When Australia’s oldest surviving Victoria Cross recipient stepped onto his front lawn before dawn on Anzac Day, he was pleasantly surprised to find he was far from alone.
Keith Payne had planned to commemorate the occasion at his Queensland home with only wife Flo and son Colin by his side.
But almost 20 neighbours and friends surprised the family by turning up to watch the 86-year-old’s own wreath-laying ceremony, from a suitable social distance of course.
“Mum and Dad walked out of the house this morning and just went ‘blimey, where did everybody come from’,” Colin Payne told AAP.
After listening to the national commemorative service on the radio on the front verandah, Keith and fellow veteran Flo laid a wreath at the base of the flag pole on their front lawn in Mackay.
“Dad said a few words after the service and thanked everybody for turning up,” Colin said.
“I think it almost brought a tear to his eye actually.”
While missing Anzac mates and the traditional services and march, having to commemorate the day in private did not detract from the occasion.
“If anything, I think it may have added to it,” Colin said.
“It’s how Anzac Day originated. For the first few years before it was actually recognised nationally by the Australian government, that’s how people did their Anzac Day – at home.
“I found it quite moving actually.”
Other family members recorded their own Anzac messages and mini-services.
The Paynes hope the personal touches this year, caused by restrictions to limit the spread of coronavirus, continue in the future.
“People have been making handmade poppies and all sorts of things this year to commemorate, it’s just been absolutely incredible – the personalised touch to it,” Colin said.
“The commercial stuff’s gone out and people are really showing that they do want to honour the tradition and our service personnel.”
Keith left the army in 1975 after a decorated career over the quarter of a century.
The oldest of the four Australian surviving VC recipients is a proud supporter of veterans’ causes, this year helping to promote the Diggers Tribute website.
Originally published as VC recipient has own mini Anzac service