Think Piece: Sandy Palmer died today

helen-meyer_original“Sandy Palmer died today.” These were the words my husband greeted me with that day a few years back, as I pulled into the driveway and exited the car with shopping bags in each hand.

I stared incredulously at him and remarked about that statement being in extremely poor taste. “I’m not kidding” he said. “Sandy really did pass away this morning.”  I collapsed onto the ground and burst into tears.  “Don’t cry” my Vietnam Veteran husband consoled. “Don’t #$#$%*! well tell me not to cry!” I sobbed angrily up at him.  I seldom ever swear, and am not normally prone to anger, but somehow that day it was imperative to stress my anguish.

Indeed my dear friend Sandy Palmer had unexpectedly died that morning. My fit, healthy, wise and wonderful ex-Army friend had gone, and I found myself experiencing grief such as I had seldom experienced before.

Sandy and I, along with Helen Adamson, had all been in the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps. Me in the 1960s, and Sandy Palmer and Helen Adamson in the 1970s and ‘80s. We three had formed a close bond.  People referred to us as Helen, Helen and Sandy.  We were all married to Veterans of the war in Vietnam and shared a common bond of understanding regarding the impact their service had had.

A few months prior we had volunteered our time to the Army Museum of South Australia (AMOSA), based at Keswick Barracks. The Curator there at the time was LT COL Sven Kuusk (Rtd). One of Sven’s pet projects happened to be preserving the memory and memorabilia of The Cheer-Up Society, and it wasn’t long before we three friends began taking greater interest in what Sven was telling us about the women who were involved in this remarkable home front effort we later learned was unique to South Australia. We realised that there didn’t seem to be much (or any) recognition of the Cheer-Ups on Anzac Day each year – or any other day of the year for that matter. We also realised that any surviving members of the Cheer-Up Society would be getting on in age, and in all probability would not be with us for very much longer.

So we chatted with Sven about the possibility of holding a “Remember the Cheer-Ups” event at the Museum to say thank you to any surviving members for the work they had done all those years ago. Sven readily agreed and we set about planning the event.

Then Sandy died.

Margaret Cooper (former RAANC, and wife of a Vietnam Veteran) joined Sven, Helen Adamson and me on our small committee and we set about encouraging the support of the SA Branch of The Partners of Veterans’ Association of Australia to assist us. In November 2006 we successfully held a two day “Remember the Cheer-Ups” event at Keswick. Marjorie Jackson Nelson AC, CVO, MBE was Governor of South Australia at the time and graciously attended the opening ceremony along with senior officers from the Army, Navy and Air Force.

It was ironic that these high ranking dignitaries sat and listened to a dedication made to our dear friend Sandy Palmer that day; a former private in the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps.

The two day ‘Remember the Cheer-Ups’ event was a huge success, attended by many ageing Cheer-Ups who were delighted to be recognised and thanked for their work all those years ago. Some cried. Most clapped and sang along to the music of yesteryear, examined old photos, discussed war work, and enjoyed the ballroom dancing exhibitions that were put on especially for them by the Arthur Murray School of Dancing.

A truly memorable event for us all. Sandy would’ve been pleased.

The Anzac Centenary commemorations have reminded me of the importance of remembering those who have served, in whatever way they have served. And if at all possible, to take the time to let them know their contribution was, and is still valued. It doesn’t need to be a huge flag waving acknowledgement, but an acknowledgement none-the-less.

In 2013, I was invited to speak at a special Legacy service to commemorate widows, wives and partners of veterans past and present. My husband had passed away a few years earlier. It was an opportunity for me to share my insights into the impact my husband’s service had on him and on me and to reflect on all that had transpired. After my talk a young Vietnamese man approached me. He shook my hand and simply said that he would like to say thank you to my husband for what he had done for Vietnam.

It would’ve been nice if Walter could have heard that thanks.


 

Producer of the highly successful new Radio Programme, Service Voices, Helen Meyer served in the Australian Army in the 1960s, then went on to a career in the insurance industry.  When her husband passed away, Legacy Adelaide invited Helen to join a team of widows on their radio show called The Legacy Hour, which had commenced broadcasting in 2012. Helen became the Producer of the show in late 2014 and helped build the programme’s listening audience to approximately 20,000.  The Legacy Hour ceased broadcasting in July 2016, and Helen, along with Fiona White and Sharon Mascall-Dare put together an entirely new programme called Service Voices with a broadened focus on expressing the news, views and memories of South Australia’s service community. Service Voices – service to country, service to community is set to go onto the Community Radio Network and be available for broadcast on community radio stations Australia wide from late 2016 – a great feather in the cap for South Australia! In addition to several community broadcasting awards, Helen was presented with a ‘Woman of Achievement’ Award at Adelaide Town Hall in 2014 for her service to community. She is also on the SA Women’s Honour Roll, and has served on the Boards of the SA Branch of The Partners of Veterans Association of Australia ; the University of the Third Age, Tea Tree Gully; and the Adelaide Poultry Club.  Helen is a current committee member of the War Widows Guild of Australia (SA) Incorporated.