World War II veteran Joe Clarke is remembered as a busy and generous soul.
Darren Linton, Shepparton News
Mr Clarke, who died just shy of his 97th birthday, was a fixture at the Shepparton RSL for 60 years and was lauded for his generosity as a community volunteer.
He was a regular visitor to Shepparton Villages, providing comfort and companionship to residents, despite in his latter years being older than those he was caring for.
“He retired very early after a work injury and he always said you need to be doing stuff, you can’t just sit around,” daughter Leanne Rowlands said.
Mr Clarke would visit veterans in hospital and deliver newspapers; at the RSL he was a fixture on Saturdays selling raffle tickets.
Son Wayne Clarke said his father didn’t speak much about his war service but the RSL was where he felt most at home.
“I think the RSL meant everything to him, he couldn’t wait to get there and he never wanted to leave, when he walked in he was a different person, his eyes would light up, that was his happy place,” he said.
Born in Benalla in 1925, Mr Clarke’s wisdom and life experience has allowed him to dedicate his time to supporting others.
He was just 16 when he approached his friend who was a recruitment officer in Collins St, Melbourne.
‘‘I went in and he said ‘how old are you?’ I said ‘I’m 18 next week’ so he told me to come back when I turned 18.’’
Although he was much younger than was required, Mr Clarke, like many other young men, felt serving his country was the right thing to do.
Serving in the infantry, Mr Clarke was required to complete foot patrols, including guarding Tokyo’s Imperial Palace.
Mr Clarke joined the Citizen Military Forces in May 1942 and the Australian Imperial Force in April 1943, rising to the rank of corporal.
Happy times: Joe and Norma Clarke on their wedding day in 1948. Photo by Tara Whitsed
He served overseas in New Guinea, Morotai, Borneo and Japan and was awarded the 1939-45 Star, Pacific Star War Medal 1939-45, Australia Service Medal 1939-45, Australian Service Medal 1945-75 with Clasp Japan, Australian Defence Medal and Returned from Active Service Badge.
‘‘I can remember most things,’’ Mr Clarke had said, speaking on the 75th anniversary of WWII, especially the day the war ended.
‘‘I was at Tarakan in Borneo. All of a sudden, lots of shots and guns went off and we didn’t know what was going on,’’ he said.
‘‘There were a few Yanks there and boy, did they let it go.
‘‘Then the orderly sergeant who was on duty came out and said, ‘the war’s over’.“
It was during his leave in 1944 that Mr Clarke became engaged to his soon-to-be wife Norma.
‘‘We got married when I came back (in 1948),’’ he said.
The pair had four children — Wayne, Leanne, Trevor and Brian — and Mr Clarke also leaves behind seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Mr Clarke was recognised in the Greater Shepparton volunteer awards and credited his six decades spent volunteering for the RSL for keeping him engaged and active.
‘‘I can’t understand the people that just sit in front of the TV and do nothing all day,’’ he said.
‘‘I hate spare time.’’
Wayne suspected his father kept busy so he wasn’t alone with his thoughts.
“He had ants in his pants all the time, he always had to be involved, always had to be doing something,” he said.
“He took a lot of his secrets to the grave, I reckon.”
Mr Clarke was a Life Member of the RSL and will be missed by everyone who knew him.
“Such a beautiful soul with a great big heart. We adored Joe and I think the feeling was mutual,” Shepparton RSL media officer Annabel Thomas said.
“He’d come in to visit with a spring in his step, a twinkle in his eyes and a whole lot of cheekiness. His parting words would always be, as he pointed his finger at you, ‘now listen … don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,’ and then chuckle away with his infectious laugh. He was one of a kind and we’re really going to miss him.”
Shepparton RSL president Bob Wilkie said Mr Clarke’s contribution to the welfare of fellow veterans and their families was outstanding.
“He always put others before himself. For many years he would visit service members both in hospital and at home to check in on them and keep them in good spirits. He was always able to bring smiles to people’s faces and was a lovable larrikin we will all miss,” he said.
“He also played a pivotal role in our annual Anzac and Poppy appeals, volunteering at stalls right up until only a few years ago. He always wanted to be out and about doing things to help others — it was just his nature.”
Not all Mr Clarke’s volunteering ended well. Wayne recalls his dad making the Shepparton News for an infamous footy match at Picola where some of his “dubious decisions” caused quite a ruckus. “He had to be smuggled out of (the) ground in a basket on the back of a ute,” he said, laughing.