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What war widows learn about life and loss

Supranee Radosevich and her children Chloe, 10 and Jayden, 8.
Supranee Radosevich and her children Chloe, 10 and Jayden, 8. contributed

Gerrard Radosevich survived Australian Army service, but cancer claimed the 37-year-old's life in 2010. His wife Supranee was pregnant and they were building a home when they found out his cancer had returned.

The Aussie soldier, who served in UN peacekeeping missions in East Timor in 2000, had already battled cancer once.

"He had a melanoma on the back of his head and it spread to his brain," Supranee says.

"It was really hard because we were battling cancer since 2007.

"I'd just given birth to my daughter, Chloe, and we'd gone through a couple of different procedures.

"And then we were given the all clear and thought we could go on with our lives."

The pair met in 1998 when Gerrard was in the army.

He was transferred to Queensland from the couple's home state of Western Australia before he served overseas.

They moved together to the eastern state, and were married in 2008.

"I fell pregnant with my second child," Supranee says.

"And then we were told the cancer had come back.

"He managed to live long enough to live in the house he built for three weeks before he passed."

Left with a 16-month-old baby and a three-year-old on the Sunshine Coast, away from most of their family and close friends, Supranee did not know where to turn for help. She struggled alone until about 2015.

"I just didn't know how to reach out for help until my son was having a little bit of aggression, and someone said 'get in touch with Legacy, they might be able to help with counselling or something'," she says.

Legacy was founded in 1923 by a small group of World War I veterans.

They believed there was a responsibility for the welfare of the spouses and children of their comrades who were killed or wounded during wartime or who died upon their return. Legacy continues to assist about 65,000 widows and widowers and 1800 children throughout Australia.

The charity helps pay for Supranee's children's school shoes and school books and this year the family participated in an annual camp.

"It was so lovely for the children to be around other children who had lost their parents as well," Supranee, 46, says.

"My children are only young, they're eight and 10, it's nice to see they are not the only ones in this type of family."

 

Gerrard Radosevich with his children Chloe and Jayden.
Gerrard Radosevich with his children Chloe and Jayden. Contributed

In turn for the help Legacy provides, Supranee volunteers to sell the well-known Legacy badges.

"It's such a nice thing to do," she says.

Supranee has many memories of her relationship with Gerrard, and says one thing that lingers is the way he always treated her as an equal.

"From nothing, we built something amazing together and that continued our whole relationship," she says

"Now we have two beautiful kids.

"The proudest moment I saw of Gerrard was the moment our baby girl was born. He was so proud, and he just cried."

Another widow to benefit from the help Legacy provides is Eleanor Shaw.

Many years ago, the 89-year-old Mt Morgan resident was an only child, and lonely. She wanted a pen friend and ended up with a husband.

The local newspaper had a section dedicated to matching up children to write letters to each other.

"I wrote in asking for a pen friend and Melva Shaw answered," Eleanor, who prefers to go by Nell, says.

The two girls struck up a friendship. After exchanging letters, Nell went for a holiday at the Shaw family farm in the Dawson Valley in Queensland. Her husband-to-be was one of the 15 children on the farm.

"I was 11, I met my husband when he was 14," she says.

"They were a big family, but they were a happy family."

That man, Arthur Shaw, was a teenager when World War II broke out and, like so many other young men of the era, he signed up to the RAAF. He served mostly in Borneo before coming home to Nell, whom he had started writing to when he was overseas.

 

Legacy supports thousands of individuals and families across Australia.
Legacy supports thousands of individuals and families across Australia. Goja1

The couple married in 1946, a year after the war ended.

They had two daughters and a son and shared 47 years together before Arthur died in 1993.

Legacy stepped in straight away to offer Nell support.

"They've been marvellous to me," she says.

"We've got a nice little group of ladies up here. I look forward to the monthly meetings."

Similarly, Legacy was there when Rockhampton resident Peggy McDonell needed support most.

She had travelled with her husband John McDonell, a Vietnam veteran, to have routine tests in Brisbane after he had a heart attack in Rockhampton in 2007.

John, a railway worker aged 60, never made it home.

He suffered a heart attack and stroke in the motel and was rushed to a Brisbane hospital.

"It was really hard because I had no one there with me," Peggy says.

The 66-year-old says Legacy stepped in straight away.

"Because of the way John died so quickly, I had a lot of problems, but they helped me with everything, really," she says.

"The thing that was the hardest was when I had to change my health into my name and my car into my name because it's the not knowing what to do."

Peggy says her husband did not talk much about his service, but the signs of post-traumatic stress showed especially in later years.

The couple married in 1974 and had a daughter and a son.

"He didn't talk much about (the war)," Peggy says.

"The only thing I can say, how I describe my marriage to him was that I was married to a man who had an affair with another woman and her name was Vietnam.

"When she visited, I had to leave."

Peggy attends meetings, sings for the other war widows and attends Legacy's Christmas party.

"I don't think I'd be where I am today without Legacy," she says.

Legacy is supported by the work of Legatees, volunteers, staff members and widows.

Find out more at here.

Topics:  peacekeeping war widows world war 2


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