“The importance of the Poppy Appeal is that we need to raise money for veterans, and not just the veterans in our area, but veterans in general. We just have to get out there and do it.”
Chris Newell is a man of his word. That’s exactly what he and his partner of over 20 years, Janet McGregor do.
In his role as Appeals Co-ordinator of the Lilydale RSL Sub-Branch, Chris and Janet’s volunteer efforts are intrinsic to the success of the ANZAC and Poppy Appeals. The pair coordinates volunteers, stock and fundraising efforts around their local area.
“We’ve got 12 schools on board this year and there are about 35 boxes in shops and local businesses,” said Chris.
“We are also in two major shopping centres and a big Bunnings in the area, these are manned by volunteers for 11 days.”
“We’ve got a fantastic group of volunteers. Without them, we could never do it,” said Janet.
In what is a relatively small community, the fundraising efforts from Lilydale in recent Appeals have been impressive.
“It just goes to show how much the Australian public respect those who have served,” Janet said.
The pair has seen exactly how the much-needed funds are used.
"We’ve got a veteran who is in and out of hospital, he is pretty sick. So, he is getting help from us. We’ve got another veteran who is having trouble paying their bills, so we’re helping there where we can. We’ve got older veterans who can’t clean their roof gutters and things like that, so we’ll give them assistance."
As an ex-serviceman with the Allied Forces, Chris knows he would be supported too, should he ever need it.
“If anything happens and I need help, I’d get it from the RSL.”
When ambitions to join the police force didn’t materialise, Chris’ mother arranged interviews for him with the Royal Navy.
After an initial unsuccessful attempt to join, Chris began his 12 years of service.
Chris was just 15 at the time.
“I didn’t enjoy it to start with. I signed up for nine years and it wasn’t until months later that it was explained to me that you could sign up for nine years only from the age of 18. Being only 15 at the time, I had a few extra years.”
His time in the navy took him all over the world, including places that would be unrecognisable now.
“We went to the Persian Gulf, and we just went up and down the grid doing oceanographic surveys. We spent our time off in Bahrain, which was quite good at the time. We also visited places like Dubai and Qatar, Abu Dhabi, when there was absolutely nothing there!”
Chris also made it to America, South America, South Africa, India, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, which is when he set his sights on the country to eventually immigrate to in 1985.
From time at sea on a survey vessel, to working on an aircraft carrier and being flown all over the work doing fleet maintenance, Chris’ work was varied.
By the time 12 years of service came around, Chris was married and had a child.
"I thought the best thing to do was just to leave the service. Had I not been married I probably would have stayed in."
When Chris left the navy, he used his skills as a mechanic to work for a company that hired out big machinery, before he requalified as a plasterer.
Just down the road from his home in Melbourne was the Lilydale RSL Sub-Branch.
“I used to go past it often and have a look in…I bumped into a bunch of guys who were a friendly bunch. I still keep in touch with one of them now, most of the others have passed.”
His connection to the Sub-Branch grew and he formalised it by becoming a member in the late 1980s.
Janet has her own family connections to service, with both her mother and father having served in the Royal Air Force.
While Chris and Janet each have their own motivation to help raise money for the life-changing support the RSL provides, they both share the same goal.
“We’re happy to do this for our local community in support of our veterans.”