The president of the Brisbane Branch of the 31st Battalion Association Ray Fogg has passed on the following sad news:
It is with great sorrow that I have to advise the passing of our great leader, companion and distinguished soldier of the 31st Infantry Battalion an the 2nd Battalion Royal Queensland Regiment who died at midnight on Monday the 25th November 2019. His funeral was held on 3rd December 2019 at Morleys Funerals cnr Hugh Street and Martinez Avenue, Townsville at 1100hrs, he was 89years old.
The funeral was attended by family and friends including a number of past members of the 31st Battalion. The President of the 31st Battalion Association Greg Stokie added "I think Hugh has a special place in the history of the 31st over the past five decades......" All of those of us who have had the privilege of serving with him over that time would heartily agree.
Well this is a tough gig. In our family, it was usually Dad that delivered the eulogy at funerals. Jenny and I will
try our best.
Thank you all for being here to help us farewell Dad and for the love and support we have had over the last week
since his unexpected departure.
Hugh Bracken Gaffney was born on the 11 May 1930 in Bowen Nth. QLD. He was the youngest of 5 children of
John & Florence Gaffney. His middle name was his mother’s maiden name. His siblings were Florence Annie,
Mildred Edna, John James, & Collin Alfred. All have predeceased him. Hugh was educated at the Bowen state
primary & high school from 1935 – 1945. Having grown up in a happy family environment, family was always
Dad loved having his family all together. Today we are all here but with a huge gap without him being with us.
Youngest grandchild, Alex, was assured by all our family that he should not take time off from his job in Hong Kong
to come back for this funeral but came anyway. I think I know who he inherited that stubborn streak from.
Dad was seriously outnumbered with a wife and two daughters, but he eventually won when Jenny and I married
Paul and Barry who were wonderful sons-in-law and then expanded the family with three grandsons and one
granddaughter. The final score – 6 to 4. But they all probably knew where the real power stayed.
One of Dad’s happiest days was the 2014 celebration of Mum and Dad’s 60th wedding anniversary. The photo
we have chosen of him for today was taken that day. We celebrated the occasion with family and friends and the
guests included 3 people who were at the wedding on July 3rd, 1954 – Mum’s brother Barry Sleigh and Mum
and Dad’s almost lifelong friends Maureen and Orton Matthews. In July this year Mum and Dad reached their
65th anniversary. A long and very successful marriage and as Dad would say “with never a cross word”.
With the McGeachins in Townsville and the Bullimores in Melbourne all of our family still managed to remain
a closely knit unit. Dad had a special connection with his four grandchildren. They all have wonderful memories
of the various tent constructions in the back garden at Tertius Street, cooking the BBQ with Granddad, Mad
Hatters Tea Parties, and endless other projects and activities. They all simply adored him and he was so proud
of them all. Anna was forever his princess and James, Matthew and Alex could do no wrong in his opinion,
even if they all have beards. On Father’s Day this year, he phoned Jenny before he went to bed to say that he
had the most wonderful day because he had heard from all four grandchildren. Anna, Matthew and James
had phoned and he had checked his email and found a message from Alex.
Apart from a close family life, Dad led a very productive life in the community. In 1945, he commenced his
boilermaking apprenticeship with Queensland Rail in Townsville after completion of his Junior certificate in
Bowen. In parallel to his “day job”, he joined the Citizens Military Forces at the age of 18. He remained in
both of these vocations for the rest of his career.
In 1982, Queensland Rail appointed Dad as their first full time workshops occupational health & safety officer,
covering all the northern area. After the odd 37 years on the tools, this was a responsibility he thrived on and
gave it his best.
Dad had a long and distinguished military history which we are all proud of. His rise from enlisted private in
1948 to Colonel in 1980 showed his ability in leadership and organisation. In 1964 he was attached to the
Pacific Islands Regiment (Papua New Guinea) and served as patrol commander on the border of PNG and
Indonesia during the Indonesia confrontation. Jenny and I got some interesting souvenirs from that posting.
In 1970 he was seconded to full time duty and attached to 7 RAR, South Vietnam. More souvenirs! I don’t
think we quite appreciated what he was doing.
From 1965 to 1969, Dad was Commanding officer of 31st Battalion. Subsequent to that, he raised the first
Army Reserve officer cadet training unit in North Queensland then in 1971 the Command Staff Training
Unit to train officers for higher promotion. By 1977 he was appointed commander 11 training group North
Queensland. In the same year he was honoured with a member of the order of Australia for exceptional
service in the Australian Army Reserve; in the establishment of officer training in North Queensland and
the training of officers. In 1980 he was promoted to Colonel and appointed Commander 11 Field Force Group.
A remarkable part-time career.
