Anzac Day: Ellenbrook RSL member recalls decades of army service

Stephen O’Neil of Ellenbrook. Picture: David Baylis
Stephen O’Neil of Ellenbrook. Picture: David Baylis

ELLENBROOK RSL sub branch member Stephen O’Neil has spent most of his life dedicated to the defence force.

The former sub branch president joined the army cadets as a teenager, with hopes of following in his father’s footsteps.

He said one of his main reasons for wanting to be in the army was his father, who was a soldier during World War II.

“I wanted to be able to do my part to assist Australia to maintain its credibility and help protect our nation,” he said.

In 1982, Mr O’Neil joined the army reserves, serving 19 years with the 13 field squadron as a combat engineer.

In 2004, he moved to Sydney and joined the Australian regular army in the incident response regiment and as responsible for monitoring defence against nuclear, chemical and biological attacks.

During his posting in Sydney, Mr O’Neil was badly injured in a motorcycle accident, which meant him retiring from the army.

He said it was extremely difficult to leave the army.

“It took me a long time to realise how close I was to not being here and then I realised I wouldn’t be able to go back into the army and that was hard,” he said.

He said the mate ship and camaraderie in the army was like no other.

“No matter where you go in the army, you know you will be with some of the best people,” he said.

He said the RSL was not only open to members of the defence force, but also anyone in the emergency services or their families.

He said especially with the rise in post traumatic stress disorder in people in emergency services and the defence force, it was important they had a place to go to talk about it.

“Countless people have come to me and asked me where the RSL building is and until we get a building it’s going to be difficult to encourage more members, especially younger members to join,” he said.

“It’s a good establishment to be part of. It gives you purpose in the community and that is something you feel like you lose when you leave the defence force.

“You do things for other people and the community and it makes you feel like you belong.”

He said the risk of death because of PTSD was currently higher than the risk of dying while serving in the defence force.

“We need a sub branch building, so people can come for support before its too late and talk to people who know how it feels to go through and witness significant trauma,” he said.

“I think the sub branch will go great places with people like Chris Coote and Cass McQueen, with younger generations leading we have a better chance of getting younger members.”

Mr O’Neil said Anzac Day was about paying respect to people who fought in any conflicts, but also to civilians, places of significance, the animals and environment, which endured war.

“It’s extremely important we take that moment and honor those who paid the price, so we could live the life we do,” he said