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100-year-old Digger ‘Corky’ has never missed Anzac Day

World War II veteran Henry "Corky" Caldwell used to spend Anzac Day with his brother and a few mates "knocking around together and playing up".

It will be a bit different this year for the 100-year-old ­Digger from Minnie Water near Grafton on the state's north coast. For one thing, there's this bloody virus. And then there's his broken back.

WWII veteran Henry “Corky” Caldwell. Picture: Nathan Edwards
WWII veteran Henry “Corky” Caldwell. Picture: Nathan Edwards

But undeterred, at dawn he will still be laying a wreath at the cenotaph in front of just a few socially distanced members of the community.

"I have never missed Anzac Day," Mr Caldwell said on Friday. "I used to meet up with my brother Les and some mates who were on the Burma Railway and we would play two-up and sit together and have a drink.

"We would be going from four in the morning until 10 at night. The other fellas would get in trouble from their wives but I never did, mine always knew where I was."

Mr Caldwell's wife Gloria, the "lassie I knew from school", died just a few weeks ago, aged 94.

"She missed my 100th birthday," Mr Caldwell said. "We had a terrific life ­together."

Henry Caldwell will march down the driveway of his home in Minnie Water on the NSW North Coast. Picture: Nathan Edwards
Henry Caldwell will march down the driveway of his home in Minnie Water on the NSW North Coast. Picture: Nathan Edwards

Having inherited his nickname from his tradie father, "Corky" joined the army in 1940 and was dispatched to an ­ordnance workshop in the Middle East where he spent a lot of time "driving round the desert picking up tanks and ambulances and repairing them".

He returned to Australia on a Norwegian cargo ship that broke down off the coast of Africa and had its kitchen washed overboard.

"We landed in Adelaide ready for a feed but it was ­Saturday afternoon and everyone had gone home," he said.

Caldwell served in the Middle East, picking up and repairing vehicles.
Caldwell served in the Middle East, picking up and repairing vehicles.

 

He also spent time in Darwin and saw Japanese planes flying over it.
He also spent time in Darwin and saw Japanese planes flying over it.

 

From there he was dispatched to Darwin and was just in time to see "a few Japanese planes flying over and having a bit of a look about".

After the war, Mr Caldwell resumed his career as an auto-electrician and returned to Grafton, where he earned the Order of Australia Medal for years of charity work with the local fire brigade, hockey teams and dog shows.

"Normally on Anzac Day my family come and march with me," said the centenarian, who has two daughters, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

"I am a bit wobbly, I fell and broke my back and it has slowed me down a little bit."

Sightseeing in Egypt.
Sightseeing in Egypt.

Up until then he was still mowing his lawn.

Sadly the virus restrictions mean Mr Caldwell's extended family will not be making the trip to share Anzac Day with him.

However "Corky" is determined to make it down the driveway this afternoon to hear two local bagpipers play outside his house.

"I used to love marching to the bagpipes," he said.

"I remember over in the Middle East we had a big march when a duke, some English fella, came out. We really put on a show."

This year, his extended family will not be able to make the trip to commemorate Anzac Day with him. Picture: Nathan Edwards
This year, his extended family will not be able to make the trip to commemorate Anzac Day with him. Picture: Nathan Edwards

Originally published as 100-year-old Digger 'Corky' has never missed Anzac Day

His broken back has slowed him down a little and preventing him from mowing his own lawn. Picture: Nathan Edwards
His broken back has slowed him down a little and preventing him from mowing his own lawn. Picture: Nathan Edwards
He had a “wonderful” life with his wife Gloria, who died just three weeks ago. Picture: Nathan Edwards
He had a “wonderful” life with his wife Gloria, who died just three weeks ago. Picture: Nathan Edwards
After the war, he returned home to work as a mechanic.
After the war, he returned home to work as a mechanic.