Henry 'Corky' Caldwell and driver Phil Heesch, pull up near the Cenotaph in Grafton's Memorial Park during his mini-Anzac Day parade in Grafton yesterday.
Henry 'Corky' Caldwell and driver Phil Heesch, pull up near the Cenotaph in Grafton's Memorial Park during his mini-Anzac Day parade in Grafton yesterday. Tim Howard

100yo WWII vet marches on despite Anzac ban

HENRY "Corky" Caldwell was not going to allow "this disease" as he calls COVID-19, to cause him to miss an Anzac Day march.

He has marched or ridden on every April 25 since he returned from serving in World War II 75 years ago.

It has been a tumultuous few weeks for the veteran, beginning with his 100th birthday celebrations on March 19.

A week later, his wife Gloria died, and he was also upset he could miss his first march because Anzac Day was a casualty of the COVID-19 inspired ban on public gatherings.

SEE ALSO:

LINE THE STREETS: How we can still salute our Anzacs

His daughter, Suzanne Lofts, said her father lived for Anzac Day.

"We put up Dad's thoughts about missing Anzac Day this year on a Facebook page, Aussies and Kiwis for Anzac Day, and we had more than 3000 likes," Ms Lofts said.

The story reached Darwin where a member of the World War II Jeep Club, Paul Van Bruggen was so upset he contacted the editor of the club's newsletter in Wollongong, Mitch Holland.

He remembered a story about a 100-year-old veteran in Grafton and contacted Blaxland Creek club member Phil Heesch.

He could not have made a better contact.

Mr Heesch has been driving Corky in his Jeep in Anzac parades for most of the past decade.

"After the story had gone from Grafton to Darwin and Wollongong, it call came back to Grafton," Mr Heesch said.

Yesterday Mr Heesch picked up Corky in his usual spot at Market Square and drove him down the traditional parade route along Prince St to the cenotaph where Corky placed a wreath on its steps.

 

The Clarence Valley's 100-year-old Digger Henry 'Corky' Caldwell held his own mini-Anzac Day parade in Grafton yesterday with daughters Glenda Chappel, left and Suzanne Lofts.
The Clarence Valley's 100-year-old Digger Henry 'Corky' Caldwell held his own mini-Anzac Day parade in Grafton yesterday with daughters Glenda Chappel, left and Suzanne Lofts.

 

"Thank you," he said as placed the bouquet of flowers.

"Lest we forget," he said, standing with his hand on his heart.

Ms Lofts said the ABC's request to include Corky's story as part of its Anzac Day coverage meant he had to hold his mini-parade early.

"They have to shoot it and get it ready to broadcast on Anzac Day," she said.

For Corky the date was not so important.

"I've never missed an Anzac Day march and now I'm not going to miss this one," he said.

"All my mates have died.

"We used to meet and sit over there (Memorial Park) for the service then go to the club for lunch and a few beers.

"It's good today to remember fellows like Reggie Jackett and Clive Landenberger and the others."

Corky was not prepared to say this was his last parade.

"The record for the oldest Anzac Day marcher is 105," he said. "I'm going to beat that."

His daughters say that's a conservative estimate.

"His doctor said his pacemaker battery should last him to 107," said Ms Lofts.

"What happens after that?" said Corky.

"You get another one," his daughter said.

To find out the latest information on the coronavirus pandemic click here.