“A SENSATIONAL event” is how chairman Rick Meehan described the 2018 Digger Day activities, commemorating 100 years since the end of World War 1.
In an historic happening it was the first time at least one surviving VC recipient from every Commonwealth country has attended one event at the same time in Australia, in fact the Southern Hemisphere.
Four Victorian Cross recipients from around the world, headed by Australia’s Keith Payne, the UK’s Johnson Beharry, Rambahadur Limbu from Nepal and New Zealand's Willie Apiata took part in the weekend.
There was also a special message at the Digger Day charity ball from the late Bill Speakman VC, who was also due to make the trip down under but passed away just weeks ago, aged 90.
They were joined by six men who have received an equivalent civilian honour, George Cross recipient Michael Pratt and Cross of Valour recipients Darrell Tree, Victor Boscoe, Allan Sparkes, Tim Britten and Richard Joyes.
“It was an absolutely massive weekend,” Mr Meehan said.
“I’m still on a high. To have the calibre of the guests we had was incredible.
“I’ve spoke to all our special guests, who attend various VC, George Cross and Cross of Valour events around the world and across the country and they have all said it was the best event they have been too.
“To me that means a lot - it’s sensational and something I’m very proud of.
“It was fantastic to bring and host such an event right here in the Shoalhaven.
Read more:Digger Day Nowra 2018
“It’s certainly something I’m very proud of.”
Even television personality Ray Martin, who was also a guest at the ball said the “Shoalhaven was batting way above average” by hosting such an event.
On Radio 2ST he said if such an event had been held in a capital city it would have been “big stuff”.
It was the seventh time the Nowra RSL Sub-Branch has hosted the popular Digger Day and the fifth local WWI centenary event, with Mr Meehan and vice-chairman Fred Campbell working for three years to ensure the final centenary event was huge.
The activities started mid week with a special book signing by Michael C. Madden of his stunning book, The Victoria Cross, Australia Remembers on the 100 Australian Victoria Cross recipients.
There were school visits by the special guests, a superb day of rugby action at Shoalhaven Rugby Park, including a spectacular fly-in of the special guests in three Royal Australian Navy helicopters and then that evening the gala charity ball at a packed Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre, where journalist Ross Coulthart was compere, interviewing each special guest.
“I must thank everyone who helped make the event the success it was,” Mr Meehan said.
“The community support has been fantastic and humbling - the way the community has embraced Digger Day has just been sensational. Shoalhaven and Kiama rugby clubs have made the day special as has the ongoing support from navy and especially the Fleet Air Arm at HMAS Albatross.
“The Nowra RSL has been steadfast, TPI Victoria great, Bomaderry Charity Trust a great support, while local firms Air Affairs and Lockheed Martin are great backers - everyone who has helped I can’t thank you enough.
“A special thank you to my wife Maryann who put up with me chasing this dream and vice-chairman Fred Campbell, my right hand man - just superb.
“And, of course, thanks to our special guests who have supported not only this events but all our Digger Days.”
And the good news is, even though the centenary commemorations of World War I are now complete, Digger Day will still continue.
“It will be back again next year - it is now entrenched in the local community’s calendar as a major event - which is great,” Mr Meehan said.
“It will continue to support veterans which is so important and continue our fight and raise awareness of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and depression within the community.”
Legendary VC Keith Payne and his wife Flo, who have attended every Digger Day, have graciously agreed to be patrons for the event.