Sometimes the smallest things can have the most significant impact on our lives.
For Jenny Bean, who was the guest speaker at Enfield’s Anzac Day service on Sunday, small things collected during her childhood – such as her grandfather’s medals and scarab beetle ring, her grandmother and great-grandmother’s lockets containing pictures of the men they loved, war games and books that contained snippets of war-like experiences – were all subconscious influences on her life and her values.
“The values of service, tradition, honour, doing the right thing for the greater good, leadership, discipline – all of these small things led me to the military,” she said.
At present, Ms Bean works as the Waitaki District Libraries manager, but 10 years ago she was working for the New Zealand Defence Force. She started as a team leader, and was later promoted to national operations manager of defence qualifications, overseeing a team that managed more than 3000 qualifications at any one time.
In 2013, she was nominated to attend the advanced command and staff college, a nine-month residential course that involved senior military training. She was not aware there were two spots reserved on the course for civilians, but jumped at the opportunity when it was presented to her.
She lived in barracks for nine months and worked on her master’s degree in international security, along with completing senior military training.
“It was the most stressful and incredible time of my life,” she said.
There was a lot riding on the course for Ms Bean. She was one of only five women and two civilians completing the course, and she felt she was representing her father John Bean, grandfather John James (Mick) Bean and great-grandfather William Reid’s honour. Her great-grandfather served in World War 1 and her grandfather in World War 2.
Mick was deployed to Syria in 1942, a year after her father was born.
Travelling through Palestine, his sapper unit built defences along the Bekka Valley and prepared strategic demolition sites in case of an ambush, she said.
It was during this time that Mick was admitted to a field hospital with appendicitis, which developed into peritonitis. He died on July 6, 1942.
“My grandfather has been honoured for his service – a memorial tree at the old Enfield School, on the gates of the Enfield rugby grounds and on the archway of the garden of remembrance beside the old RSA building [in Oamaru],” she said.
“Small things that you wouldn’t necessarily notice around the district.”
The impact of her grandfather’s service and passing had reverberated from generation to generation.
Her father grew up missing a father he never knew. His early life was characterised by instability and the lack of a place to call home, as his mother moved around the country trying to make a life.
“These events coloured his life, the values he held and the importance of family and loyalty to him.
“Family was everything to him, and everything he did he did selflessly for family.”
John died in January, and Ms Bean said his greatest sadness was that he did not get to see his father’s grave. Mick is buried in the Gaza Strip.
Ms Bean went on to hold several other roles within the defence force.
“At the time, I did not realise that these life events, and those of my dad, and the trinkets from my childhood were connected to my grandfather’s small decision to attest and his sacrifice.
“But looking back, my experiences, and those of my dad, have all been shaped by this event, and of war.
“We all know that these decisions are not small, but are in fact significant, huge and life and generation-changing.”
Ms Bean said her story was not unique – it was a story replicated across the Waitaki district and there were small reminders of the huge sacrifice of individuals and entire families everywhere in North Otago.
She encouraged people to consider taking on the values the Anzacs aspired to.
“Courage, loyalty, respect for authority, dedication to achieving what’s best for the greater good, team work, thriftiness, willpower and perseverance, tradition and navigating adversity.
“Enormous things that have enabled successive generations to thrive.”
Ms Bean said it was an honour to be the guest speaker at Sunday’s Anzac Day service.
She had a strong connection to the Enfield Church and Anzac service.
As a child, she would help her grandmother set up for the annual service – her grandmother lay flowers and Ms Bean polished the pews.
“For me, I always feel like when I’m in the Enfield Church I’m coming home.”