3 unsung heroes reunited in aged care

Great Grandfather Bob Sadler had no idea he was living alongside two brothers in arms, in an Aged Care home in Geelong. But in a twist of fate, the three British seniors have all just been honoured with commemorative service medals, and developed a new unbreakable bond. 

It was more than 50 years ago when three men, all now around 80 years old, were conscripted into the British Armed Forces, a world away from their current home in Australia.

So it came as a shock when all three were awarded service honours from the British High Commission this year.  

“I thought… wow,” says Bob, “I never expected any kind of recognition because it’s not a medal for a deed that I performed, it’s for services to my country. And in a nutshell, as far as my grandchildren or great grandchildren are concerned, their grand-dad is now ‘Mongol the Magnificent’.”

The badge was organised by the British High Commission more than a decade ago, but 78 year old Bob Sadler, and 82 year olds Eric Wainwright and Ron Ridyard didn’t find out about it as they had all since moved continents. But a volunteer at Bupa Bellarine Shane Clarke connected the dots, and alerted the British Embassy of the trio’s new home.

To read more about the efforts Shane Clarke has gone to, to make a difference in the lives of others, check our story 'The quiet volunteer making dreams come true.'

War veteran laying a wreath

The three men have become the best of friends, wearing their new commemorative badges with pride. 

“It’s amazing to think they’ve walked the same paths, but never before met,” says Bupa Bellarine General Manager Jannie Piercy.

“It was really wonderful, and it did bring about a real sense of mateship. Those three men now eat their lunches together, and spend time at the RSL club together, so it’s given them a wonderful new connection.”

“It’s a strange thing you know, we come from very different backgrounds,” says Bob. “But it’s like a brotherhood. When we wear our uniform or when we wear our berets, we’re exactly the same. There’s no graphic designer, CEO or storeman, there are just three old timers who are back in the services again.”

The stories to come out of the trio’s discussions could fill a library.

“I still have nightmares today,” says Bob. “When I was doing my service I had to go to Belsen concentration camp (a Nazi concentration camp), twice.” 
Ron and Eric were both with the Royal Airforce.
 
Bob was a Cipher Operator, responsible for encoding and decoding secret messages, in Germany between 1959 and 1961.
 
“We had no phones in those days, but I had a computer before people in the real world even knew what computers were. It was called an AFSAM - American Forces Secret Automatic Machine, and it had 6 wheels.” he remembers.
 
“I had to decode this one message and it said that two British officers had fought a dawn duel, and there were senior officers there as referees, all five had been caught and were dismissed of their services. And they used their revolvers to shoot each other. In a duel. Bang.”
 
Until recently, Bob was sworn to secrecy, strictly forbidden from telling even his wife, anything about his work in the armed forces. 
 
“I was still covered by the Official Secrets Act 45 years after I left the British Army.”
Unsung heroes sitting at table

His wife Muriel is also living in the Bupa Aged Care home, the couple share a room and have just celebrated their 58th Wedding Anniversary. 

Bob left for the war just two months after they were married, but Muriel wrote him a letter every day he was away, without fail. 

“We met when I was 17 and she was 16,” Bob remembers. “She told me her mother was profoundly deaf and she’d grown up being her mother’s ears. I had a profoundly deaf father and I grew up being my father’s ears, so we fitted into each other’s families perfectly. Now we have four daughters, four grandchildren, and four great grandchildren.” 

The Bupa home held a special celebration to honour the men and their new badges, in recognition of their past, and their incredible history.

The relationship and recognition has brought new life to the three friends, who now stand up just that little bit taller, and walk with a little spring in their steps.

For some great ideas on small things you can do to make a big difference in the lives of the people you care about, check out our article “7 ways to show your greats you care.”

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