Taking up the Baton- Sarah Watson
Although she’d had no previous military career aspirations, Sarah’s father handed her brochures from the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) while she was in Year 12 and convinced her to apply. She recalls her father saying how much she could benefit from the quality of people she would encounter in the military. Moving through ADFA, then Duntroon, and going on to serve in the Australian Army Intelligence Corps, Sarah excelled both professionally and personally. Further along in her military career, Sarah was surprised to learn that three of her four grandparents had served in the military during WWII.
“My grandfather, Charles Kevin Hingston (who went
by Kevin), joined the Royal Australian Navy and was a lieutenant
on a submarine on active service in the Mediterranean during
WWII,” says Sarah. “And my grandmother, Kathleen Fellowes
(who went by Shirley, due to her Shirley Temple hair), joined the
WRANS and served in Berry (New South Wales) and Mitcham (South
Australia) tending to injured servicemen returning from the war.
My maternal grandfather, Patrick Herbert Hegarty, also served in
WWII on the British bombers,” she says.
As was common for this generation, Sarah’s grandparents didn’t talk about their wartime experience – especially to the children.
“I wish they were still alive so I could learn more of their military experiences and share with them some of mine,” she says.
After eighteen years of service, Sarah was discharged from the army on medical grounds, an outcome she did not expect nor want.
“This made me feel very isolated and gave me a sense that I had failed to achieve the expectations I placed on myself.”
Sarah returned to live in the Yass district and soon reached out to the RSL sub-Branch in search of other veterans to connect with. Sarah found a welcoming environment that gave her the sense of once again being among people like those she had served with. She was also drawn to what the sub-Branch was doing around ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day to look after the welfare of veterans as well as working with schools on commemoration activities. Sarah feels strongly this was what the RSL was established to do and now wants to be a part of this legacy. She feels that membership with the RSL is a way for veterans across all age groups to achieve social connection with others with similar experiences and continue the camaraderie they knew when they were in uniform.
Sarah works as an intermediary between veterans and clinicians for Open Arms (formerly known as Vietnam Veterans’ Counselling Service) – a counselling service for veterans and their families. As someone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) herself and a long military career behind her, Sarah is well placed to relate to veterans assisted by Open Arms and feels she has been able to make a difference to them. Sarah strongly believes that sport is a great way to aid physical and mental recovery – she calls it her “100% go-to” for wellbeing.
A successful Invictus Games athlete, Sarah also competes as an Ironman triathlete at the highest level and invests time into promoting an active lifestyle for her two sons – aged six and eight. Sarah’s example demonstrates the relevance of the RSL to a younger generation of veteran. Her military career ended suddenly and she found herself without the level of camaraderie she cherished so much.
Through her work with Open Arms and the Yass sub-Branch, Sarah has regained the sense of purpose and opportunity to create meaningful connections that she enjoyed as an army officer.
“I recommend younger veterans join the
RSL and I urge they approach it with an open mind. “Attending a
meeting once a month will provide valuable engagement with
other veterans,” – Sarah Watson
Sarah will be running Yoga Classes as part of Veteran Health Week at Banjo Patterson Park, Yass. Find event details on the RSL NSW Facebook page.