In years past, the CMF in Townsville had its own band. Dad, being a music expert (NOT) consulted with
bandmaster, Keith Hebden, on the music to be played. Keith told the story that when it came to a march
tune he pleaded with Dad “not Colonel Bogey again”– so we have selected that march as the final
farewell to Dad today. Jenny and I grew up with going to marches, mess parties and Dad being “at the
army”. It was just normal for us. One special event I remember clearly in the late 1960’s was when Dad
was CO of 31st battalion and they received new colours. There was a parade and ceremony we attended
along with Dad’s parents who travelled from Bowen to attend. It must have been a very proud day for them.
Jenny and I didn’t care that we didn’t get to go to the evening function – we had the evening with the
Matthews family – a much better deal. At a later date Dad laid up the old colours in St James Cathedral.
Dad was always very proud to serve his Queen and country – although it was King and country when
he started. He had many longlasting friendships from his army years. One in particular was with his batman
and driver Banjo Paterson who has steadfastly visited him regularly on Thursday mornings. Dad was
honoured to become the patron of the 31st Infantry Battalion Association which maintained the connection
of past members of the battalion.
Dad was a wordsmith. We all received very special messages from him on greeting cards. Last week we
found a notebook where he had collected various poems, bible verses, hymns, quotations, sayings that had
obviously meant a lot to him. He had also recorded his messages included on cards to the grandchildren
on milestone events starting with when they finished primary school.
Dad also was meticulous in collecting his family history. He had folders that included documents and newspaper
articles that ranged from his ancestors through to my sister and I and then the grandchildren. Something he
did quietly that produced a wonderful record for us to keep.
Dad retired from the Army Reserve in 1985 and from Queensland Rail in 1995.
In retirement, Dad did not stop becoming involved in new pursuits. When grandsons, James and Matthew
commenced playing junior cricket, he and Barry split the cricket duties between the different age grade
locations. Dad taught himself how to score for the cricket matches and became the dedicated scorer for
Matthew’s junior teams right through until Matthew played in the senior grade. So there where lots of
Western Suburbs cricketers who knew “Grandad” well.
When Mum and Dad moved to St James Retirement Village in 2007, Dad really enjoyed the social events
and assisted the social club where he could. In recent years Mum’s mobility problems meant that they
participated less in village activities, but they appreciated the friendship of their wonderful close neighbours
and others across the village.
Dad was a very proud Australian and Queenslander. He was happy when the Cowboys won and especially
if the Maroons won the State of Origin. He particularly liked watching the cricket and followed the recent
1st test with Pakistan on TV.
When the NBN was connected to St James Village, we equipped Dad with a laptop and launched him online.
In recent years, he has had grandchildren living in Germany, New Zealand and Hong Kong so the ability to
email became important. He mastered some online connections with quick links on the internet to BOM for
cyclone warnings and the 31ST BN Assoc website. While claiming to have learnt typing at Bowen State
High in the 1940s, Dad’s keyboard skills were not great. He always typed in upper case and there were
often amusing typo errors in his messages. He utilised the printer to photocopy and to print out emails and
photos to share with Mum. He also used the laptop to create useful lists and notes. An interesting document
was his preparation of a profile of his life which has helped us to include what was important to him in
Dad we will all miss our happy hours at the village with you and Mum, particularly when we were all up in TSV
and squeezing into your outside lounge. We had a lot of laughs on those days. I will miss our Sunday phone calls
particularly during footy season when we could talk about the Melbourne Storm and the Cowboys games. And
if the Storm get beaten next year, let it be by your Cowboys!!!
We have all been so lucky to have had so many wonderful years together. You have gifted us with so many precious,
funny and poignant memories. We will miss you so much. But you are forever in our hearts.
----o0o---- The following is a brief quote from the book "Crossed Boomerangs" by the late Captain Bob Burla: Quote - Hugh Gaffney was born in Bowen on 11th May 1930. He received an early insight to the CMF (now the Army Reserve) training from his father who had earlier served with the 27th Light Horse. Hugh enlisted in the 31st Battalion as a private on 9th March 1949 and after three years in the ranks was commissioned in December 1952. He served as Mortar Platoon commander until November 1956 when he was promoted to Captain and posted as transport officer. His leadership qualities and his ability to get the best out of his men soon became evident and in 1958 he became Company Commander of B Coy and in 1959, D Coy with the rank of Major. On the Army's re-organization to the Pentropic Establishment he became Officer Commanding C Coy 2RQR, the headquarters and two companies of which were located in Townsville whilst the remaining two platoons were located in Ingham and Ayr. Promoted to LtCol in January 1964 he served as Executive Officer 2RQR and later was posted to OCTU. In February 1966 he was appointed Commanding Officer 31st Battalion the Royal Queensland Regiment and competently led the Battalion for the next three years. He left the Battalion in 1969 and was posted as Chief Instructor OCTU NQ Area, a newly formed unit in North Queensland. LtCol Gaffney's ability to command, his obvious concern for the welfare of all ranks, his fairness in dealing with his officers and above all his own continued enthusiasm and devotion to duty, stands as an example for all. - Unquote