Esperance veteran reflects ahead of Remembrance Day

Merv Andre served in the Korean War as a mechanical engineer when he was 21-years-old and has been a devoted leader of the community ever since. Photo: Sarah Makse.
Merv Andre served in the Korean War as a mechanical engineer when he was 21-years-old and has been a devoted leader of the community ever since. Photo: Sarah Makse.

Esperance local Merv Andre has dedicated most of his life in service to his country and community.

Mr Andre was elected to the Shire of Esperance council in 1973 serving as a councillor for 14 years and as shire president for nine.

He was president and secretary of the Esperance RSL for six years and was the first member of the Esperance branch to be awarded life membership to the league.

Throughout his involvement in the RSL, Mr Andre was instrumental in establishing the facilities of the Esperance Memorial Park, including securing the Leopard AS1 tank that is on display today.

He also served as a Justice of the Peace for 29 non-consecutive years until his retirement in 2018.

Mr Andre served 15 months in the Australian Defence Force, first in the occupation of Japan and then in the Korean War from 1952 to 1953.

Prior to joining the Air Force at 18, Mr Andre worked in his family store from the age of 14 and on a farm in Perth from the age of 16.

"I joined the air force because it was good and it was safe," he said.

"We didn't have to get up until half past seven in the morning and we were fed, given our clothes and all our medical things were looked after and they paid us well."

Mr Andre completed his rookie training at the Royal Australian Air Force Base in Pearce in Bullsbrook, 35 kilometres north of Perth.

Mr Andre proudly displays his medals of service. Photo: Sarah Makse.

Mr Andre proudly displays his medals of service. Photo: Sarah Makse.

Following his posting in Pearce, Mr Andre was based in Merredin where he received training in motor mechanics followed by further training in regional New South Wales.

"They sent me over to Wagga and we did a three year apprenticeship in eight-and-a-half months," he said.

"It was pretty full on, we were at the desks for most of the day and then two days a week we were pulling engines down and stripping and fixing them up."

After completing his training in motor engineering, Mr Andre was relocated to Melbourne where he was based for four-and-a-half months until his deployment to Japan in 1952.

Mr Andre said he had fond memories of his twelve months of service in Japan where he managed the paint shop, wood shop and canvas works.

"The people were nice, they were kind, they were very honest, hardworking and very polite, you couldn't meet a more delightful lot of people," he said.

"I learned to speak Japanese in about three months by talking to my staff."

On the year of his 21st birthday, Mr Andre was deployed to Gimpo in Korea about 11 miles north of Seoul to serve in a small contingent of mechanics.

In his role as a ground motor mechanic, Mr Andre serviced Gloster Meteor fighter aircrafts on search and destroy missions.

"I flew over there and it was winter time, oh boy was it winter," he said.

"There were seven of us in the mechanic area, we had a workshop.

"My job was looking after those engines, charging the batteries and making sure they were ready for the aircraft."

Mr Andre recounted the devastation he witnessed in Seoul when he visited throughout his three-month post.

"I drove into Seoul on RAAF business and it was just a rubble heap," he said.

"It was terrible, people were living in holes in the ground and little huts made out of American packing boxes.

"I wondered many times why anyone would want to fight over the place because they had nothing there, the Japanese had occupied them for 30 years."

On his return from three months service in Korea, Mr Andre was posted to Telecom in Pearce.

There he met his wife Dorothy and raised two sons. The pair have been married for 65 years.

After living in Narrogin for eight years the family moved home to Esperance in 1965 opening multiple businesses.

"I was brought up in a shop and so it was easy for me to open up a business and run it with my wife and she has been my help-mate, my backstop and my inspiration," he said.

The ANZAC mural on display in the Esperance Memorial Park. Photo: Sarah Makse.

The ANZAC mural on display in the Esperance Memorial Park. Photo: Sarah Makse.

Mr Andre said he was glad to see the growth in Remembrance Day ceremonies in Esperance and it was a great joy for the RSL to provide the service.

"Since 1914, Esperance has been to the fore in protecting Australia by supplying troops," he said.

"Those people go over there and they give their lives or their health and some of them come back and they are bruised and battered, and some like me had a charmed life.

"If you don't remember the past, you're going to make the same mistakes in the future."

Remembrance day is an opportunity to honour all service people, one Mr Andre said he will use to remember his brother who served as an electrical engineer and was killed in a plane crash in Geraldton at age 18.

Mr Andre said he was proud of his service and said his time in the Air Force had left a lasting impact.

"I joined the services as a boy with a chip on my shoulder against life," he said.

"When I came out of the Air Force, I was very much more matured and I think it gave me an overall view of the world rather than just six feet around me.

"I was a much better balanced person when I got out of the Air Force and that stood me in good stead in the days ahead."