Celebrating 100 years

This issue we continue to feature veterans or their spouses who are turning 100 years old. Below are three stories that have also appeared on the Facebook page of the Minister for Veterans and Defence Personnel Darren Chester. To all those veterans and their spouses who turn 100 in 2019, we say happy birthday, congratulations and thank you for your service. 

12 December 2019

Nena Shanahan

1940s photo of young smiling woman in uniform.

Nena Shanahan (nee Dobbins) turned 100 on 10 August 2019.

Nena was born in the town of Coalcliffe on the NSW south coast. After attending business college and working in an office, Nena joined the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) in October 1942. Hoping to work with rifles, Nena was instead placed in an office role in Sydney and later Port Moresby, New Guinea, where she reached the rank of corporal. 

While in Port Moresby, Nena met her future husband. They were married in Sydney in 1946 but returned to Port Moresby until 1948 where her husband was still serving.

After discharging in September 1946, Nena would attend AWAS reunions across Australia and catch up with her friends who she served with, especially Joan, who lived in South Australia. 

In 2000, Nena was presented with a plaque commemorating the AWAS and the women who served in New Guinea.

Nena said her secret to long life was exercise, home-cooked meals, not smoking and having the occasional drink.

Nena passed away on 15 October while this issue was being prepared, but her family was still happy for her story to be published in Vetaffairs


William (Bill) Geoghegan

Bill Geoghegan turned 100 on 25 September 2019.

1940s photo of young man in Army uniform.contemporary photo of elderly man in blazer, wearing his medals.

Born in Sydney and growing up in North Bondi, Bill joined the Australian Imperial Force in which he served for 12 months before enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force in October 1942. He served with Bomber Command for four years and trained in Australia, Canada and Scotland before flying Lancaster bombers from England. He reached the rank of flying officer before discharge. Bill developed good friendships with his crew.

Bill was involved in several noteworthy operations including bombing oil installations in Norway and flying in support of the Allied crossing of the Rhine, which was opposed by German armoured troops and other formations. Both operations attracted the favourable notice of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Bill advises younger veterans to concentrate on their chosen profession or trade, and keep fitness at a high level. He believes that being involved in his surf club for 82 years, as well as football and running have been a big help in living a long life. 

Robert (Jack) Gray

Jack Gray, who was born in the Sydney suburb of Erskineville, turned 100 years old on 14 October 2019.

1940s photo of young man in captain’s uniform performing dental procedure on another soldier.contemporary photo of elderly man wearing his medals with his hand on a vintage car.

Jack enlisted in the Australian Army Dental Corps in December 1942 and was a captain (then acting major) with 2/2 Dental Unit. He was the youngest dentist to graduate at the time. He moved between units as men required dental work and was always welcomed wherever he went.

At one point Jack was posted to Wau, New Guinea, but getting there wasn’t easy. The plane had to fly in through a gap in the mountains and through clouds. The Japanese were close by and the pilot had to turn back twice before arriving. Personnel and equipment were unloaded with engines running in preparation for a quick take-off. 

Jack’s unit was then moved from Wau to a nearby village lower down the mountain where he contracted dengue fever on the second day. He was taken to Port Moresby hospital then back to Australia. He was in a coma for two weeks. Once he recovered, he did not return to New Guinea and worked in Australia until his discharge in January 1946.

He developed some longterm friendships and advises younger veterans to look after their friends.

He credits his longevity to cod liver oil, constant mental and physical activity and not drinking or smoking too much.