There was a very special presentation at the RSL Pavilion during the get-together to thank volunteers involved in Tenterfield’s outstanding Remembrance Day centenary commemorations.
WWII veteran Bob Smith was presented with a Quilt of Valour – specially-designed and created by local quilters under the auspices of Quilts of Valour Australia (QOVA) – for his service to our country.
QOVA was started in 2010 by Victorian Helen Comport after an injured Australian Army soldier in Afghanistan was awarded a quilt made by American quilters. Touched by the gesture, on his return he ventured that it would be wonderful to see Australians making quilts for its defence personnel touched by war.
QOVA is now supported by quilters’ guilds, RSL branches and many individuals, so far awarding more than 1000 quilts.
The only criteria is that the recipient has been ‘touched by war’, and Mr Smith certainly meets that criteria. Born in Sydney on 1924, he enlisted on April, 1942 in Tenterfield and then undertook training at Puckapunyal in Victoria before seeing active service in New Guinea. He was discharged on March 12, 1946.
One of the highlights of his military career was being presented with his own jeep by General Douglas Macarthur.
QOVA awarded a quilt to acknowledge Mr Smith’s service, sacrifice and valour. The quilt’s construction represents the ideals QOVA wishes to convey: the design with its many colours, shapes and fabrics are the communities and the individuals that make up Australia; the wadding filling the centre is the hope that the quilt brings warmth, comfort, peace and healing; the backing is the strength that supports the other layers; and each stitch holding the layers together is the love, gratitude and sometimes the tears of the makers.
Mr Smith’s Quilt of Valour was created with fabrics donated by local quilters Pam Hartfield, Lyn Scholes and Janel Holmes, with Mrs Holmes assembling the final product.
After enlisting in the Citizen Military Forces on April 29, 1942 at the age of 18, Robert Noel Ritchie Smith – better known as Bob – was equipped with army gear at Sydney Showground and slept on the floor of the Cattle Pavilion with hundreds of other soldiers.
He trained in various army camps and from 1942-1943 served in Armoured Division – Second Mortar Regiment as wireless operator.
He transferred to the Australian Imperial Forces in 1943, spending some time at Stony Creek Camp near Tenterfield for infantry training.
Then it was off to Canungra Jungle Training Camp, spending several months training other soldiers in jungle warfare, including military tactics and operating machine guns in tropical conditions.
Next he joined 2/3 Australian Infantry Battalion 16th Brigade of the 6th Division at Wondecla in the Atherton Tablelands. The unit had already served in the Middle East and Owen Stanley Ranges in New Guinea, so he found himself amongst many battle-hardened soldiers considerably older than himself.
They sailed to New Guinea from Cairns in December 1944 aboard the troop ship Bontekoe, a Dutch cargo vessel manned by Dutch officers and an Indonesian crew, celebrating Christmas at sea on the troop ship.
Disembarking at Aitape meant over the side of the ship down nets to a barge bobbing alongside, as there was no wharf. He fought against the Japanese in the Aitape/Wewak area until July 1945, taking part in the amphibious landing north of Wewak in the Sepik River area using four-inch French mortars operating from the landing barge.
The operation was completely successful, with the landing party driving inland immediately to cut off the enemy’s possible escape route to the east and south-east. The weather conditions at the time were treacherous with heavy rain and major flooding of numerous rivers emptying into the sea along the 100-mile stretch of coast.
Mr Smith returned to serve in Australia after the death of his father, spending his remaining days in the Transport Unit in Brisbane before being discharged in 1946.