While most of Australia returned to work following the ANZAC Day public holiday, seven TSS Cadets and a contingent of TSS staff hopped on a bus and made their way to Clifton for a unique ceremony. For the boys, it would be their 7th ANZAC service in two days, and with Clifton located in the southern Toowoomba region, it was going to be an all-day commitment. But this was special.
Clifton, Queensland, is the home of The Southport School’s oldest Old Boy, Joffre Bell. Now 103 years old, Joffre’s journey has been far from typical. He first stepped foot on TSS grounds as an 11-year-old in 1932, where he joined McKinley House and was one of just 100 boys in the school – all of whom were residing in the clocktower building. Thrilled by the adventure away from home, he wasted no time getting involved in school sports, including the shooting team and playing as a hooker in the ‘Mickey’ First XV rugby team. After graduating in 1937, Joffre joined the Toowoomba Air Club and eventually the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1940 as WWII swept across Europe. Due to a lack of facilities in Australia, the RAAF had him sent to Canada for training and then transferred to Britain to join the Royal Air Force as part of the bomber command. He was sent to the 102 Squadron (a heavy bomber squadron) as a navigator and bomb aimer, and would fly missions across Italy, Germany and France. Joffre is now one of Australia’s oldest living WWII veterans.
Not surprisingly, the TSS ANZAC day service is an important date on Joffre’s calendar. For last year’s ANZAC Day, Joffre was brought to the service by helicopter from Clifton. Due to health concerns this year, TSS brought the service to Joffre. Joffre’s daughter, Kirsten, was incredibly appreciative.
“The fact that they came up and actually ran another service was really, really special. Joffre is always genuinely overwhelmed with the kindness and attention that the students, the staff, and School give him”.
Fiercely independent, Joffre drove his mobility scooter down to Clifton’s FE Logan Hall unassisted, not unlike his days as a student where he would travel alone to school: first by mail train from Clifton to Brisbane, then an overnight stay in Brisbane before catching the Gold Coast ‘Stinker’ to Southport and walking the remaining kilometres to TSS. Joffre was thoroughly impressed with the service, particularly the exemplary efforts by the boys in the TSS Catafalque Party. He was given the opportunity to recite The Ode, which he accepted. Kirsten was just one of many moved by his recital, knowing that there were strong memories behind each of Joffre’s words.
She went on to explain how Joffre sees his longevity as a way of reminding everybody about those who didn’t come back from the War. As such, he greatly appreciates how TSS acknowledges the heroes who have served and how the School imparts the idea of respecting their sacrifices to its students.
Fortuitously, the ceremony took place the day before Joffre’s 103rd birthday. He was treated to a grand luncheon by the Country Women’s Association, a video recording of the Prep School Camerata singers reciting Happy Birthday for him, and a visiting Light Horseman from Warwick.
Despite turning the page on yet another year of his second century, Joffre is not afraid of dying, having rapidly made peace with the idea while flying over war-ravaged Europe some 80 years ago. Under the impression that the key to longevity is to ‘keep moving’, Joffre spends his days walking and scootering around town, practising Esperanto, making trips to the shops and sometimes speaking at local schools about his days flying in the Air Force. Kirsten believes it’s his positive outlook on life and how he always tries to find the humour in things that has ensured he continues to thrive. And that’s something to be celebrated.
Joffre said he can’t wait until next year.