Remembrance Day 2017: Young Diggers organisation training assistance dogs for returned troops in Tamworth

HELPERS: Peter Walters and John Jarrett from Young Diggers with their dogs Tucker and Sheeba. Photo: Gareth Gardner 091117GGD05
HELPERS: Peter Walters and John Jarrett from Young Diggers with their dogs Tucker and Sheeba. Photo: Gareth Gardner 091117GGD05

Tamworth trained assistance dogs are giving peace of mind to returned troops and while we pause to remember the wars, the battles carry-on in the minds of many, Jacob McArthur reports.

For one minute, we stop and remember.

It’s a minute marked down for November 11, every year, with its origins tethered to the armistice of World War I, ‘the Great War’.

A war that ended 99 years ago, out of living memory, immortalised in the history books.

It has only been 20 years since November 11th was formally dedicated to the “those who died or suffered for Australia's cause in all wars and armed conflicts”.

But it’s the commemoration’s dawn that makes it the most important day in the military calendar for Vietnam veteran John Jarrett.

“Remembrance Day, I think, is the most important military day of the year, because it was the laying down of arms,” Mr Jarrett said.

“It wasn’t about a battle where hundreds or thousands of people died.

“It was the laying down of arms; the troops were coming home.

“It was about peace and that’s why I celebrate it.”

Peace of mind for veterans has been Mr Jarrett’s mission for the last decade after he founded the Young Diggers organisation to help troops dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), years after leaving the conflict.

Mr Jarrett’s foundation soon added “The Dog Squad” which recruits rescued dogs from shelters, and trains them to become assistance pets for troops.

CEASEFIRE: One Vietnam veteran said Remembrance Day was an important day because it marks the end of fighting. Photo: Peter Hardin

CEASEFIRE: One Vietnam veteran said Remembrance Day was an important day because it marks the end of fighting. Photo: Peter Hardin

Recently, The Dog Squad established a base in Tamworth, in conjunction with the Oxley Dog Training Club on Swan St, its first regional operation in Australia.

Mr Jarrett has his own assistance dog, Sheeba, who has been by his side in the toughest times.

“I was going to finish things off one day,” he said.

“I just had enough.

“I went to bed early and I woke up at some point during the night and she was lying full-length just looking at me.

“She knew.”

Mr Jarrett said that Sheeba didn’t let him out her of sight for the next couple of days.

“She was just there all of the time,” he said.

“So much so, it gave me the shits, you’d turn around and fall over a frigging dog.”

Mr Jarrett has many tales of assistance dogs helping military and non-military people with a range of conditions, including one pooch that could forewarn its epileptic owner about an oncoming seizure and another that helped a child with Asperger’s communicate with her parents.

“It’s not a cure, but it is such an assistance,” he said.

“With a troop, the dog’s got his back when he’s out in public.

“You’ve got that security, the same as when you’re in a combat area and your mate’s got your back.”

The assistance dog program has brought about three-pronged deliverance elsewhere in the state.

For a number of years, a program has been run inside Bathurst’s jail, where privileged prisoners are given the opportunity to train rescued dogs which are eventually handed over to troops as rehabilitation pets.

“We save a dog, help an inmate and eventually a troop,” Mr Jarrett said.

And the dogs are, apparently, coming out of the Bathurst jail with flying colours after their training behind bars.

A dog which recently got 100 per cent on its “public access test” came through the Bathurst program, Mr Jarrett said.

“The lady who is the tester says it’s the first time she’s ever given 100 per cent,” he said.

“Now we call Lucky ‘Mr 100 per cent’.”

A town remembers

TRADITION: Tamworth RSL sub-branch president Bob Chapman (left). Photo: Peter Hardin

TRADITION: Tamworth RSL sub-branch president Bob Chapman (left). Photo: Peter Hardin

Tamworth’s Remembrance Day is steeped in tradition and there’s a certain synergy in it for the local RSL sub-branch, which was also established 99 years ago.

Tamworth will commemorate Remembrance Day in the War Memorial Town Hall and sub-branch president Bob Chapman said the day was usually held in great respect by the community.

“I’ve been involved with the sub-branch for a number of years and back then it was Armistice Day, just about the end of World War I,” Mr Chapman said.

“Now it’s Remembrance Day, commemorating the sacrifices made in all wars.

“That was a really special move.”

Next year will be a busy one for the Tamworth RSL as it notches up its centenary.

Formed in 1918, the Tamworth sub-branch is one of the “earliest and oldest” in the state, forming shortly after the NSW RSL was established and pre-dating a number of Sydney arms of the organisation.

Memorial revival

UPGRADED: Locals pay homage at the old Gipps St memorial on the Avenue of Honour. Photo: Gareth Gardner

UPGRADED: Locals pay homage at the old Gipps St memorial on the Avenue of Honour. Photo: Gareth Gardner

This year’s Remembrance Day will be used to unveil the restoration of a small, but not insignificant memorial, on Gipps St.

With the blessing of the local RSL, the Rotary Club of Tamworth West restored the memorial on the Avenue of Honour.

November 11 will mark 50 years since the memorial was initially unveiled on Armistice Day, in 1967.

Featuring new signs and lighting, the Rotary Club carried out the upgrade over a number of working bees. 

President Simon Guest said the idea to spruce up the memorial came about following a conversation with Tamworth councillor Mark Rodda.

Cr Rodda said it could’ve done with some new embellishments and looked “a bit neglected”. He said the Bridge St clock tower was another Tamworth memorial which could be upgraded and brought back to life.

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