Warwick RSL Memorial Club president Peter Kemp paid tribute to relatives lost in the war at the 2019 Anzac Day dawn service.
Warwick RSL Memorial Club president Peter Kemp paid tribute to relatives lost in the war at the 2019 Anzac Day dawn service. Marian Faa

Heart surgery on the bar of Texas hotel saved a soldier

THE new head of the Warwick RSL Memorial Club may not carry a gun or dig trenches, but the spirit of servitude he inherited from a long line of war heroes is what inspired Peter Kemp to take on a mammoth task for his community two months ago.

One month into his mission to turn the struggling club around, Mr Kemp laid the first Anzac Day wreath in Warwick and thanked his ancestors for their sacrifice.

Without them, he might not be here today.

"Giving up is not a word in my family,” he said.

The claim rang true for Mr Kemp, whose ancestors survived everything from heart surgery on a hotel bar to one of the most dangerous jobs on the Kokoda track.

As he stood before the towering cenotaph in Leslie Park yesterday, stories came flooding back.

Warwick RSL Memorial Club president Peter Kemp paid tribute to relatives lost in the war at the 2019 Anzac Day dawn service.
Warwick RSL Memorial Club president Peter Kemp paid tribute to relatives lost in the war at the 2019 Anzac Day dawn service. Marian Faa

"My grandfather served on the the Kokoda trail as a dapper, which was probably one of the most dangerous jobs in the military,” Mr Kemp said.

The role required him to go ahead of the forces to build bridges and blow up enemy assets.

"He nearly lost his life a couple of times,” Mr Kemp said.

One of the most amazing recollections of survival was of Oswald Wells, who returned from Gallipoli with a bullet still lodged in his chest.

Mr Kemp said the injury was so close to his great great uncle's heart, European surgeons had not been game to operate.

Settled in Texas a few years later, Mr Wells' war wounds came back to haunt him.

"The bullet moved and he suddenly started bleeding from the mouth,” Mr Kemp said.

With no choice but to remove the bullet, the local doctor performed surgery on Mr Wells on the bar of the Texas Hotel.

"The doctor's instructions were to him straight to the hotel, feed him a shot of alcohol and lay him up on the bar,” Mr Kemp said.

"All he had was whisky for an anaesthetic.”

Another relative and carpenter from Junabee, Jim Kemp, came very close to death in the famous battle of Beersheeba during World War 1.

"He was bringing up a wagon full on ammunition a plane came over,” Mr Kemp said.

"Normally you would jump between the horses but he jumped over an embankment. It was a direct strike on the wagon.”

Mr Kemp recalled a different time when Jim was in the trenches and a fighter plane came overhead.

"The planes always dropped six bombs and he could see it was in line with them,” he said.

In that moment, Jim shook hands with the soldier beside him as they prepared to die. But miraculously, the sixth bomb was not released.

Sadly, not all Mr Kemp's relatives were spared.

The name of his great uncle, Walter Christmas, is one among many on the Leslie Park Cenotaph commemorating those who were killed at war.

"The men in this monument paid a sacrifice we can't comprehend,” Mr Kemp said.

"That is important to remember and we need to never forget what they did for our country.”

As the sun rose slowly to reveal a crowd of hundreds gathered for the Anzac Day dawn service yesterday, Mr Kemp took comfort in knowing his ancestors were honoured.

But even people with no blood ties to war expressed their profound gratitude.

The sacrifice of Anzac soldier was not lost on Year 12 Warwick State High School student, Isabella Newton, who gave a touching address at the service.

"Every step I take forward, every word I learn at school and every goodnight kiss I have received from my parents is all because of you. You have allowed me to have a future,” she said.

"You have allowed me to grow up with grandparents by my side ... you have allowed me to go to school to pursue my dreams to gain an education.

"I can make my own family, build my own house and live my own happy life unscathed from the stress of war.

"All because you hoped for a brighter future and went to fight for it."

For Mr Kemp, the example of soldiers is one to live by even in the absence of war.

Now charged with the task of leading the Warwick RSL club away from the threat of insolvency, he is drawing inspiration from his ancestors.

"I am here because of my relatives,” he said.

"Giving up is not a word in our family and we are going to turn our iconic RSL around and improve its fortunes and what motivates me is my ancestors.”

With a new RSL manager by his side, Mr Kemp agreed the future was bright.



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