Valley Veterans | John Guyenette marks 50 years as a member of RSL NSW

STILL GOING STRONG: John Guyenette is presented his certificate for 50 years membership with RSL NSW by Mick Birtles, President of the NBH RSL Sub Branch. Photo: supplied
STILL GOING STRONG: John Guyenette is presented his certificate for 50 years membership with RSL NSW by Mick Birtles, President of the NBH RSL Sub Branch. Photo: supplied

This week I had the great pleasure, on behalf of the Returned and Services League NSW and the Nambucca Heads RSL Sub Branch, to present one of our members, Mr John Guyenette, with a certificate marking his 50 years as a member of RSL NSW. I spoke to John about his military service with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), his life beyond his time in the RAN and his thoughts on the direction RSL NSW should take as it seeks to regain its place as the states pre-eminent veterans support organisation.

John Guyenette joined the RAN in January 1961 as a junior recruit. On the completion of his recruit and electrical training John selected the Fleet Air Arm where he was employed as a radio mechanic. He was posted to HMAS Albatross, near Nowra on the NSW South Coast, and spent a large portion of his career at sea on both training and operational deployments.

His operational service includes deployments to sea during the time of heightened tensions between Australia and Indonesia known as the 'Confrontation' and also served on the ships transporting Army contingents to South Vietnam in the mid 1960's. He participated in official celebrations in the UK for the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977 which included several port visits in that region and exercises in the North Sea.

In January 1981 John discharged from the regular Navy however served on in the RAN Reserve for an additional 13 years which again took him to sea in a variety of roles. When out of the Navy John worked as a life guard / beach inspector on the South Coast and then attended university where he gained a degree and qualifications as a registered nurse. A significant change in direction for a man who had had spent most of his adult life serving in the RAN.

John worked at Sydneys Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Port Kembla Hospital Intensive Care, Westmead Hospital and returned to the Shoalhaven district of NSW where he worked in the area of drug and alcohol rehabilitation. When John retired from nursing he headed to Cootamundra in NSW's South West Slopes. After two intensive careers John craved some room to move and some isolation for he and his with Cynthia, so 10 acres at Cootamundra was just the place. Five years ago the Guyenette's left the rural life behind them and moved to Nambucca Heads to be close to their daughter, son-in law and grandchildren. Both John and Cynthia have become involved in their new home and are valued members of the Nambucca Heads community.

John offered some interesting reflections on his 50 years with the RSL. He remembers that things were rather formal in the first Sub Branch he belonged to in Bombaderry NSW. The Sub Branch, which operated the RSL Club in those days enforced a strict dress code and heavy handed membership regulations. I asked John about any significant changes he had noticed in the RSL over his 50 years as a member.

John pointed out that there was a time where joining the RSL was not easy and they were even 'standoffish' when it came to membership. He recalls the League not being initially interested in recruiting Vietnam veterans in some Sub Branches. He notes that the opposite is the case now days and RSL NSW seems to be eager to encourage membership where ever it can. John went on to say that most of the support he received during times he needed it came from the Vietnam Veterans Association and he is now pleased to see that the RSL is looking at themselves and working on ways to better support veterans. I asked John what advice he would give to RSL NSW senior leadership to improve the way in which they support veterans and their families and I found John's response very interesting.

John concludes that when someone approaches an RSL Sub Branch to join, the Sub Branch should immediately make the individual aware of any services that are available to them and ask that person questions relating to their well-being so the Sub Branch can direct resources into helping them and their family if needed. Excellent advice that RSL NSW would do well to act on.

Mick Birtles is a decorated retired Army officer now living in Nambucca Heads and penning stories on veteran affairs.

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