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October 29, 2019

The Diggers’ Friend

Veterans’ health is not a new concern. RSL LifeCare’s existence is based on support for those in need.

Stephen Stack MBE, co-founder of the “War Vets” home, now RSL LifeCare Anzac Village at Narrabeen, was acutely aware of the physical and mental health issues of veterans.  Having served in WWI on the Western Front, Steve Stack dedicated his life to helping veterans.

His life’s work was done but this errand of mercy will still go on.

In the War Veterans’ Home News in March 1955, just after he died, it is written how his early death, at 62, was a sad blow which had fallen upon the thousands of disabled returned men from both World Wars.

“His life’s work was done but this errand of mercy will still go on.

“He was a gunner in the first A.I.F. and served overseas in the First World War where he received a head wound. Because of his good influence upon his comrades they affectionately referred to him as “Lead Kindly Light”. Many years later the accuracy of that description became more apparent. During the Great Depression of 1930-1931 he sat on a seat in the Domain where hundreds of returned men were gathered and he saw the miserable plight of men suffering from the effects of war with little hope of employment and many seemingly homeless, shabby and hungry. It was while he was sitting on this seat silent and alone that the seed of charity was born in his breast. He made up his mind that henceforward he would devote his life to the men whom he described as the “burnt out diggers” – men suffering from the ravages of war and fighting a losing battle in peace. It is not generally known that prior to this time he was in business and also had an interest in a catering concern, but the business became unprofitable because his sympathy for the out-and-out digger got the better of him and he gave his profits away. Every evening he took parcels of sandwiches, in fact all the foodstuffs he could spare, into the Domain and distributed it amongst the unemployed and destitute diggers.”

With the Sydney Legacy Club and the NSW Division of the RSL, the War Veterans’ Home at Narrabeen (1939), with branches at La Perouse and Yass, were created. Called a haven of rest, peace and comfort, Stephen Stack knew that buildings alone would not be the remedy for their needs, but his presence amongst the men provided the spirit of human kindness and friendly understanding which softened their hearts and urged them to carry on.

Story by Liz McDougall

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