Occasionally in life you have the special privilege of meeting someone who has an enormous effect on your life. In my case it was lucky enough to be a war veteran, who we all stand and recognise this Saturday on ANZAC Day.

23 years ago we opened the first SSPC clinic, and it didn’t take long for this gentleman, Allan, to walk into the clinic requesting an appointment. We didn’t have a receptionist back in the starting days, Rob and I did it ourselves, and in one of life’s many “sliding doors moments” it was me that was sitting at reception when he walked in. Little did I know that booking this appointment would have such a profound effect on my life.

I still recall all those years ago listening to the story of why Allan was seeking treatment: severe burns in his legs following a mishap when working as a signalman on his beloved HMS Mildura and it was these injuries that brought him to me for treatment.

A professional relationship pretty quickly became a friendship; a friendship developed into a deep bond, and a deep bond developed into that great word so symbolic of the diggers: “mateship”.

Every Friday at 11am for years, he would walk into the clinic – greet everybody by name, ask everyone how they were. It was his time, his spot, and my most eagerly anticipated appointment, week after week, year after year. We talked footy, we talked life, we talked families. Allan’s primary concern was always others, never himself. I was always fearful of asking too much about the war, a topic I was fascinated about – it was more of a respect of the possibility that this topic might be off limits, or bring back memories that were haunting. But I should have known – Allan surrounded himself with books, with articles, and with memorabilia so symbolic to the war he fought and the ship he sailed on. To this day I regret not asking more questions, a regret that can never be resolved. I’m sure he would have been proud to talk more, as he was so proud to have been a navy man!

As I was starting newsletters for the clinic, fumbling my way through on a foreign computer, he was typing away on the HMS Mildura newsletter which he initiated himself, taking great pride over many years, keeping the Mildura mates together through a constant communication. To Allan, his war mates were his brothers, and whilst the times that brought them together were horrific, the times afterwards he would ensure were happy.  It was incredibly sad, every year, when the HMS Mildura veterans had their annual lunch – “there’s not many of us left Anthony”.

I will never forget my final day  with Allan– the visit to hospital, not quite realising how seriously ill he was, refusing to accept he would be anything but eternal! He had won every other battle in his life, this would be another one. We spoke for nearly 30 minutes, and I thought he’s won again! There were no signs to indicate he was done. But then he said the words: “Anthony I’m done, I’ve had a great life, I’m ready to go”. How could this be, my eternal mate, my hero, a man who has taught me humility; and pride; and honour; and honesty; and sincerity.

With tears streaming down my face, I tried to talk him out of it – surely not now? But he was tired. And I quickly realised the fight was not lost – the fight was won! A great life. Signing off leaving nothing not done, no regrets, having made a real difference to life, making everyone who had the honour of meeting him a better person. This man who had fought so many years ago for the life we now live, had fought as long as he could to cling on to the fragile gift of life. He had squeezed every last drop out of his own gift of life, and I was lucky enough to be showered by many of those drops along the way, including one of the very last ones.

One final kiss on the cheek, a goodbye, a thankyou. How will I ever forget walking out of the room – how do you describe walking away from someone for the very last time, knowing it’s the last time? It’s more than heart breaking.

The very next day, Mr Allan Waugh did become eternal – eternally 94!

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

The war was so important to him, and it was one of his life goals to ensure that the veterans were remembered, the battles never forgotten, the men honoured – his mates! The least we can do this Saturday morning is be in our driveways at dawn and hold a candle for our diggers. And I’ll be holding one for my mate!

Anthony Lance