Honouring heroes

Callum HunterSouth Western Times
“He’s my hero... my pop,” Jeff said.
Camera Icon“He’s my hero... my pop,” Jeff said. Credit: Callum Hunter

History, the military, local and community sport, AFL, these are all things military history researcher Jeff Peirce listed as his passions in life.

Jeff moved to the South West from the Eastern States in 1988 during his time in the banking sector, setting up shop in Manjimup after applying for a job at the Commonwealth Bank, longing for a sea change.

“We realised our life was skipping by and we thought ‘OK, we need to totally regenerate’,” he said.

“I asked my wife where she would like to go in Australia, and we had never been to WA, so we thought ‘first available job that comes up in WA or the Northern Territory, I’ll apply for it’, and the job came up in Manji.

“I went home and said how I put in for a job in Manjimup, and Carol said ‘where’s that?’, and I said in WA, and she goes ‘where in WA?’.”

After a quick check of the atlas, Jeff and Carol made the move west and quickly found themselves heavily involved in the community, with Jeff taking up the director’s position at the Tigers Football Club before stepping up to be the director of the Lower South West Football League.

“I loved every minute of my involvement there, grassroots, juniors, all the way through to seniors,” Jeff said.

In the following years, the couple went on to coach local swimming, netball and basketball as well as becoming State road and track cycling commissaires before making the move to Bunbury in 1991.

Jeff continued to work for the Commonwealth Bank, helping to establish the then new branch in Australind and taking it on to become the number one branch in the country.

With the industry changing and evolving, Jeff made the decision to leave the banking world, eventually taking a job at the Bunbury Cemetery, where he was responsible for grave digging and general upkeep, which in turn fanned the already burning flame that is his interest in military history.

“My grandfather and my father were both in the army,” he said.

When his birthday was called up for conscription in the 1960s for the Vietnam War, Jeff felt it was a rite of passage that he served for his country, only to be turned away due to perforated ear drums.

“The following football season, one of my mates went away (to war) and when he came back, he was a changed person ... I felt I’d let the side down but then thought ‘gee, it saved me’,” he said.

“While working at the cemetery, I saw bronze plaques on some of the graves and there seemed to be a number of them.

“I always had an incredible attachment to my grandfather ... he’s my hero, my pop.

“When I saw the plaques, I had to document them and felt a connection with my grandfather when I made that decision.”

Since that moment, Jeff has documented and researched countless Diggers from the South West, setting up four websites for the public to read about any one of them.

The pinnacle of his research career so far came in December last year when 10 previously unrecognised World War I soldiers, laying in unmarked graves in Bunbury Cemetery, were finally acknowledged with new headstones.

Not wanting to give anything away, Jeff said he had been working on a new, even bigger project that was nearing completion, a project that could be Bunbury’s biggest military history discovery.

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