more aussie heros

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    Roden Cutler VC

    Wednesday, February 27, 2002

    Source: North Shore Times

    Australia lost a great piece of itself last week. There were two deaths, both related to values forged in our military heritage both past and present.

    Early Friday morning, the body of Special Air Services sergeant, Andrew Russell returned to his home of Perth. Waiting were his wife - now widow, Kylie and the newborn daughter whom he had never seen. His beret atop the coffin draped by the Australian flag, he was carried through an SAS honour guard.

    Death had come in the form of a landmine while serving us in Afghanistan in the war against evil. Andrew Russell is the first Australian soldier to die in combat since the Vietnam War. He is also our first casualty in what may well be a ‘war without end’, the war against terrorism. Let us pray that he is also our last.

    Only a day before Sergeant Russell’s body slipped into Perth, Australia lost a man who is a true hero in a world where the term is much abused.

    Sir Roden Cutler’s life was such that his biographer, Colleen McCulloch said of him:

    “The heroism, the almost limitless willpower, the intelligence and commonsense, the ability to control primal instincts, the uncanny knowledge of people and events, the warmth, the humour, the fidelity, and most astonishingly of all – the humility.”

    Cutler was of a generation from whose values we can learn a great deal.

    He was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery at Merdjayoun in June 1941. The extraordinary thing is that any one of a series of actions he took over a ten-day period culminating in the loss of his leg would meet any reasonable test of ultimate courage, selflessness and the willingness to give his life for the welfare of others.

    But more than this, what made Roden Cutler a truly great hero was neither his valour nor his subsequent service as a diplomat and Governor extraordinaire of New South Wales; it was the man’s overwhelming sense of humility. This, I found from meeting him, he wore much more comfortably than the long row of decorations at the end of which hung the VC.

    From his biography and those who knew him, he was a man who made others the centre of his own life. When a fellow officer informed him he was to be recommended for a Military Cross, Cutler expressed his disapproval on the basis that he did not want to be ‘set apart from the others’. Ironically his reluctance for recognition set him apart.

    Notwithstanding the need for accountability and public scrutiny, I do struggle then to understand why one defence issue only – ‘kids overboard’ should so dominate last week’s parliament.

    With troops in Afghanistan, peacekeepers in East Timor, ships and planes at risk in support of both, the death of a soldier and the passing of a true icon we should not lose perspective. To do so will mean the loss of much more than two lives.
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