Edna Wheatley – widow of local war hero Kevin ‘Dasher’ Wheatley – was among the special guests at the launch of the new book, The Victoria Cross: Australia Remembers.
It was also an emotional moment for many other family members of VC recipients who joined NSW Governor David Hurley and a large crowd at Ingleburn RSL Memorial Garden on Tuesday.
The Victoria Cross is the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
Author Michael Madden – who met with about 60 families as part of his research – gave a fascinating speech about the history of the medal, dating back to the Crimean War of the 1850s.
He pointed out that each medal is only worth a few dollars in actual materials, but – once a war hero’s name is engraved – it is suddenly worth about $1 million.
The Governor said the book was about telling the story of “the individuals” behind the deeds of valour.
Students from St Patrick’s College, Macquarie Fields High School and Holy Family Catholic Primary School joined the ceremony.
Edna Wheatley was delighted to meet the girls from St Pat’s, led by history teacher Fran Music Rullo, and got teary-eyed as spoke about her husband, who was killed in action in 1965.
Kevin Wheatley, who lived in Paterson Street in Campbelltown, refused to abandon a wounded comrade in the face of deadly odds and was posthumously awarded the first Australian VC of the Vietnam War.
Also among the guests was 98-year-old war widow Daphne Dunne, whose special relationship with Prince Harry has made headlines around the world.
Her husband was Albert Chowne, killed in action near the end of WWII.
At the time, in 1945, she told the Sydney Morning Herald: “I would rather he had remained just ordinary and was alive. He was a wonderful man and a grand husband.”
Through 100 individual profiles of each Australian VC recipient, the new book gives the perspective of families and friends: speaking of the men they knew, how the VC has affected them and how families coped after the fighting had ended.
Profits go to incapacitated ex-servicemen.