By Margaret Maccoll
Kenneth John Bridges enlisted in the Merchant Navy during WWII as a 16-year-old in Sydney and has dedicated his life to the defence forces, working for the past 30 years with the RSL to assist other veterans and their families.
His contribution to the community has been recognized with an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in this year’s Queens Honours list.
The 92-year-old Noosa North Shore resident said the award came as “quite a surprise” and he hoped to celebrate it next Wednesday on the occasion of his wife Chris’ 88th birthday.
Mr Bridges grew up from the age of nine years in a family of just he and his mother after his father passed away from injuries suffered during WWI.
“I finished my intermediate school,“ he said. “I got an office boy job with a newspaper. The war was on and I wanted to do something. I thought dad did it, I’ll do it – I’ll back him up.
“I found a way of getting myself off to sea. I organised to do a gunnery course with the navy and had that qualification. Because I got that certificate I became a seaman.“
Mr Bridges was a seaman and a gunner on Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships (DEMS) which meant they could only fire in defense not in attack. He travelled across the Pacific at the call of the defense services during the war, then on his return after the war joined the Royal Australian Navy going on to serve in the Korean War.
It was not his war service that earned him his recent accolade but the 20-30 years of welfare work he has contributed since moving to Noosa.
“I assist people with their claims for pensions and give advice on where to go to solve their problems,” he said. “That’s anything from household problems through to guidance of parents whose children are looking for training. A welfare officer is more or less a knocking post.”
With a membership in the Tewantin-Noosa RSL of about 500 that involves quite a lot of people and their relatives.
Mr Bridges is also chairman of the Noosa North Shore Rural Fire Brigade. After retiring from the navy he was employed as a fire protection consultant so was well suited to a role with the rural fire brigade where he has also volunteered for about 30 years.
Kenneth and Chris have two children who both followed their father in to the navy. Graeme is a Merchant captain and John, a retired computer technician. Their grandchildren are scattered across the world.