Veteran's brave war stories win over judges

Published 5:00am 16 March 2023

Veteran's brave war stories win over judges
Words by Ashleigh Howarth

A documentary telling the story of a young soldier from Australia fighting in a far corner of the world has taken out the top award at a prestigious international film festival.

North Lakes filmmaker Jeff Hughes from This Story Australia submitted Second Generation ANZAC: The Story of Alf Carpenter to the Mykonos International Film Festival in late 2022. Last month, it was awarded Best Short Documentary in Greece.

Jeff entered Alf’s story into this particular film festival due to his heroic actions during the Greek campaign including protecting the people of Greece from the Germans in the Battle of Crete in 1941.

“Alf was an incredible Australian who fought in multiple battles to defend our way of life,” Jeff said.

“He joined the Australian Imperial Force in Wagga Wagga with a mate of his, Charlie Jewel. Charlie unfortunately never made home to Australia.”

Alf served in Northern Africa including Tobruk, Bardia and Benghazi before he was sent to Greece. He then defended Heraklion in Crete before being injured and sent back to Australia. Not content to exit the service, he then went to Papua New Guinea, Bougainville and finished his career defending Darwin all before his 30th birthday.

“During the documentary, Alf continually spoke fondly about the Greek people and their hospitality and how they took care of Aussie soldiers.

“For this veteran, who was 104 at the time, to share his story with the world, and particularly the people of Greece, that emotional connection is huge.”

Alf was one of the last Anzac surviving veterans of this battle.

Throughout the documentary, snippets of Alf’s diary are also displayed on screen, with the words narrated by Rupert McCall OAM.

This win in Mykonos comes off the back of the film being selected in the ‘Our Stories’ section of the Gold Film Festival in Gympie and making it as a finalist in the Kalamata International Documentary Festival.

“Before Alf passed away on September 7, 2022 at the age of 105, we were able to tell him his documentary was named as a finalist at Kalamata in Greece,” Jeff said.

“It was screened in front of hundreds of people and he was overjoyed by that.

“Sadly, we didn’t get to tell him he won in Mykonos.”

Second Generation ANZAC: The Story of Alf Carpenter will be screened in conjunction with the Cretan Association of Australia, in Sydney and Melbourne as a part of the Commemorations of the Battle of Crete in May before being released to the public mid-year.

Follow This Story Australia’s social media pages for updates.

Veteran's brave war stories win over judges
Above: A young Alf Carpenter in his military uniform. 

COVID hinders face-to-face interview

Jeff learnt of Alf’s incredible life story after talking to his friend, author Deborah Wheeler, who asked Alf to write the foreword for her book Silk Clouds and Olive Trees – Tales from the Battle of Crete.

Deborah thought his personal stories needed to be preserved in documentary form, with Jeff agreeing.

This Story Australia received a grant from the Southern Downs Council which meant he could then interview Alf and produce the video.

“This Story Australia is all about preserving the stories of our veterans before they are lost forever, so I was glad to talk to Alf and share his story,” Jeff said.

“Alf lived in Newcastle at the time, and we had planned on going down and interviewing him face-to-face but because of lockdowns, that wasn’t possible.

“Because Alf was in aged care, he was caught up in the aged care lockdowns, and even when they started to open up, the border to New South Wales was still closed. That meant we could get down to Newcastle but we wouldn’t be able to get back to Queensland.

“We then had the idea of doing the interview via Zoom. We got Alf set up at his local RSL Sub Branch, contracted a local cinematographer from Newcastle and chatted to him that way.

“Alf had people in the room that knew him who were there to help dispel any confusion and help him feel comfortable.”

During the interview, Alf spoke about growing up in his hometown of Wagga Wagga, how he worked in a local department store, his time in the fire brigade, his role in the local Lifesaving Club, and the 40 years he spent as a member of the Merewether Mackerels Swimming Club.

Alf also spoke fondly of his best mate and asked Jeff to make a documentary on him as well, which Jeff agreed to.

“Alf basically stipulated to us that if you’re going to interview me, you have to interview my best mate Ziggy as well,” Jeff said.

“Ziggy was also a member of the RSL in Newcastle and was a Polish veteran. He fought in the Polish resistance at the age of 14 against Hitler where he mapped out the towns of Poland.

“Ziggy had an incredible story as well, and even though we didn’t have the budget to make his documentary, we just couldn’t miss the opportunity and had to self-fund that film.”

With Anzac Day just a few short weeks away, Jeff said it was sad to think that this will be the nearly first Anzac Day without Alf.

“When you think about it, this will be the first Anzac Day without Alf in over 100 years,” Jeff said.

“He was born during World War I in 1917, one year after Anzac Day began.

“For this to be the first year he hasn’t been alive for Anzac Day, that’s pretty big. I know his family will be thinking of him though.”

Veteran's brave war stories win over judges
Above: Alf Carpenter with his mate Ziggy. 

Help This Story Australia preserve history

This Story Australia is a registered charity and as such, it relies on funding from the local community to keep the stories of veterans alive.

This Story Australia has interviewed more than 50 veterans featuring six from the Moreton Bay area, as well as other servicemen and women from across Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory.

Being based right here in Moreton Bay, Jeff is hoping local businesses will come on board to help sponsor the charity so they can capture the stories of more local veterans before they are lost forever.

“It’s difficult applying for grants after grants to do these documentaries,” Jeff explained.

“People get in touch with us and ask us to interview their family members and sadly we don’t always get there in time.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear when veterans pass away before we have had the chance to talk to them.

“We are based here in Moreton Bay, and always have been, so we would love to see some help from Moreton Bay people to continue doing what no other organization in Australia is doing – preserving the personal stories of our veterans.”

If you are able to help, send an email to Jeff at [email protected]

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