching my underage thirst, I approached the secretary to make an application for membership of the RSL.

"As I was in active overseas service, it was granted."

That was December 1944 and was the start of Ken's 72 years of membership of the RSL.

Having the early experiences of the organisation and knowing the impact it had on his father's life, being involved with the RSL was an obvious step for him.

"As well as being one of the serving personnel during the Second World War, I felt it was very obvious that I'd want to be involved in the RSL, because I wanted the memories, I wanted the lifestyle," he said.

The first RSL membership badge he received, with just a sailor and soldier on it, was the same as his father's badge from some 20 years earlier.

At the end of the war, Ken transferred his membership to the RSL in North Sydney and became involved in more of the social and community activities, including teaching children to swim through the RSL program.

Another transfer shortly after, to the Mosman RSL, came about when Ken transferred to the Royal Australian Navy in 1946.

After marrying his wife Chris in 1952, Ken transferred his RSL membership to the Bondi RSL, becoming involved again in the swimming program.

After serving at sea in occupational duties and during the Korean War, he discharged from the RAN in 1956 and settled in Epping, NSW.

His membership of the Epping RSL Sub Branch saw a great level of involvement, from swim coaching, golf and lawn bowls to hosting weekly gatherings for World War One survivors.

"It was so good to be in the personal company of these great blokes," he recalled.

"The two-hour sessions brought back so much to them as true cobbers, however these hours were also something that gave me more than they realised as well.

"I felt it was just like dad's days. But I was aware of the need for what we now have as constant welfare."

Ken was also instrumental in establishing the NSW component of the RSL Bowls Association and helped start a national competition.

In 1983, one last move was on the cards, as Ken and Chris retired to Tewantin, where joining the Tewantin-Noosa RSL Sub Branch was a foregone conclusion, as was getting even more involved.

Ken established the Tewantin-Noosa RSL bowls group and served a five-year term as sub-branch president, during which time the membership grew significantly, with the aid of a supportive committee.

Having been a member of a number of sub-branches across two states, Ken finds solace in the shared objectives with activities and meeting the obligations of the RSL.

"I've been able to put my hand up for committees and have been on just about every type of committee, because I was interested in the facilities that we had to offer to the ex-service family and to other people in the community."

Now with a membership of about 700 at the Tewantin-Noosa RSL Sub Branch, Ken is looking forward to helping the younger generations make their mark.

"We have a good mix across the generations ... there's an activity and job for everyone to get involved in.

"Making a difference in the wider community is so much a part of our objective here."

Having been exposed to the RSL environment for 84 years, Ken has seen generations of veterans come and go, but there is one thing that he believes is common among them.

"They all appreciate the fact that there is such a good organisation (here for them).

"Whether they are active in any way, whether it be social or in a voluntary sense, they all feel the same way.

"There is a very strong feeling though that we can get something done."

And one thing that hasnt changed as younger generations came through is being able to relate to each other through conversation.

"In social settings, as things develop and we have activities, conversations would come up with anything you can think of today."

With all of his experiences, contributions and achievements, Ken's most memorable day is September 14, 2006 - the day he was presented life membership of the RSL.

"My thoughts of the 1930s and those old Diggers I admired will never be forgotten," he says.

"The satisfaction of being just a small cog in the whole wheel, and you know this is filled with genuine people, its so important.

"It is a very large part of my life, it always has been.

"Being a part of the ex-service family has no parallel in my mind.

"That family has made Australia what we are."


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