Special day for WWII vet Ken

Clarence Valley WWII veteran, 94-year-old Ken (Kelvin) Barnier, wearing his new suit he will be marching in during the 2012 Anzac Day march in Grafton today.
Clarence Valley WWII veteran, 94-year-old Ken (Kelvin) Barnier, wearing his new suit he will be marching in during the 2012 Anzac Day march in Grafton today. Debrah Novak

AS AGE wearies 94-year-old Second World War Digger and former 15th Light Horseman Kelvin (Ken) Barnier, spare a thought for him today as he is wheeled along the Grafton Anzac Day parade.

His physical body maybe confined to his wheelchair but his youthful spirit, like the old grey mare he used to ride, still runs free like the Waler brumbies in the Guy Fawkes National Park today.

Growing up as a farm boy in the 1920s on the banks of the Clarence River where some of the original waler horses were bred for Australia's cavalry, men like Ken Barnier were an ideal choice for their horsemanship and skills.

These rural young men effectively created the backbone of our cavalry units for the Australian Imperial Forces who, when WWII broke out in 1939, still had operational units in training.

Ken was born two months short of the end of the First World War in 1918 and joined the 15th Light Horse Regiment AIF (NSW Northern Rivers Lancers) with his grey mare in 1935 aged just 17.

"My old grey mare was a real goer and we used to win all the competitions when we were in camp, especially the tent-pegging events; she was a strong horse," Ken said.

Little did Ken know that when he participated in the regular militia training camps held throughout the North Coast until 1939 that he would be part of an extraordinary ending of one of Australia's national identities of courage, bravery and mateship forged and cemented in the rural areas of this country.

Grafton hosted the last peace-time Light Horse training camp in March 1939, with the following November camp a more solemn affair as Australia had just officially entered the war two months earlier when Germany invaded Poland.

Up until this time there was never any talk of Australia's cavalry and mounted infantry units being disbanded.

They were told horses would always be an integral part of Australia's war machine. These same cavalry units galloped in the shadows of the famous Australian Boer War and WWI battles, including Beersheba and other cavalry charges in the Middle East and European campaigns.

However the set of skills that gave Ken and 2000 other men like him who brought their horse from home was quickly taken away from them while in camp at Armidale with their unit becoming mechanised overnight and later to be known as 15th Motor Regiment (AIF).

It was during these war years Ken was given the nickname "the Black Crow" because his skin tanned so readily being out in the long hot days in the sun.

The Black Crow from Upper Copmanhurst embarked on his military service covering campaigns in the Middle East alongside VC recipient Sir Roden Cutler and at Milne Bay in New Guinea where a souvenir Japanese flag has the "Black Crow" name written on it and is showcased in the Australian War Memorial. His division the 7th Division 2/5th FD, Regt, Arty.

There is something Ken doesn't understand about young people of today.

"I can't understand why our young people don't know about our war heroes these days; why aren't they taught this in our schools" he said.

Ken's division, the 7th, is often known by the nickname The Silent Seventh.

There is a belief this division's achievements went unrecognised when compared with other Australian divisions. The foundation for this belief comes with the apparent censorship of the part played by the 7th Division in the fierce fighting in the 1941 Syria-Lebanon campaign.

The 7th, 6th, and 9th Australian divisions were the only divisions to serve in the South West Pacific area and the Middle East.

Ken's greatest supporter and most loving fan of all is his wife of 69 years, Baryulgil girl Kathleen Pearl Spencer, who will be cheering from the sidelines today for her real Anzac hero as he is wheeled past her in Grafton's Anzac Day Parade.

Topics:  anzac day digger world war ii

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