Legacy has its origins in the Great War of 1914-1918, in Gallipoli, Palestine, France and Flanders. Some of the men returning from those battlefields wanted to do something to help the families of their mates who had fallen. One of those men was my grandfather, Lieutenant Harold Lilja.
I was working for Thales when I first made contact with my grandfather’s second family. From my half-uncle I discovered that Harold had been heavily involved with Legacy in its early years. As Thales is a national partner of Legacy I contacted the Melbourne Legacy office and they confirmed Harold’s involvement through their historical records.
In a handwritten letter from 1980 from Harold to my uncle Clive given to me after Clive’s death, Harold wrote that when asked by his WWI mate if he could nominate Harold to join Legacy his mate said “Legacy means every man who died left a Legacy to his mates to care for his wife and kids”. Harold accepted and was elected Melbourne Legacy’s first Chairman of Committees and was one of their first Legatees.
Founded by men like Stan Savige, and on the ANZAC tradition of mateship, compassion, fairness and honesty, Legacy is unique in the personal contact its Legatee volunteers offer to spouses, and the special role they play as mentors to Legacy kids. They provide support to families of the Australian Defence Force who have given their life or their health for their country, relying on donations and volunteers. Legacy currently cares for around 70,000 families across Australia.
My grandfather was still a young man of 31 years himself in 1925 and says in the same letter that he “loved the wonderful men” in Legacy and that they “would meet in his office and would all throw in a bob or two to cover expenses” (a bob being a shilling in old currency). Harold also says that he, Rex and Ray Hall “were the first three Legatee advisers” and that he and Harold Peters were “selected to receive and manage the first children – 145 of them at Anzac House”. Later Harold went on to promote a Brisbane Legacy office (according to Melbourne Legacy’s history book).
I was told by my Uncle Bruce on his deathbed that Charles Kingsford-Smith used to come and visit his father Harold on Anzac Day and they would go and get roaring drunk together. I always wondered how Harold and “Smithy” would have met? After all Harold was in the army during WWI and Smithy the air force.
Then one day in 2012 I was in the Sydney Legacy office when I saw a portrait of Smithy with his Legatee pin! I can’t prove it but I’m sure they would have met through their work for Legacy. Uncle Bruce said his father took him as a little boy to the airport to see Smithy and Charles Ulm, and that Ulm took him up for a flight.
Melbourne Legacy was established in 1923 and has 445 Legatees looking after 9,760 widows. “The dedicated men and women who provide the care and assistance Legacy is known for are called ‘Legatees’.” Since 1923 Legacy has kept a promise to help the families of our fallen heroes. So far they’ve helped over 100,000 and stand ready to support a new generation of Australians who continue to serve in great danger. Should the unthinkable happen Legacy will be there but they can’t do this on their own. They need you!
Stan Savige had a dedicated passion to support the children of all comrades, and he developed a Legacy Charter that read:
“The Spirit of Legacy is Service.
The care of dependants of comrades who served in the Great War and who gave their lives or health, affords a field of service. Safeguarding the interests of children is a service worth rendering. Personal effort is the main essential.
Inasmuch as these are the activities of Legacy, it is our privilege to accept the legacy of the fallen.”
There are many practical ways that you can get involved and help keep the promise made in the WWI battlefields.
Some of the work undertaken in a typical year by Legatees and Legacy volunteers includes: taking 450 children on holiday camps; providing 16,000 day trips for widows; helping with 3,000 pension entitlements; helping around the house with 8,000 home maintenance visits; making 40,000 home visits and calls to the frail elderly; helping 1,200 families with financial relief payments; running 3,000 care programs for socially isolated persons; providing education support for socially isolated widows; operating 360 social centres; helping 400 families or individuals with intensive care management; providing 654,000 volunteer hours per year with a dedicated 24/7 service; and running 640 tutor programs for adults and children!
The Badge of Legacy symbolises in its torch the undying flame of service and sacrifice handed to us by our comrades in war who have passed on. In its wreath of laurel, with its points inverted in remembrance, is the guerdon of honour; that is the meed of those who gave their lives for their country.
I was pleased to be able to honour my grandfather Harold’s commitment and service to Legacy by fundraising at Thales and raising $10,000 between 2007 and 2015. You too can make a contribution. Look out for Legacy volunteers on Anzac Day handing out rosemary and check out their website!