When John Hardgrave saw his grandfather leading an Anzac Day march with his medals proudly pinned to his chest, it inspired him to pursue his own life of service.
“One of my earliest memories of wanting to join the military was when I watched my grandfather lead the Anzac Day march in Brisbane one year, and I just remember how proud he was,” John says.
“I also remember the comradery between him and the mates he served with, which made me realise that was something I wanted to be a part of.
“It was that moment that led me down the route of joining the military.”
John, who lives in Albany Creek and is the Head of League Development at RSL Queensland, enlisted in the Australian Army when he was 19 years old and served his country for 17 years.
He was involved in a number of overseas tours, and also helped out his fellow Australians when natural disasters struck.
“I have had a pretty good career in the army. I have been all over the world and Australia thanks to the defence force,” John explains.
“I served in the Solomon Islands in 2004, Timor-Leste in 2006/2007, then back to the Solomon Islands in 2008/2009, before a tour of Afghanistan in 2012,” John explains.
“In 2011 I was also part of the Queensland flood assist following the floods in Grantham.
“As a battle group we went out there and did a lot of work in the community to help them recover.
“That operation was very unique because we were helping Australians.
“I am incredibly proud of what we were able to do at the time on the ground, both here and overseas.”
After being discharged, John has continued to serve his country through the Australian Army Reserve, where he mentors the next generation of soldiers.
He has also been involved in numerous fundraising initiatives to raise money for veterans, is the current Director and Treasurer of the Gaythorne RSL, and volunteers at the Bribie Island Surf Lifesaving Club and his local football club.
A time to reflect
As a veteran, Anzac Day is one of the most important days of the year for John.
“For me, Anzac Day is a personal thing. It’s a time to recognise the sacrifices of those people who have signed on the dotted line and given a blank cheque to Australia to serve, even if that means they might die for their country,” John says.
“We recognise those that served before us and who bravely fought so we could enjoy the lifestyle and the freedoms we as a nation enjoy today.”
Each year, John spends Anzac Day in a different location to lend his support to veterans and smaller RSL Sub Branches in regional communities.
“There is a group of us from all around Australia that get together every year to commemorate Anzac Day,” John says.
“We try and go out to the regions that don’t have a lot of younger veterans, so we go and support not only them, but also the local RSL Sub Branches to let them know that people haven’t forgotten about them.
“We try and go somewhere different each year. We have done places like Longreach and Lennox Heads, and Tasmania is one the cards as well.”
Another memorable Anzac Day for John occurred during the COVID19 pandemic, when Australians stood in their driveways at dawn due to services across the country being cancelled.
“We have a unit on Bribie Island, and in the unit below us was an old Vietnam Veteran. I had the opportunity to stand in solidarity with him on the driveway at dawn,” John explains.
“He found it hard because there were no Anzac Day services. That was all he had left.
“Sadly, he has now passed, and that was his last Anzac Day.”
With record attendance numbers at Anzac Day services last year, John is once again hoping to see large crowds come and pay their respects.
“When you look at the most recent census data, one in 20 Australian households reported at least one person who had served or is serving in the Australian Defence Force,” John says.
“What I find fascinating is each of those households with a serving member would have likely have a grandparent, parent, sibling or children that are involved in the military who would be occupying a different household on census night.
“When you look at those family connections, it would actually be less than one in 20 households that would have a connection to someone in defence.
“That’s why it is so important to pay our respects to all former and current service men and women, for without them, we wouldn’t have the lifestyle we have today.”
Supporting all veterans
Supporting all veterans, no matter how old they might be or what battles they have been involved in, is an important cause close to John’s heart.
“Veterans are all bound by service, regardless of whether they served in the Australia Army, Air Force or Navy,” John says.
“Even though we might have had different experiences – such as serving in Vietnam or Afghanistan – we are all bound by the same core values and speak the same language.
“That is why I spend a lot of time talking with other veterans.
“Sometimes it might be listening to someone, but a lot of the time it’s about connecting them to a service they didn’t know existed.
“If I can help them get the support they need, then that’s a win.”
John is also passionate about raising money for charities that support veterans like Soldier On – a not-for-profit veteran support organisation that delivers a range of services to enable serving and ex-serving veterans and their families to thrive.
A super thanks for his service
In 2022, John was named as the Dickson Citizen of the Year, which acknowledged his contribution to the community as a former member of the Australian Defence force, passionate volunteer and veterans’ advocate.
He was presented the award by the now Opposition Leader Peter Dutton on Australia Day.
His story appeared in Moreton Daily, which his wife had framed for him as a Christmas present.
When he unwrapped his present, there was a little extra surprise.
His wife had met Australian movie star Chris Hemsworth through her job and asked him to sign his autograph underneath the news article.
John was super chuffed to see Chris had written Congrats ‘fellow hero of the world’, followed by his signature.
“I actually had to Google it to make sure it was his signature,” John says.
“But it’s pretty cool to have the signature of an Avenger.”
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