Returned serviceman Glen Kindness was working in the mining industry as a boilermaker when he died of complications from pneumonia aged 37 in 2007.
Within two weeks, Legacy — the welfare charity that supports Australian Defence Force dependents left behind — called his widow, Kathleen, and their three daughters.
“They more or less said they understood I was going through grieving and just wanted me to know they were there when I was ready for them,” she said.
Kathleen said Legacy’s help allowed her to take “a substantial amount of time out, just trying to get things together again” for their girls — then aged six, four, and 10 months.
The charity has a 97-year history, but families such as Kathleen’s are now the face of its changing demographic, which numbers more than 52,000 nationally.
Legacy’s Canberra president Mark Lax said many people did not realise that veterans could be young, and could be reservists as well as regular or former members.
“I think [people] think a ‘digger’ is an old veteran in a wheelchair being marched down Anzac Parade,” Mr Lax said.
‘Loneliness is a terrible thing’
The Canberra region is home to 913 ADF widows and widowers, 42 Legacy Youth, 17 adult dependents with disabilities, and 140 volunteers, known as Legatees.
“We get almost all of our funds as donations from the public,” Mr Lax said of Legacy’s financial and material aid ahead of its Badge Day fundraiser today.
Through the charity, bereaved spouses receive gifts for birthdays and Christmas, supplements for household bills, and social invitations “just so they get together”.
Legacy youth — the young dependents — are also supported up until the age of 25, “as long as they’re in full-time education,” Mr Lax said.
And he said adult dependents with disabilities received social contact and checks that “they’re being looked after by the other community services they rely on”.
“It’s more of a family approach,” Mr Lax said.
“Sometimes it’s just a phone call, [or] a 30-page newsletter.
“They do realise people are thinking of them, and I think that’s really important.
Legacy Youth helps shape future leaders
Kathleen Kindness is now a warrant officer in the Army, and her daughters are teenagers involved in Legacy Youth, with thoughts of becoming Legatees.
Legacy has helped fund education and annual camps for the Kindness girls “as they got older and more confident to go off on their own without me,” Kathleen said.
“Once they hit 18, they can be a youth leader and take on that role as a mentor and big sister figure for the younger kids” who have also lost a parent in the military, she said.
The girls, Jessica, Stephanie and Grace are now 19, 17 and 13, and are all involved in the charity.
As a representative of Legacy, at this year’s Anzac Day dawn service, broadcast across Australia during the coronavirus shutdown, Stephanie read an excerpt of the poem In Flanders Fields.
“They’ve made some really good friends along the way, which is great, being able to make those friendships and know they’re not alone,” Kathleen said.
“And it certainly would have been financially difficult to support the kids on my own, with the absence of their father and the income he brought into the house.
“My Legatee, she’s a lovely woman and we have little catch-ups. Obviously a little difficult with COVID at the moment, but she’s always touching base to see how we’re going.
‘Even 20 cents in the tin, it all adds up’
Mr Lax said until more recent conflicts, there was “probably a belief” that Legacy would wrap up its operations after supporting dependents of Vietnam veterans.
“Well, once East Timor started, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other areas … we’ve had more service men and women deployed than for the Vietnam war,” Mr Lax said.
“We’re now starting to see a younger generation coming through, and that’s something we’re very conscious of, that the population we support is changing.”
This week is Legacy Week and today marks Badge Day, the largest annual fundraiser for the charity.
“We would normally send our [supporters] to the shopping centres with the badges and the bears, but this year we’re not able to do that,” Mr Lax said.
Instead, like other charities, the collection of donations has gone online.
“We know that we won’t get anything like our normal Legacy Week, but that’s just the way it is, so we will see how it goes,” Mr Lax said.
“We understand, a lot of people out there are struggling a bit, so our thoughts go out to them as well.
“Any help they can provide to us will be more than welcome, even if it’s only 20 cents in the tin, because it all adds up.”