Korean War veteran Matt Rennie has been recognised by the RSL for his many years of dedicated service to the organisation.
Korean War veteran Matt Rennie has been recognised by the RSL for his many years of dedicated service to the organisation.

Top honour for vet fighting for forgotten soldiers

A KOREAN War veteran who was shot in the back of the head but saved by the bravery of a mate has spent the past 15 years ensuring forgotten soldiers get the recognition they deserve.

Now a stalwart of the Ipswich RSL Sub Branch, Matt Rennie did not get the reception he was expecting when he returned home to Australia in 1961 after 10 years in the army.

He served in Korea for three years before becoming an instructor at the 1st Commonwealth Division Battle School in Japan.

Decorated war veteran Matt Rennie.
Decorated war veteran Matt Rennie.

Mr Rennie, 88, also spent two years in the conflict in Malay before finishing his service in 1961.

Originally from Sydney, he met his late wife Margaret at the Enoggera Barracks in Brisbane while he was waiting to be shipped to Malay.

They were married in 1955.

She sadly passed away a year-and-half-ago, just a day before their 64th wedding anniversary.

Upon returning home in 1961, Mr Rennie said he was working "here, there and everywhere for a quid".

"Most Korean veterans when they came home went to join the RSL and probably 99 per cent of us were rejected because they considered Korea to be a police action," he said.

"I get very uptight over that type of thing. It took me a while for me to come back.

"We didn't even have a memorial until the year 2000. Korean veterans had to raise the money to build it."

Despite those experiences, he has been a dogged force for local veterans since joining the RSL and last month was honoured with its top award.

Mr Rennie was awarded the RSL Meritorious Service Medal, which is the highest award the organisation can make to a member over and above a life membership for his more than 30 years of continuous service.

He has played a vital role in supporting returned veterans from World War Two all the way through to those who have served in modern conflicts in the Middle East.

Mr Rennie has also worked for veterans' organisation Legacy for almost 40 years.

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"It's helping the veterans, the ones who went before us," he said, reflecting on his long tenure with the RSL.

"I always think they deserve better than what they got.

"For the Second World War fellas … when they got out of the army they were given preferential treatment for jobs.

"They got a job so they didn't worry about going on for education and that was it.

"I felt they needed help. When they came to filling out their service pensions the forms lay side-by-side were six feet long and they had no idea.

"It's just something I felt needed doing."

Mr Rennie has been working to identify veterans lying in the Ipswich Cemetery who have not been recognised for their service for the past 15 years.

So far he has identified 156 of them.

"Some don't have a headstone or don't have anything on their headstone to identify them," he said.

"Some are among the first to put their feet on the shores of Gallipoli.

"I want to correct that and give them recognition for their service."

Plaques of the formerly forgotten soldiers have been sold to the public as part of the RSL's adopt a soldier program with plans to build a wall to display them in the cemetery.

Mr Rennie believes that number will eventually rise to 200.

He has identified 72 veterans buried in the cemetery who came from the Sandy Gallop mental home.

Matt Rennie has been identifying veterans in the Ipswich Cemetery for 15 years.
Matt Rennie has been identifying veterans in the Ipswich Cemetery for 15 years.

"Not one of those that I've found yet have any family," he said.

"They've been disowned.

"I wonder did they ever stop and think why they were in (Sandy Gallop), what caused them to be in there?

"They're from all over not just Queensland and Ipswich."

Mr Rennie said a pair of brothers from Toowoomba were two cases he had really "taken to heart".

"One chap was a lieutenant who was shot in the back and the bullet lodged against his spine," he said.

"He got around on two sticks.

"They made him a recruitment officer in the Darling Downs. They brought him back to Ipswich and then to Rosemount Hospital (in Brisbane) where he died at 26-years-old.

"He had no recognition and his brother was buried alongside him.

"I feel good when I find them and marry them up and get their records there. I think 'you're not forgotten'. It's a good feeling."

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Mr Rennie said it was important for veterans returning from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to have a strong support network waiting for them when they return to Australia.

"You've got to make sure they get recognition," he said.

"We have got a lot of young ones coming through in Ipswich.

"There's always plenty of support. Some of them get out and don't know what they're going to do.

"Some get into financial trouble. The first place they've got to go is the RSL and they'll get help."

Mr Rennie now resides in assisted living in Springfield but says he is "rarely there" and keeps busy doing his research or spending time at the sub branch base in Ipswich.

"They deserve better, that's what has driven me all this time," he said.

"That's the driving force.

"I couldn't have done it without my wife. She backed me all the way. She was an ex-service woman herself."

Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.

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