Lifesavers share a sense of community and serve others so it is no surprise that those who are involved in surf lifesaving would also be represented in large numbers as members of defence.
During World War II, lifesavers’ presence was diminished on our beaches and active lifesaving membership declined as many Australians went to fight another world war.
A bronze statue commemorating Australian lifesavers who have served in the armed forces faces out to sea off Coogee Beach near Sydney. It depicts a digger in his iconic slouch hat and a life saver with the traditional belt and reel. This memorial celebrates the contribution that surf lifesavers have made to our nation and commemorates those many thousands of surf lifesavers who have served in Australia’s defence forces.
The enlistment of many lifesaving and swimming club members during WWI is well documented.
Early Royal Life Saving trainers, Queensland breast stroke champion Frank Venning and Joe Betts, took over the Maroochydore Beach patrols almost exclusively as the local boys left for the Great War.
A welcome home reception was held for an early surf lifesaver in Coolum when the town welcomed back Sergeant Augie Stumer who had been gassed in the trenches.
Another digger was Maroochydore Swimming and Life Saving Club active member Tom Prentis who helped reinvigorate Maroochydore membership after he came home from WWI. After returning from war and coming back to the Coast, he walked the district from Rosemount to Bli Bli to gain life saving members for his club. His recruitment drive at that time gained the Maroochydore club the Suosaari boys whose champion swimming feats gained notoriety throughout Australia.
Thousands of troops camped and trained on the North Coast including the beaches and US and Australian commandos prepared for war not far from the coast line. Access to the North Coast beaches was restricted as coils of barbed wire were stretched from Caloundra to Noosa to deter an invasion from the enemy.
Alexandra Headland club had seven members fighting at the Battle of Milne Bay which was the first victory of Allied Forces over the Japanese. The loss of four fine young men from a reasonably small club during this time was devastating for Alexandra Headland. Members lost were Frank McLoughlin as a POW, Jack Walden a rear gunner in the Air Force shot down over France, Ben Kuskopf killed fighting in Bougainville and Don Ambryn at El Alamein.
Coolum club had 32 active members in the services which was practically the whole club. That club lost three members being Corporal Colin Nott RAAF as well as Samuel Bowder and Lance Jensen.
After WWII many serving members returned to their communities and clubs however the world had changed for them.
One such member was Jack Kuskopf, a POW who returned home weighing just 45 kilos and scarred from his neck to his groin by a Japanese sword. Jack remained a highly respected member of Alexandra Headland and was an instructor for his club for many years.
As WWII, ended Australia looked again to the future with optimism.
Early Premier of Queensland Frank Nicklin had a dedicated regard for sport particularly North Coast Surf Life Saving on which he left an indelible mark. He was vice-president of the North Coast Branch of Surf Life Saving from 1932 until 1936 when he became president. Leader of the Opposition and a local MLA, he always fostered the lifesaving movement and was instrumental in setting up the subsidy to assist lifesaving funding in Queensland.
Mr Nicklin was made a life member of many surf clubs including Maroochydore, Mooloolaba, Alexandra Headland and Metropolitan Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast - as well as the Queensland State Centre.
His record of military service saw him enlist at Beerwah in 1915 and join the 49th Battalion. He was awarded the Military Medal for ‘courage in the face of the enemy’ during WWI. In 1942, Mr Nicklin was recalled to active service. He was a commissioned officer later rising to the rank of Lt Colonel where he organised the 6th Battalion Volunteer Defence Force, with the battle area and plan to defend the area now known as the Sunshine Coast.
The stand down parade of Nicklin’s 6th battalion was held on Woombye Showground oval at the end of the war. This was a full dress ceremonial occasion supported by the 7th Division Band of the AIF.
Throughout his whole public life, Nicklin showed considerable interest in the problems faced by war veterans. Nicklin Way is named after this remarkable Queensland leader.
Rescue helicopter patrols were first introduced here on the Sunshine Coast in the late 1970’s under the watchful eye of chief pilot and decorated Vietnam Veteran Major Jim Campbell.
He spent many years behind the controls of this region’s rescue helicopter service where he was credited with saving many lives on land and at sea in all weather. Jim received the Distinguished Flying Cross for Gallantry and Bravery and was the first recipient of this award during the Vietnam War.
This community search and air sea rescue helicopter service was situated at the base of the Big Cow near Nambour later relocating to Sunshine Coast Airport in 1983.
Alexandra Headland club was the first surf club in Queensland to provide a helicopter patrol. The first service was organised for the 1976-1977 season by Bill Buhk junior, a life member and president of the Alexandra Headlands Surf Club, and businessmen Des Scanlon and Roy Thompson. A small three-seater Bell helicopter was used for the patrol with members of the Alexandra Headland Surf Life Saving Club providing the crew.
There are so many more names and stories of life savers who served our country during war times from clubs here on the Sunshine Coast. They are not forgotten. There are honour rolls in life saving clubs in seaside towns throughout Australia identifying those who served and those who became casualties.
Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library Officers for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.