102-YEAR-OLD SERGEANT BERT LE-MERTON NAMED NSW SENIOR AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR FINALIST

102-year-old retired Sergeant Bert Le-Merton has been named as a 2021 Senior Australian of the Year finalist in a ceremony held yesterday.

Recognition in these awards follows Sergeant Bert’s remarkable efforts raising awareness and funds to prevent veteran suicide as Patron of Soldier On’s March On challenge.

March On is a virtual walking challenge, calling upon Australians to walk 96 kilometres, the length of Kokoda, during the month of March to raise funds to help prevent veteran suicide. A retired Sergeant of the Mortar Platoon in the 2/13th Battalion, 20th Brigade, 9th Division of the AIF (Australian Infantry Force), Bert looked for a way to help raise money to make the lives of contemporary veterans better.

On 15 August 2020, Sergeant Bert set out to walk the March On Challenge with the hope of raising $10,000 for Soldier On – A fundraising target which he surpassed on the evening of 14 August.

In the subsequent months, Sergeant Bert averaged 1.75 kilometres a day, completing his initial objective of 96 kilometres on October 10, 2020. Bert was greeted at the finish line by the Australian Federation Guard who lined his street in a guard of honour, a sign of gratitude for his support of our contemporary veterans.

Bert’s mission did not end there. He continued to March On, reaching another significant milestone on his journey by doubling his original goal and reaching 192 kilometres and raising more than $110,000 by 12 February 2021.

By 31 March 2021, Bert had clocked a total of 419.15km walked and $112,223 raised to help prevent veteran suicide.

Soldier On CEO, Ivan Slavich, said the organisation is honoured to have Sergeant Bert Le-Merton, an Australian living legend, to support the March On campaign.

“Sergeant Bert is an inspiration to us all and is incredibly deserving of this wonderful award. Bert is a true living legend. His bravery and sacrifice during World War II is admirable to say the least. His family have followed suit, with his children and grandchildren also defending our nation and communities on the frontline. It is clear that his passion for supporting our current and future generation of veterans and their families is close to his heart,” Mr Slavich said.

“Thanks to Bert’s commitment and tireless efforts throughout the campaign and beyond, we saw an enhanced national conversation on the issue of veteran suicide and the challenges that the community faces. We thank Sergeant Bert for his commitment to our veterans,’ Mr Slavich added.

Sergeant Bert said this is an extraordinary acknowledgement for an ordinary bloke.

“It is a great honour to be named as a finalist for Senior Australian of the Year. I’m just an ordinary bloke and we need more ordinary blokes and ladies to get involved and make a change. I hope I can encourage others to champion a cause they are passionate about,” Sergeant Bert said.

“I thank all those members of the public who have joined me by taking part in the challenge and making donations. The funds raised through March On will do a great deal to support the young men and women who have served our great country,” Sergeant Bert said.

Sergeant Bert will celebrate his 103rd birthday later this week.

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