Two men from completely different eras have bonded over their shared military experience, serving for the same Australian Army unit 50 years apart.
Warrnambool's Doug Heazlewood and Mitch Stutchbury realised they'd both served in the 103 Battery unit upon meeting a couple of months ago.
Mr Heazlewood was in 103 Field Battery, an artillery regiment, in Vietnam in 1966-67 and Mr Stutchbury served with 103 Medium Battery in Darwin in 2016-19, where he was an artillery gunner.
Mr Heazlewood said he was the only 103 person he knew of between Geelong and Portland and the difference in name reflected the different equipment roles the battery had at the time. "It took Mitch 50 years to get here," he laughed.
Mr Heazlewood said although their respective tours of duty were 50 years apart, they were "fellow-members of the same mob".
As a keen historian, Mr Heazlewood took Mr Stutchbury and his family to the Warrnambool gravesite of Bombardier Lindsay Charles Bruce on August 1, the 150th anniversary of the founding of the first permanent unit of the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery. Mr Bruce was an original 103 Battery member with the unit formed in 1916 in Egypt.
The two families have since developed a strong friendship with Mr Heazlewood and his wife Helen becoming "surrogate grandparents" to Amelia, 7, and Olivia, 23 months.
Mr Stutchbury returned to his hometown of Warrnambool two years ago from his Darwin posting with partner Hayley Walsh and their two daughters.
Mr Stutchbury said RSL Active, which brought the two veterans together at a social function, provided the young family with new friendships and networks, which were vital in establishing themselves in the city.
RSL Active connects contemporary veterans who served in East Timor, the Solomon Islands, Afghanistan, and Iraq and their families in a social setting. There's more than 200 contemporary veterans who are RSL Active members in the region.
Mr Stutchbury said Hayley didn't know anyone when they arrived. "RSL Active's been a huge thing for Hayley. She's met so many people and she's made friends she wouldn't have made otherwise."
RSL Active volunteer co-ordinator Adam Kent said without RSL Active, relocating could've been a different experience for the family and it helped to attract ex-army personnel to the region.
Mr Kent said RSL Active was "leading the way" and was an example to other Victorian clubs in supporting the next generation. "We've made Warrnambool like a destination club," he said. "We've all wrapped our arms around each other. It's a big collective of all ages including little kids."
Mr Kent said the men's connection wouldn't have happened without RSL Active. "They're all two-way streets," he said. "Doug is just as interested in Mitch's story and we're learning from each other. Not just military history but life. Doug and Helen had 30 years in the military and we always talk about the partner serving as well."
Mr Heazlewood said the rank or service within the group didn't matter. "The bonds and connections are akin to family and this story highlights the importance of connecting with each other."
The Warrnambool RSL will host a commemorative service to mark Vietnam Veteran's Day and the 55th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan on Wednesday at 5pm. It will include an address and remembrance service with wreath laying.
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