Auburn Hospital helps inspiring WWII veteran to keep marching

Retired sergeant Bert Le-Merton at Auburn Hospital with registered nurse Richel Cruz.

Even with his 102nd birthday looming, a leg injury was only enough to temporarily postpone Sergeant Albert Leslie ‘Bert’ Le-Merton’s goal of walking 96 kilometres to raise money for charity.

Bert was recently discharged from Auburn Hospital and soon back to his daily routine of walking 1.75km, which has so far secured more than $86,000 for Soldier On, which assists younger Australian Defence personnel recover from physical and psychological injuries.

The 101-year-old veteran described his hospital care as “excellent”.

“I know it’s a difficult situation in these places to treat so many people with different afflictions, but the women and the men here have been absolutely wonderful. They’ve become friends. It’s extraordinary how well this place functions,” he said.

Bert was born in Wagga Wagga on 18 November, 1918 and served in North Africa and the Pacific with the 2/13th Australian Infantry battalion in World War II.

“I had five and a half years in the service of Australia in the AIF. My battalion first engaged German troops on the 4th of April 1941,” he said.

“We entered Tobruk on the 10th of April 1941. Those are the sorts of memories that do stick in our heads and stay there.

“We spent eight months there digging various holes in the ground, and at the same time acting competitively with the German and Italian armies to ensure they didn’t take Tobruk. And that was our first primary problem in fighting. We saw quite a bit of it, one way or another, but I was successful at any rate of avoiding any serious injury. I would’ve fired hundreds of mortar bombs at German and Italian troops.”

“You’ve got to keep busy. Keep walking around the block. That’s my advice to any young person. You don’t have to do hundreds of k’s, you just keep walking say 4 or 5 k’s a day, keep yourself active and keep using the mind. It’s important to maintain interest in life and utilise the little fella up there to understand what the world’s all about.”

After the war, Bert worked as a clerk in the Australian Taxation Office for 41 years before retiring at 61.

His advice to younger generations is to remain physically and mentally active every day, which is why Soldier On approached him to take part in their ‘March On With Soldier On’ campaign to walk 96km – the length of the Kokoda Track.

“I was never on the Kokoda Track of course because I was riding in from the sea, but it’s a matter of interest to me that this organisation was assisting younger troops. That was very interesting from my viewpoint,” Bert said.

“It’s been a very interesting pastime if you like, for an old bloke. In my view what we’re doing is extremely important. What I find is the young troops, who are retiring, for whatever reason don’t seem able to fit back into civilian life.

“To my mind it’s glorious that so much has been raised because it puts Soldier On in such a fine position to help young members of the service.”

Bert gets ready to leave hospital with his youngest son Trent Le-Merton.