An army man of measure By Liz Rogers

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Alan McDonald’s handshake is firm. At almost 89 years old, this ex-army man, RSL appeals officer and president of the Mornington RSL stands strong with both eyes gazing towards the horizon. You can tell a lot about a person from how they carry themselves, and Alan’s stance screams “get the job done”. No fuss. His front door is already half open as I walk into the driveway of his Mornington home where he lives with his hairdresser wife of 16 years, Waltraud Maria. Inside there is calm and order. Family photos, snow globes, memorabilia and lots of animal statues. Feels like home.

“Do you like my animals?” he asks, and continues: “I love animals. I was at the Balcombe Army Apprentice School in Mount Martha from 1972 until 1975 training young fellows. There were 650 of them then. I went into the army because of my big brother, who had fought in New Guinea and won a Military Cross. All three brothers fought in World War II and Dad was in World War I. I began a four-year course at Duntroon in 1948, graduated into the corps of signals and then went on to Melbourne University for 12 months. We installed, maintained and operated information and communications systems. Morse code then. Of course, it’s all digital now. I was drafted into the infantry and was active in Korea and then in Vietnam. I’ve been a platoon commander and the personal assistant to the British General of the Commonwealth Division in Korea. Been all over the world too. Two years in Germany, six months in England, and I spent my last 10 years in Canberra. You’re always moving in the army. I lived in Cape Schanck with my first wife, Pip, and our four children for a while but have been in Mornington for 30 years.”

There are only 14 men left of the 54 from Alan’s Duntroon graduating class of 1951. They get together each year. I ask Alan how he feels about that, and then if he’s got any medals. “It gets harder to travel when you’re older. I’ve got the normal medals from all those things,” he replies casually. I count 10 awarded to him for different campaigns (pictured). He continues: “No one ever wanted to go and fight. We all hoped we wouldn’t have to, but to save your country you’d be part of it. Army, navy, air force — we were in it together. The defence force is one big family. There was only any rivalry between the groups in sport!” He throws a sideways glance with a grin as we both chuckle over tea and biscuits. “That’s part of the reason I took on the role of appeals officer organising the Anzac Day badges and Remembrance Day poppies. We’re a family. I co-ordinate the whole lot. I liaise with schools and commercial businesses and co-ordinate the volunteers. I’ve been doing it for 20 years. I joined the RSL after I retired from the army in 1985. I’ve looked after people my whole life.”

Alan didn’t have a pushbike when he was a kid growing up in Lismore, Victoria. He had a pony named Trixie whom he’ll never forget. Maybe that’s where the connection with animals began. “Dad worked as a stock agent, so it was normal back then. It was also normal to go to boarding school as there were no secondary schools in the area. I went to Ballarat.” 

I ask this sport-loving, community-minded man of values if he thinks there’ll be another war. “I don’t think so,” he replies. “We are getting better at learning to agree to disagree. It took us 60 years to talk with North Korea, but we are doing it. I don’t think China or the US or Russia wants war. War is silly.”

Well said, Alan. Well said. 

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