Merle Hare has marked her 100th birthday by attending a Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial held in honour of her twin brother, presumed killed in action, 75 years ago.
The daily ceremony shares the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour, and Monday night was a particularly poignant occasion as it was held for Sergeant Donald Kelway Storrie on the day of their joint birthday.
“The last time I ever saw Donald was on his wedding day,” Mrs Hare (nee Storrie), a former Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) Writer said.
“After all these years there might not be tears, but he is always in my heart, I always think about him.
“He was a lovely man with blue eyes and blond hair, we were always together but we never had an argument.
“If there was ever anything I needed, he was there to help.”
A fitter and turner by trade, Sergeant Storrie had enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force and posted to No. 20 Squadron in Darwin.
A crewman on a Catalina flying boat, Sergeant Storrie had flown 18 missions with the squadron when, on 7 March 1945, his aircraft failed to return when minelaying in the South China Sea, its crew never found.
Wreaths were laid by the Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, and Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan.
Surrounded by family and friends, Maritime Logistics - Personnel members from HMA Ships Harman, Albatross and Penguin also made the journey to pay tribute to a remarkable woman who helped pave the way in their category.
Vice Admiral Noonan presented Mrs Hare with a gold medallion and flowers to mark her birthday.
He said the Navy was built on the values embodied by former members like Mrs Hare.
“The present and our future Navy is founded on its history which is only possible because of people like Merle,” Vice Admiral Noonan said.
“On behalf of the men and women of the Navy, I wish you a very happy birthday and thank you for your service.”
Mrs Hare enlisted in the WRANS as a Writer in March 1943 and fondly remembers the tailored uniforms they received.
“I loved every minute of my time in the Navy,” Mrs Hare said.
Her sister also served in the Army as a nurse, and in June 1944 Mrs Hare married Robert, an AIF soldier on active service; her wedding dress was made of tulle fabric and five other wartime brides wore it afterwards.
In 1946, Merle discharged from the WRANS to raise her family.
President of the WRANS Naval Women’s Association (ACT) Pauline Gribble said that Mrs Hare then went on to help form the WRANS associations in Victoria and the ACT, and is a life member of both.
“She is an impressive woman - she’s all of four-foot-ten and a powerhouse who leaves most of us in the dust,” Mrs Gribble said.
“She’s everyone’s mother, everyone’s grandmother, when so many of us don’t have those any more.
“Merle keeps us all together - she’s always there with a cuddle or a few words of advice and she isn’t afraid to tell it like it is.
“She really represents the history and the future of Navy and military people, she lives by principles like integrity and pride and really believes in them.”
Mrs Hare has two children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Despite all the attention, Mrs Hare took it all in her stride.
“When you get to 100 nothing fazes you anymore,” Mrs Hare said.