Preparations for next year’s Digger Day celebrations in the Shoalhaven are ramping up.
Digger Day chairman Rick Meehan and Digger Day vice-chairman and national president of the Iraq Afghanistan and Middle East Veterans Association of Australia Fred Campbell will later this week fly to the UK to meet with Victoria Cross recipients Bill Speakman, Johnson Beharry and Josh Leakey.
“We are firming up the details of Digger Day 2018,” Mr Meehan said.
“That includes meeting with the three UK VC recipients.”
They will also meet with Australian High Commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer.
“We have a few ideas and surprises for next year’s Digger Day,” Mr Campbell said “and for them to come off we need Mr Downer’s help in organising a couple of things.”
Digger Day 2018 will be held on July 28, and will mark the centenary of the end of World War 1.
The annual Digger Day clash between Shoalhaven and Kiama rugby clubs will be held at Shoalhaven Rugby Club followed by a special Digger Day charity ball at the Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre that evening.
“We are going to have Victoria Cross recipients from Australian, the UK, Nepal and New Zealand attending,” Mr Meehan said.
“It will be the largest gathering of VC recipients in the Southern Hemisphere in the past 50 years,” Mr Campbell said.
As well as paying homage to the VC recipients, a number of Cross of Valor and George Cross recipients, the civilian equivalent of the military VC, will also be present on the day.
“While it is primarily a military event it is also a chance to pay respect to those civilians who have shown courage and extreme valour in gained the civilian equivalent,” Mr Meehan said.
“It really will be a one-off event,” Mr Meehan said “something that is unlikely to ever happen again in Australia and it’s fantastic that it’s being held right here in the Shoalhaven.”
Award winning journalist Ross Coulthart who brilliantly bought The Lost Diggers of Vignacourt back to life, will interview each of the VC, Cross of Valour and George Cross recipients on stage during the evening.
“We will also have family of men who have been awarded the VC present - the likes of Doug Baird, father of Australia’s last VC recipient the late Cameron Baird, Brian Kenny, Alice Foster and George Wheatley,” Mr Meehan said.
Throughout the evening there will also be a number of guest performances.
Once again the Navy’s Fleet Air Arm at HMAS Albatross will play a major role in the event, flying the VIP guests into Rugby Park onboard helicopters prior to the big match, while Albatross squadrons will also feature in a number of static displays.
The Army Parachute Training School is also a great support, with the Red Berets parachuting into Rugby Park on the day.
Digger Day has been running for six years, designed to support veterans in Australia.
“We support all veterans,” Mr Meehan said “but have a strong affiliation with contemporary veterans who have experienced injury, illness and trauma from the Iraq, Afghanistan conflicts.”