55 Home > Stories Menu > Bert Hagel

Bert was born as Norbert Hagel on the 8th of March 1944 in Flensburg on the Northern border of Germany. Lived in what was to be the British Zone for the next ten years. In 1954 the family moved back to the heritage district of Hamburg where he completed his formal education before joining the Merchant Navy at the age of 15.

Three years in the Merchant Navy exposed Norbert to all parts of the known world, except Australia. Now for a complete change of occupation, Norbert completed trade training in cooking and hairdressing prior to migrating to Australia at the age of 20.

Working at any job he could get Bert (note the change of name) spent thirty months around the manufacturing base of Melbourne. Patriotic zeal had Bert enlist in the Army in February 1967 with the hope of learning a new trade and formalise his Australian Education. The Army was also seen as a means of brushing up his English language skills.

Three months at Kapooka was followed by three months at Ingleburn for basic Infantry Training. As a result of a football injury and a short spell in hospital it became necessary for Bert to do a Corps Transfer to the RAE. Three more months of Corps training was followed by a Plant Opís course and Bert was finally ready to perform some real work with 1 Fd Sqn in Nui Dat. At this late stage, his naturalisation was pushed through as he was required to be an Australian citizen before he could be sent to Vietnam.

The arrival, about three months later, of some Austin Weston cranes in country necessitated the transfer of Bert from 1 Fd Sqn to 55 AESS. So Bert sadly said goodbye to the dust and mud of Nui Dat and headed for the bright lights and sand dunes of Vung Tau arriving just in time to occupy the newly built timber huts on the hill. He suffered the indignity of operating MHE in the yard at 55 for the remainder of his tour which was completed July 1969.

Bert maintained a low profile in 18 Fd Sqn, Townsville until he returned to Vung Tau (30 Terminal Sqn) in September 1971. Soon after arriving he was shanghaied into the job of managing the boozer at 17 Const Sqn and when that unit returned to Australia, Bert drifted back to the ĎTermitesí. Completing his second tour back-loading the Army before returning to Australia in March 1972.

Unable to settle into the routine of a peacetime Army, Bert requested early discharge and hit civvy street in June 1972. Bert married and settled in Innisfail with a Ďjobí on the local council as a planty. His return from Vietnam had left him with rashes all over his body which made life as a plant operator almost intolerable. This marked the start of Bertís apprenticeship with the Repatriation Commission bureaucracy.

Bert quit the council job and made a bid for the abandoned Esso Roadhouse South of Innisfail. This was to be home and work for the next six and a half years. Meanwhile his understanding of Repat continued to grow as he navigated his way through a number of increase claims and Review Boards. Swapping the large Roadhouse for a smaller main street snack bar and starting on the path of retirement in 1982. 1984 saw the end of Bertís working life when he sold up the snack bar and concentrated on raising his two daughters. He became more involved with the Repat, gained his TPI and undertook extensive training in Veterans Advocacy matters serving as Secretary of the NQ TPI Association.

The need for adequate education facilities for his girls, caused Bert to give up the good life in Far North Queensland in 1993 and move to the chills of Canberra. Through the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service (VVCS) Bert became a familiar face at the local VAN office assisting many veterans with their claims for disability entitlements. He was instrumental in establishing the Veterans Advice and Advocacy Service (VAAS) in Canberra. The office, which is co-located with the VAN office, was opened in 1997.

The year 2001 marked both a high and a low point in Bertís life. In January he was awarded the OAM for his services to Veterans his award was presented by Sir William Dean at a Government House ceremony. In March he was classed as legally blind causing a considerable change in his lifestyle and a reluctant reduction in his involvement with his fellow veterans. His battles with the DVA continue and he has recently had his diabetes accepted as being war caused due to exposure to Dioxin.

Despite his considerable disabilities Bert maintains a passionate interest in Veterans entitlements and will gladly assist anyone in need of advice or a second opinion.

Return to Top