Hazelbrook bridge to honour fallen soldier

He was a gentle man, who loved growing up in the Mountains, bushwalking with friends and swimming in the Lawson pool.

After a stint as a station assistant at Hazelbrook, Ronald Field joined the Army. He served for two years in Malaya before being sent to Vietnam, where a sniper’s bullet cut him down at the age of 22. 

For his widow, Dianne, just 18 years old, “the hardest part of it was that his body didn’t come home”.

Private Field was buried in a war cemetery in what is now Malaysia but his memory will now be recognised in his home town with the decision to name the pedestrian bridge over the highway near Hazelbrook Public School in his honour.

Blue Mountains Vietnam Veterans Association (BMVVA) members were delighted with the outcome, but Private Field — believed to be the only Blue Mountains man to die in combat during the Vietnam War — was controversially not council’s first choice.

Despite receiving seven submissions in April in favour of Private Field, a November council report recommended it be called the Stanley Hewitt Bignell bridge, backed by one submission.

Clr Romola Hollywood successfully moved to defer any decision until December, citing a lack of detail and clarity in council’s asset name selection process — which won’t be revised until at least mid-2014.

It was a messy journey, but Private Field’s name was unanimously selected by councillors at the December 10 meeting to grace the bridge.

Clr Hollywood said “all of the nominees are extremely noteworthy, however the criteria focussed on a person’s length of community service and significant contribution to a park or facility. Sadly, Private Ronald Field didn’t have the privilege of living a long life in our community.”

BMVVA secretary John Fenton told the Gazette while all of the submissions were worthy of council’s consideration, the final decision was “very significant”.

“The symmetry of it all is great, with Private Field’s name on this bridge in Hazelbrook together with the Long Tan bridge in Springwood, it won’t matter which direction you drive along the highway, you will be reminded of the commitment and sacrifice of those that served our country in all conflicts. Particularly the likes of Private Field who paid the ultimate sacrifice.” 

Mrs Dianne Field, who now lives in Culburra on the South Coast, met her late husband at Lawson Pool when they were teenagers. They were married for only six months before he was killed.

“He was a very gentle person,” she said. “He was marvellous with my young brother who was a very bad epileptic. I couldn’t think of anybody that didn’t like Ronnie.”

In a letter and photograph he sent to her from the war zone, Private Field wrote: “I know this photograph isn’t the best but it’s one of the only ones I’ve got. I hope you can use it, even for an album. Loving you always and forever, Ronnie F.”

President of the First Battalion Association, Michael Waldron, said when a soldier is killed in action today, a “ramp service” is held where his mates can say goodbye, then he is brought home for his family to farewell him. This did not happen with Private Field.

“Ron Field served his country and is remembered by his mates, by his family and by friends but he deserves a visual memorial: a place where people can see his name and understand the great sacrifice he made for the people of Australia,” Mr Waldron said.

Clr Hollywood said the council “will consider honouring the legacy of Stanley Hewitt Bignell when further infrastructure is being named in the near future”.

Mr Bignell, a World War II veteran and prisoner of war, was a manual arts teacher in the area for many years and was instrumental in improving sporting facilities in Hazelbrook and Wentworth Falls as well as starting soccer, netball and sailing clubs in the Mountains.

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