Jack’s been a poppy man for half a lifetime

By John Lewis

When it comes to volunteering, Jack Thewlis has half a lifetime of putting his hand up.

During the approach to Remembrance Day, keep an eye out for the 84-year-old Shepparton RSL member outside shops, supermarkets and local businesses.

He'll be there with his tray of poppies and badges — just like he's been there for the past 43 years.

“I've always been a volunteer — I really enjoy it,” he said.

“You get to talk to a lot of people and hear stories about their families and their service, it's very rewarding.”

Jack comes from a proud line of military service.

His father, Archie, served in both world wars — as a regular soldier in France and Belgium in World War I, and as a cook in World War II.

His father's brother was killed at Gallipoli, and another uncle was awarded the Military Cross in World War II.

Jack's own son served in the Australian Army for nine years.

Jack was a Nasho from 1954 to 1959, giving up his weekends and personal life for national military service.

Sometimes it clashed with his footy-playing for Warracknabeal — but he always made sure he could be in two places at once.

“You had to apply for special leave and you'd come off the ground and into the shower — then away you'd go off to the parade,” he said.

“I enjoyed it,” he said of his national service. "The discipline, the fitness and the camaraderie — it was great.”

Growing up in the Wimmera and Western Districts, Jack arrived in Shepparton as a parts worker for agricultural machinery manufacturer Massey Ferguson in 1973.

“In those days, you had to have served overseas in a war to join the RSL,” Jack said.

When the rules were changed in 1976, Jack was first in, best dressed at the Shepparton branch of the RSL.

But he wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms.

“I was told it was full up. Then I showed them my Nasho cards and they told me 'you're just the sort of bloke we're looking for',” he said.

It wasn't long before Jack was selling poppies and badges outside shops and businesses.

Ten years later he put his hand up for the massive task of organising the volunteers' roster, keeping the supply lines full with merchandise, ferrying people around and then counting up the money and making sure it was securely banked.

In between, he kept his regular job as a parts supervisor at Massey Ferguson and also organised dinner dances, fundraising balls and chook raffles for the Shepparton RSL.

He served on the sub-branch committee for 12 years, including as vice-president for two years. He also served as RSL Bowls Club secretary-treasurer for six years.

In 2003, Jack was made a life member of the Shepparton RSL.

Current president Bob Wilkie described Jack's contribution as outstanding.

“I totally admire what he's done and what he's still doing,” Bob said.

“He's such a respected member and he never wants accolades.”

Jack brushed off the president's praise with a laugh.

“I just love the club and the people in it. I'll keep going as long as I'm fit,” he said.

“I do it because they looked after us — so we have to look after them.”

Bob said as volunteers got older, numbers were dwindling.

“It's actually very rewarding. You catch up with people — we have a special lunch twice a year and you know the money raised is going to a good cause,” he said.

Anyone who wants to volunteer to help sell poppies and badges can call the Shepparton RSL on 5820 4100.