Members of the city's emergency and health services joined the family of one of Ballarat's quiet, unrecognised heroes for a short but moving acknowledgement of remembrance at the Ex-Prisoner of War Memorial in the Botanical Gardens.
The family of George Frederick Oakes came to Ballarat to receive his war medals, which were discovered by the Blacket family in the drawer of a piece of furniture commissioned for auction some years ago.
Trish Blacket came from Melbourne to return the WWII decorations and meet the Sweatman family, especially 91-year-old former fireman Noel Sweatman, a nephew of George Oakes, who had travelled from Gosford in NSW to attend the short ceremony organised by The Courier.
Who was George Oakes? For almost 50 years he played a central role in the welfare of the people of Ballarat, first as an ambulance driver then as the city's senior ambulance officer. He later worked in the outpatient's area of the Ballarat Base Hospital as a storeman, ensuring surgical stocks were adequate and supervising the maintenance of the ambulances he had once driven.
He also worked as a volunteer firefighter for Ballarat City Fire Brigade, and by all accounts heard at the handover was a quiet, kindly and generous man who saw it as his duty to help others.
Part of that sense of duty saw him put his age down by four years to enable his enlistment in the Second AIF - a decision that led to him joining the 2/9 Ambulance Corps, a unit based in Singapore. Captured by the Japanese during the fall of the city, he spent the duration of the war in prison camps, enduring the privations, beatings and maltreatment suffered by all the prisoners.
George Oakes died in 1965.
Colleagues who worked with George Oakes attended the handover and spoke of the kindesses he showed them as young employees, ensuring they were looked after and learned their jobs well.
Also attending the service were members of the Ballarat City Fire Brigade, Ambulance Victoria, committee members of the Ex-POW Memorial and Dale Fraser, CEO of Ballarat Health Services. Historians Ron Lee and Carissah Cain-Sultana also attended. Ms Cain-Sultana provided helpful research in identifying Mr Oakes's relatives.