“I feel I owe my long life to a loving wife and supportive family, as well as many great friendships. There must also be some good genes and perhaps some good luck as well.” - Alec Summerside
- WWII veteran and home care customer Alec Summerside is surrounded by love, family and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, in his childhood town of Port Kembla, New South Wales.
- Alec joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in December 1941 aged 19 shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and completed two tours of New Guinea, in 1942/43 and 1945. His task as a signalman was to set up communication lines between artillery groups and the front line.
- After the war Alec returned to the shipping industry, working as a liaison officer with ships’ captains to ensure the ship’s stay in Port Kembla was smooth, before retiring in 1980.
- Alec has been a customer with Australian Unity since 2015 and receives fortnightly in home nursing support , through his Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) funding and continues to live independently in his own home, with support from his Australian Unity care team.
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On 21 January 2022, the day Alec Summerside turned 100 – he received some impressive mail. There were cards from the late Queen Elizabeth II, former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, previous Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese and many other well-wishers. “He was quite thrilled about it,” Joan Summerside, his wife of 73 years, says.
But perhaps equally satisfying was the chance to enjoy a luncheon on a sunny day in their prized garden in Port Kembla with their sons and families, including some of their six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. “They love him,” Joan says of the great-grandchildren. “They say hello to him and then they disappear down the garden to play football.”
Reflections from WW11
Alec was born on 21 January 1922 in Albany, Western Australia and when he was two, the family returned to Port Kembla, near Wollongong in the Illawarra region of New South Wales.
He joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in December 1941 aged 19, shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and completed two tours of New Guinea, in 1942/43 and 1945. His task as a signalman was to set up communication lines between artillery groups and the front line, often having to venture out to repair damaged and broken lines.
“We once had to escort an officer along the coast and bring him ashore in the pitch-dark of night,” Alec says. “When we tried to signal in Morse code with our torch, we were quickly yelled at from the shore and told to put that ‘bloody’ thing out because I can’t ‘bloody well’ understand what you’re saying!”
“During my time in New Guinea I witnessed two unforgettable events,” Alec remembers. “One was during the Aitape-Wewak campaign when three American Lightning fighter planes mistakenly bombed and strafed our gun positions on Cape Wom – instead of Wewak Point. Unfortunately, there were heavy casualties among our troops.”
Another of Alec’s strong memories was “standing at parade at the close of the war [at Wewak airfield in Papua New Guinea] and witnessing the Japanese General Adachi walk the length of our lines to surrender to General Robertson”. Like many returned veterans, Joan says Alec didn’t talk much about his time in the war but felt a deep connection to those who had lost their lives and the ones who returned.
A loving family
Alec and Joan were married in 1949, they met through the stevedoring company she worked for. He and Joan still live in the home in Port Kembla – which they built more than 70 years ago – where they raised their three sons.
Joan, now 93, says some of the reason for Alec’s long life can be attributed to “good eating and being a happily married man”. It may also stem from a long-standing pleasant daily ritual. “He likes a glass of wine. We have our happy hour at 5.30 every night. Sometimes a little whiskey, sometimes a glass of wine.”
Alec has been a home care customer with Australian Unity since 2015 and receives fortnightly in home nursing support , through his Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) funding. “This allows him and his wife Joan, to stay living in their treasured family home,” says Mary Carroll-Cross, Community Registered Nurse, Australian Unity.
“Alec is fiercely independent. I often get asked to stay for a cup of tea and cake or biscuit that has been lovingly made by his wife, Joan,” Mary says.
“His main goal is to be able to remain living at home and be independent. It is wonderful that we can support him to do this through our Community Nursing Program,” Mary says.
“I feel I owe my long life to a loving wife and supportive family, as well as many great friendships. There must also be some good genes and perhaps some good luck as well.
“I try to stay active and find it important to be busy every day. I enjoy gardening and watching my vegetables grow. You also need to stay positive and maintain a good sense of humour,” says Alec.
Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is of a general nature. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.