Port Stephens Nashos fight threat of closure

MATESHIP: Kevin Jenkins, Stan Allandson, Jim Clark, Alf Ayre, Terry Cahill, Alan Spence, Les Deane, Barry Sagar, Bevan Delaney, Don Laverick and Len Rooke.
MATESHIP: Kevin Jenkins, Stan Allandson, Jim Clark, Alf Ayre, Terry Cahill, Alan Spence, Les Deane, Barry Sagar, Bevan Delaney, Don Laverick and Len Rooke.

The members of Port Stephens National Servicemen's Association - many now aged in their 80s - are a resilient bunch.

Twice in the past three years the branch has bounced back from the threat of closure.

A call to arms for Nashos, whose numbers are constantly on the decline since National Service ended in Australia in 1972, in the Examiner's June 13 issue resulted in the recruitment of at least two new members.

One of those recruits was a familiar Tilligerry family members, Lenny Rooke, the son of Len Snr, who served in both WWI and WWII and who had Rookes Road in Salt Ash named in his honour.

At age 18 Rooke Jnr, an oyster farmer, became one of the very first to be conscripted in the early 1950s and he has fond memories of his days as a young Army recruit.

In a publication about the Second Infantry Battalion (City of Newcastle Regiment) by Ian Healey, Rooke (nicknamed Saltbush) was described as someone who had "a different personality which made him most popular in the platoon".

Len Rooke in uniform

Len Rooke in uniform

"There was quite a few of us from these areas and I spent three months at Ingleburn followed by nearly two years at Hamilton and Singleton Army Base," Rooke recalled.

"But most of those in my platoon were from the city so being a farmer from the bush I stood out a little. I loved to joke around and play tricks on people. I thought it was the best way to make the most of my time away."

Despite his penchant to play the joker, Rooke did have a more serious side.

"My mum and dad were very straight forward and they taught me to help out those less fortunate because there was always someone worse off then you," he said.

The advice has lived with Lenny all his life.

After returning home from Service, the farmer turned woodworker turned handyman became legendary around the Tilligerry neighbourhood as "Mr fix-it", who would help anyone out.

Now residing in Mallabula, the 86-year-old has not slowed down. His next mission is to apply for his National Service medals and a new commitment to meet with fellow Nashos at their monthly meetings held in Raymond Terrace.

"I never worried about medals previously," he said.

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