The Bambi Kindergarten celebrated its 60th anniversary in May 2012. Situated on former Department of Defence land at Ingleburn, NSW, the kindergarten was established in 1952 by the wives and widows of the Australian Regular Army (ARA) personnel serving in Korea. Following the outbreak of the Korean War, Infantry battalions destined for Korea were stationed at the camp. Throughout the past 60 years, the kindergarten has served many defence families in the area.
In 1952, the Korean Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Australian Regiment was established and were involved in establishing the kindergarten. They had close links with the War Widows’ Guild. In 1955, the Guild’s minute books show that the Auxiliary was disbanded and the remaining funds were presented to the Guild with a request that they be used for the welfare of Korean war widows.
In 1997, a memorial plaque for the 22 soldiers reported as “Missing in Action” during the Korean War (1950 to 1953) was unveiled by the Hon Bronwyn Bishop, then Minister for Defence, Industry Science and Personnel. She was also present at the 60th anniversary this year.
War Widow Joyce O’Keefe was invited to cut the anniversary cake. Her children attended the kindergarten and she became one of the first teachers while they lived at the Army camp in the 1950s. But the story does not end there.
The first unit of the Australian Army to bear the title of the 4th Fourth Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment was raised in 1952. On 18 January 1952, a unit known initially as the Royal Australian Regiment Depot was raised at Ingleburn, NSW to train and hold Infantrymen for service in Korea. From the raising of the Royal Australian Regiment in Japan after World War Two, the Australian Army had only three regular Infantry battalions. 3 RAR was engaged in operations in Korea as part of the United Nations Force and 1 RAR was in the process of deploying to Korea to double the Australian commitment there. 2 RAR had also been warned for service in Korea and 2 RAR was unable to train individual replacements for the two battalions in Korea and at the same time conduct battalion level training to prepare itself for operations in Korea.
On 10 March 1952, the Royal Australian Regiment Depot was renamed the Fourth Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (4 RAR). This renaming was necessary as the Government had given approval to raise a fourth battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment and not a regimental depot as was intended. In the event however, 4 RAR actually performed the function of a regimental depot conducting the Infantry corps training of personnel destined for Korea and later Malaya including a young soldier named Pte Les O’Keefe. 4 RAR then had a permanent staff of only about 40 personnel, although several thousand Infantrymen passed through it during the eight years that it existed on the Order of Battle - the name given to the military’s organisational structure. 4 RAR, the depot was removed from the Order of Battle in 1960 and a new 4 RAR was added in February 1964
Sergeant Les O’Keefe, the husband of Joyce O’Keefe, after serving in Korea with 3 RAR from November 1952 until November 1953 was appointed as a sergeant instructor at 4 RAR, Ingleburn in the late 1950s. In 1964 the now Warrant Officer Class 2 Les O’Keefe and his wife, Joyce marched into 4 RAR at Woodside, South Australia. There was no child minding or kindergarten facilities available in Woodside so the CO told his wife that they could have an empty hut in the camp area as a kindergarten if they could equip and run it themselves. The kindergarten was run by Joyce O’Keefe and Verna Burzacott, the wife of the Assistant Quartermaster, Lt Don Burzacott.
During the Battalion’s tour of duty in Malaya and Borneo from 1966 to 1967, Joyce O’Keefe taught at the kindergarten in Terendak Garrison in Malacca. Lo and behold, but who should be teaching kindergarten at Holsworthy in the late 1960s early 1970s but Joyce O’Keefe.
There are many children of 4 RAR families who developed from young, lovable, adorable, responsible Army brats into young, lovable, adorable, responsible Australian citizens because of Joyce O’Keefe. Well done Joyce, thank you.
THE BAMBI KINDERGARTEN
With thanks to the Vetaffairs newsletter Spring 2012 and Lt Col Brian Avery, author of Our Secret War.
Ian Saunders, son of Korean MIA soldier Pte John Saunders, cuts the anniversary cake with Joyce O’Keefe.