When you hear the term ‘veteran’, what images come to your mind? The general image portrayed in the media is of men, usually older, with a row of medals pinned to their uniform, but is this accurate?
Veterans have one thing in common, they have all served or are currently serving their country. Whether male, female, full time or part time, deployed or home service.
In 2018, a veteran initiative called ‘By the Left’ is broadening the public’s perception of what a veteran looks like. This is in response to many veterans, predominantly younger and/or female veterans being challenged about their medals.
In most circumstances, veterans are being mistakenly questioned about whose medals they are wearing. However, some are being aggressively challenged and abused for apparently wearing someone else’s medals on the left side.
This has resulted in hundreds of veterans, particularly those who have been consistently questioned for many years, feeling isolated from the veteran community as their experiences mean that they no longer march or wear their medals.
One woman who will be marching is Christine Brunton, who joined the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) in 1968 as a Radio Operator Telegraphist. Christine served at HMAS Harman in Canberra and HMAS Kuttabul in Sydney. Back in the day, WRANS were discharged on marriage.
Christine credits her earlier career in the Navy as giving her the confidence to pursue further study at University. Christine now enjoys retirement in Maleny but keeps active with the RSL Maleny Sub Branch, Navy Women Queensland and volunteer work in Maleny.
Another Sunshine Coast local, Cathy Stamp, joined the RAAF in 1983, enlisting as a stenographer. She was commissioned in 2001 as Personnel Capability Officer and has served in Australia and Malaysia.
In 1999 Cathy was operationally deployed in East Timor and served a further two deployments in the Middle East in 2002 and 2009.
Cathy retired from the RAAF as a Squadron Leader in 2011 and is currently a member of the RSL Caloundra Sub Branch and was recently elected as Vice President of Caloundra RSL Services Club.
Cathy and Christine are both veterans who are proud to wear their medals on the left on ANZAC Day. They are calling all other female veterans join them this ANZAC Day to march together under one banner.
‘By the Left’ coordinator Ms Kellie Dadds reiterates that they are asking the public to view veterans as young, old, male, female, serving and ex-serving.
“If asked what a veteran looks like, most will describe an older white male marching proudly with medals swinging. As a result, many veterans who do not fit that identity are being questioned about their medals.”
‘By the Left’ seeks to broaden the identity of a veteran, particularly given the recently updated definition of a veteran from ‘returned service’ to ‘current and ex-serving members of the ADF’.
The inclusion of those who provided home service has been important to many. There is a generation of veterans who served between Vietnam and East Timor who did not have the opportunity to deploy, however their service is no less valued than those who did serve overseas.
‘By the Left’ is not about medals, it is about the identity of a veteran. But the initiative’s apparent focus on medals is because the public often only identifies a veteran when they wear their medals.
The culminating event for the ‘By the Left’ initiative is encouraging female veterans in particular, to march in normal ANZAC Day marches in 2018.
Marching on ANZAC Day is symbolic for many veterans, as it is a gathering of those who have served marching towards the cenotaph to honour those who did not return home.
Ms Dadds stated, “For one year only, female veterans are being invited to march together to welcome back and support their mates who have been impacted by this issue.”
‘By the Left’ is also encouraging all veterans to march with a group who they feel best identifies their service.
“Indications so far are that hundreds of women will be marching, many for the first time, with the usual ex-service women organisations who have marched together for over 40 years. We anticipate that Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney will have the largest gatherings,” Ms Dadds said.
There is a new facebook page, ‘By the Left’, dedicated to improving the perception of veterans, and the page already has over 4000 followers.
There are profiles of women currently serving, advice on how to send care packages, shared posts on what certain medals mean, and men and women sharing information experiences, historical knowledge and ANZAC Day locations and events.
There are also veterans on the page who have found new ways to support those being deployed. RAN and RAAF veteran, Jan-Maree Ball, is the founder of Aussie Hero Quilt, and makes laundry bags and quilts for thousands of ADF members – a trail of ‘thank you’s’ runs beside her picture.
This is a year to make a positive step towards more inclusion for female veterans, young and old. So best foot forward, and march.