TOKENS of warmth for those touched by war has been handed to eight ex-servicemen and women in Bendigo.
The specially-made quilts are part of a wider movement reaching out to Australian Defence Force personnel to remember and honour the sacrifices they made during conflict, Quilts of Valour Bendigo area representative Jim Oliver said.
"It's about telling these blokes and ladies that they have not been forgotten," he said.
More than 2000 quilts have been donated since Quilts of Valour began in Australia in 2012, president Wyn Roper said.
"We wrap the quilts around the recipients and say 'we are wrapping you in the love and gratitude of your fellow Australians'," she said.
Quilters around Australia donate their time, including those in Bendigo, she said.
"You can only make so many for your family before they shudder and say 'not another quilt'. So people who like quilting are very happy to do it for charity," Ms Roper said.
"A lot of people do quilts for hospitals and all different organisations. I'm in a few quilting organisations and they have been good enough to support us."
Mrs Roper said the group was always looking for more people who wanted to donate their skills, whether for to make some blocks or a whole quilt.
"We provide the wadding and the backing," she said.
This week's Bendigo ceremonies will likely be just the first for the region as Quilts of Valour expands with the help of volunteer Mr Oliver, an ex-National Service member.
"I don't know what to tell you other than that I enjoyed doing it (awarding the quilts). I don't know where it will go from here but its another thing I can do to help out," he said.
Mr Oliver knows all eight of those who received quilts this week well. He has been volunteering his time to visit returned servicemen and women for the last three years.
Mr Oliver meets with 14 veterans, ex-National Servicemen, war widows and "anyone who wants to have a chat".
"We talk about everything: their live, my life, what they are doing, what they would like to do, their kids.," he said.
"They just have a world of knowledge in their brain, those people. It's unbelievable what they tell me, to be honest with you."
Turn when the nuclear bomb detonates
The veterans include Jim Hebbard, a Royal Freemasons Flora Hill resident who served as a ship's cook during the Korean War.
He, like many of those awarded quilts this week, also served outside conflict zones.
Mr Hebbard witnessed British nuclear bomb testing at the Montebello Islands off Australia in the 1950s.
"We were doing surveillance work at the Montebellos. There was a pearling fleet of hundreds up there and our job was to keep them out from a certain radius of the islands," he said.
Sailors from his ship stood on deck, 60 miles away, when the first of the islands' three atomic bombs were detonated in 1952.
"The only instruction that we had was that if you were on the flight deck you had to turn away when the actual blast went off, Mr Hebbard said.
"I've got photos officially taken by our ship's photographer of this cloud, which just look so unreal."
Mr Hebbard never got radiation poisoning, though he was regularly tested in later life.
He was also present for one of the 1950's other major events, the coronation of Queen Elizebeth in 1953.
Mr Hebbard was among those who lined streets on Her Majesty's route after she left Westminster Abbey in London.
"It was a very hard program. The discipline was more severe for that than what it would normally be - and you would probably realise navy discipline is pretty severe," he said.
What's a tank driver to do when war ends?
Fellow quilt recipient Samuel Harrison arrived in Australia from England in 1952.
His military experience stretched back to the British army in 1944, where he trained to drive tanks.
"When the war ended, what can a tank driver do? So I became a medical orderly for the next couple of years," Mr Harrison said.
He was stationed mostly in Germany before he was discharged in 1948, before moving to Australia to train National Servicemen.
"I saw an advertisement in the Sunday papers," he said.
Australia began the National Service as the Korean War broke out, with compulsory call ups to help fill a shortage left by the post-war occupation of Japan.
Some 227,000 men were trained throughout the 1950s and many went through the Victorian military base at Puckapunyal, where Mr Harrison served.
"I was doing that for about two years, then I got a room as an orderly room staff sergeant at a brigade headquarters," he said.
Of all his roles, Mr Harrison said the best was being a medical orderly.
"It was very useful and I enjoyed doing it," he said.
Quilts not just for veterans
Quilts of valour not only honour veterans, they recognise the sacrifice families make when their loved ones serve their country, returned serviceman Craig Hancock says.
He welcomed the push to give more Bendigo-based veterans Quilts of valour.
Mr Hancock and his partner received a quilt of their own in Darwin after he returned to Australia following an overseas deployment.
"I had just returned from Afghanistan. I was carrying some injuries and I was introduced to a family through my recovery journey, in a sense," he said.
The family - which later donated the Hancock's quilt - was one that had lost a son of their own in Afghanistan.
"So we made a bit of a connection there and then built a great friendship. I still talk to them each week. Ray and I get on the phone and talk about rugby."
The quilt is a treasured gift that is displayed proudly in the Hancock's house.
"It's sitting on the spare bed and sparks a conversation every time someone comes around. They ask 'ah, did your Nanna make that?' We say 'nah' and that becomes a bit of a segue into what Quilts of Valour is," Mr Hancock said.
"It's a unique item. There isn't one that is the same. It tells a story of its own. They (the quilt makers) do a bit of research on people and find out stories."
Quilts have been donated those who served from World War Two through to Afghanistan, as well as to widows and children who have lost parents, Mrs Roper said.
"It's ordinary Australians to ordinary Australians, nothing high-powered or anything like that, but we have had veterans say to us that their quilt means more to them than their medals.
"We have also had veterans who are having a bad journey with post traumatic stress disorder and they've told us how important it is they can wrap the quilts around them and know people care."
Who received quilts this week in Bendigo:
- Raymond Fitzgerald, Royal Australian Air Force from 1942 to 1948
- George Illingsworth, Royal Australian Air Force from 1942 to 1946
- Valda Gilfillan, Australian Women's Army, 1942 to 1944
- Joy Sutherland, Australian Women's Army from 1943 to 1945
- Jack Fay-Widdison, Royal Australian Air Force from 1942 to 1946
- Vincent Brennan, Royal Australian Air Force from 1944 to 1946
- Ernest Hebbard, served on the HMAS Sydney from 1953 to 1954 and was in the navy for 12 years
- Samuel Harrison, British army from 1944 to 1948; Australian army from 1952 to 1958
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.