Tribute to local war veteran Sydney Kirkland

Sydney Oliver Kirkland was a World War Two veteran, a loved member of the town and a great contributor to the Robe community during his 94 years.

‘Syd’ was born in 1923, although according to his army records he was born in 1921 (the veteran gave his age a boost before joining the CMF as a member of the 9/23rd Light Horse Regiment in October 1941).

Syd was just 18 years old when he did this. Syd’s father Oliver Henry Kirkland did not approve of this move, although the traits that Syd’s father portrayed shaped the man that Syd became, with Oliver also being involved in the war as a stretcher bearer in France during World War One.

Syd’s father was gassed and wounded during the war before being awarded the Military medal, as this recognised his good service and devotion to duty. 

The events that took place during Syd’s time in the war would shape him as a person in the future. 

From the 9/23rd Light Horse Syd joined the 2/12th armoured regiment which shortly thereafter was disbanded. 

He was posted to join the 2/9th Armoured regiment for training in Queensland.

Syd was a quality soldier, as he reached the rank of Sergeant at the tender age of 23 and was posted in 1944 to the officer cadet training unit at Woodside with the temporary rank of warrant officer. 

It was here at Woodside that Syd would meet Iris Heauchan in the women’s army service. The young lady noticed the dashing young warrant officer in Syd at the railway station before telling her friends: “Hands off girls, he’s mine.” 

Syd arranged to be posted back to the 2/9th which was going into training in preparation for deployment to Borneo. Suitably armed with his posting order he asked Iris to marry him as he was off to war – they were married in late 1944 and Syd headed off to Queensland and action in Tarakan, Labuan and Brunei Bay.

Syd was “demobbed” in February 1946, before being reunited with Iris, returning to Jamestown where he took up employment with a local farmer.

Syd became a father twice over while living in Jamestown, with the arrival of his two daughters Helen and Carmel. Syd had a strong relationship with his girls, teaching them to drive the family truck (a 5 ton Austin) before they had started school.

The family cows grazed on a park in Jamestown, with Syd and his daughters bringing in the cows for milking each morning. Syd and his family moved to Bray from Jamestown, with Syd taking up a scrub block next to his father and brother. 

Syd’s family were no strangers to the Bray area, with Syd’s father Oliver receiving his military medal during action there. 

Syd balanced the heavy work of clearing and operating the farm with his love of footy, travelling to Beachport on Saturdays to play.

Syd left a legacy in Beachport, with people still remembering to this day that Syd had a long involvement around their local football club.

Syd and his brother turned their hand to a range of other jobs including carting the spoil from the Lake Butler channel and using that to form the parking tiers at the Robe Oval.

Through all his hard work on the farm and in other areas including the football club, Syd was first and foremost a family man through and through. 

Syd had a strong work ethic and always put family first.

Syd was a deckhand for a while as he worked for Alan Thomas and John Rudd.

Starting with these two was an enlightening experience for Syd, with Alan’s pot being a direct drive requiring a good eye and a quick hand, with Syd collecting more than one or two whacks on the back of the hand and near misses from yoke ropes if his attention strayed or he was bit slow.

Filleting fish and making deliveries to the markets were other lines of work that came with being a deckhand for Syd, with Syd remaining a keen and capable sportsman during this period of life, playing golf for years and before long, bowls.

By this point Syd had lost his sight in one of his eyes, although he was an extremely active and a competitive bowler. 

Syd’s name is on the honour boards at the bowls club in Robe a number of times, although his number one regret was that despite being runners-up a number of times, he and Baxter Kennett never won the club pairs.

However he was thrilled when Baxter did win even though Syd could not play as his hands could no longer control the bowl. 

Syd and Iris were regulars on a Monday at the bridge club, with the two making hilarious comments throughout including “I’ve got a hand like a foot,” “Aren’t we kind to you”, and Syd’s favourite “we are the needy not the greedy”.

Strangely, other than family, no one ever chided Syd or asked for quiet, with Syd being too well loved by all for that to happen.

Syd was a regular at snooker sessions on Friday afternoons, watching and lending friendly advice on what shot to play; generally just after the player had missed.

Near misses were usually greeted with a true Sydism such as: “That was like the veins on my legs – variclose.”

Syd died on September 18, 2018, with his funeral taking place at the Robe Institute on September 27.

Syd will be remembered as one of nature’s gentlemen, a devoted family man, possessed of a strong work ethic, a competitive spirit, a quirky sense of humour and a willingness to help others.