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HomeNewsVivienne is nearly 99 years young and still going strong

Vivienne is nearly 99 years young and still going strong

Manilla woman Vivienne Simmons’ family is confident their almost 99-year-old heir is the only WWII veteran still remaining in the small town. Even Vivienne herself quips “Well, maybe I am, I don’t know of any others”.

Vivienne(nee Martin and the second of six children)was born in Manilla, in the old private hospital directlyacross the road from where she now lives with her baby brother Ross Martin and his wife Carol. And the tag placed upon her by nieces Vickii Cocking and Jodi Gomanin particular, is that she’s one of the most demure, kind and caring people a family could ever have the pleasure of calling their own.

“It’s great to have her back here in Manilla – if she’d stayed in Sydney, I don’t think she’d still be with us. We used to worry sick about her down there,” Vickii said of her Auntie Viv who returned home six years ago after seven decades in Sydney.

Jodi spoke of Viv’s “beautiful mind. She has so much history to share with us all, especially the grandies and great grandchildren. She’s an absolute inspiration”.Sister-in-law Carol Martin is amazed at her making such a big move after 70 years – “to be capable of selling her house and packing it all up to come home – it was a massive move”.

And while Viv, who turns 99 in November, doesn’t participate in Anzac Day marches any more, she relies on the local great nephews andgreat great nephews/nieces to wear her medals with pride each year.

With a wry grin, Viv recalls having to “get my father’s permission to go to the army at 19”.

“He jokingly said ‘I hope you get somewhere cold’. I joined the AWAS (Australian Women’s Army Service) where we trained for some months at Ingleburn before being posted to Wagga Wagga. It was cold all right, we attended 6am roll call by lantern light with an overcoat over our pyjamas.

“The Air Force was in the next town and they’d send planes up for training. Our job was to put search lights up into the sky for them. After Wagga, we went to Sydney doing similar, using search lights for tracking planes coming over the city, and identifying them. They were coming in from everywhere in 1944.”

In 1942, Viv met future husband, Sydney boy Royal Simmons (who served in the Armed Division) at a New Year’s Eve dance to aid convalescing soldiers at Attunga Hall. While on leave in 1945, the couple married at St John’s Anglican Church in Campsie. The same year, Royal and Viv were discharged and set up home in Sydney – Royal running an engineering business and Viv basically busying herself in rearing son Terry and doing volunteer work. Viv can also boast receiving letters from the Queen for her and husband Royal’s 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries.

Despite being almost 99, Viv can recall many events dating back to childhood. She remembers the “big deal” of playing representative vigaro at Barraba. She left school at 14 and joined the forces of MC McKenzie & Sons where she jokes of being promoted from “groceries to the office. I even had to write out cheques for people who could sign their name only. My weekly wage was 9s.6p (95c)”.

While rearing son Terry, Viv would put whatever spare time she had into helping others. She’s been on the auxiliary of Gideons’ International in Australia for decades, and is still a financial member.

“We’d place bibles free of charge into hospitals, motels and hotels. And when the nurses were training in the hospital – like they used to, we’d be invited into the class to talk about our faith and offer them all a copy of Gideon’s Testament.”

She was also involved in the Cubs/Scouts movement, knitting teddy bears as fundraisers, and as part of the Mothers’ Union, Viv and her colleagues “did a lot of knitting for premature babies”.

Niece Vickii Cocking amusingly recalled the No-Fuss 98thBirthday Morning Tea for Viv – “Morning Tea – it started at 10am and went on until 6 o’clock that night”!

In her own words, Vivienne Simmons reckons “the best thing I ever did was come home to Manilla and live in the house opposite where I was born”. And she is thrilled with the way young students of today involve themselves in the Anzac Day Services. “It’s good to see them learning of the history of Anzac. They’re involved with the medals and that can only carry on their family history”, she said.

By Vinnie Todd

Vivienne Martin as a member of the Australian Women’s Army Service.