Honouring the fallen

The work of the City of Orange RSL sub-Branch made the news earlier this month following the death of a local veteran.

It was a developing story that began with reports that the late veteran, Glen Sutton, had died homeless and may not have anyone to attend his funeral.

As more detail came to light it became clear that the early reports were at least partly incorrect.

It turns out that Mr Sutton, who had no known family, had been living at the Benjamin Short Grove aged care facility in Orange for the past three and a half years.

Upon Mr Sutton’s death, the chaplain of the aged care facility had called the local RSL sub-Branch.

“He called us and asked what the RSL could do,” explains Chris Colvin, President of the City of Orange sub-Branch. “By the time I sat down with the chaplain the next day I had been in touch with someone who had served with Glenn to give the eulogy and had begun making funeral arrangements.”

Mr Colvin said it is an honour to take part in the funeral of a fellow veteran and a defining feature of the RSL and the service that local sub-Branches provide to the community. He said the extent to which the sub-Branch becomes involved with funeral arrangements for a departed veteran depends on the circumstances and the wishes of the deceased’s family.

The enduring feature in all cases, he says, is the Tribute: “RSL NSW has a Standing Policy that, when requested, a deceased veteran, regardless of whether they are a member, is accorded the RSL Funeral Tribute, without exception to time, day or season.”

While there is flexibility to ensure appropriateness of timing in the sequence of the conclusion of the funeral service or graveside committal, the Tribute always involves the President or an Officer of the sub-Branch making a dedication with poppies, a few moments of silence, The Last Post, recitation of The Ode, and the Reveille.

Mr Colvin noted that owing to the importance of the occasion and despite obviously knowing The Ode’s words by heart, he always carries a copy of The Ode on paper to make sure there are “no stuff ups”.

Mr Sutton’s funeral was attended by more than 100 mourners, many of them veterans including several who served with Mr Sutton. While not always done, at Glenn Sutton’s funeral the Australian national anthem was played, something that Chris Colvin thinks was very fitting: “The Americans always play the Star-Spangled Banner at the funeral of a veteran and it’s very moving and solemn hear a national anthem in that setting,” he said.

Noting the need for the RSL to engage with younger veterans, he said recent deaths have given extra cause for reflection: “We’ve had four funerals of veterans in the space of two weeks – the youngest was 68 and the eldest was over 100.”

RSL NSW president Ray James applauded the City of Orange sub-Branch’s work, saying: “This is an example of how important it is for sub-Branches to connect with the local community to work together to identify veterans in and around their location. This will ensure that no veteran is forgotten or left behind”.

Click here to listen to Chris Colvin’s interview with 2GB’s Ben Fordham.

Click here to read the news item about Glenn Sutton’s funeral by ABC News.

Image: Defence Australia