Ken Highfield shoulders arms at the Uki Cenotaph.
Ken Highfield shoulders arms at the Uki Cenotaph. John Gass

War vet, 95, rakes up past

IT is a powerful grip honed by a lifetime working on farms, hefting a heavy .303 Lee Enfield rifle during the Second World War and for nigh on the past two decades painstakingly raking the lawn surrounding the Uki Cenotaph and the extended grounds inside Uki Public School.

Ken Highfield is 95 years old, still ram-rod straight, in "good nick" and despite his years boasts a handshake that could crush the fingers of the unwary.

For nearly 20 years, this man has packed his wheelbarrow with a couple of plastic buckets and a rake, and trooped down the hill from his home to the centre of the little village where he spends a couple of hours every day "keeping the place tidy", as he says in his still-rich Yorkshire accent.

The work around the cenotaph doesn't take the war veteran and highly-respected and dedicated legatee too much time to leave it leaf-free.

But it is a different matter once "Pom", as he is universally known, steps onto the picturesque Uki Public School grounds.

"Picturesque", because the school has an abundance of trees - and where there's trees, there's leaves.

But for Mr Highfield's dedicated raking, the school grounds would be, well, hidden under an avalanche of leaves.

"I do it for the kids," Mr Highfield said.

"I like to have the lawns clear of leaves and twigs so they can run all over the place."

When asked why he does it, Mr Highfield explained "well, someone had to do it".

"I was at a loose end and was looking for something to do when I got the idea to help keep the village tidy," Mr Highfield said.

"I looked after the cenotaph garden first off and then saw that the school grounds needed tidying so I took my rake and wheelbarrow over there as well."

The school has long been appreciative of Mr Highfield's voluntary work and in 2008 he was presented with the Fleming Family School Service Award for Contributions to Uki Public School.

During school holidays, Mr Highfield, as well as "keeping eye on the place", still wages his constant battle against the wind and leaves.

It is not the first war he has waged.

He came to Australia as a teenager during the later years of the Great Depression and immediately found his dream job - working on farms in the lush Northern Rivers.

But when the Second World War broke out Mr Highfield, who could have opted out of service because of his work on the land, joined the army where he became a member of the 2/4 Pioneer Battalion which fought in New Guinea and then served in the Northern Territory where the outfit's prime task was to build defensive networks across the region.

Mr Highfield will be back at the Uki Cenotaph on Friday, not raking on this occasion but participating in the Remembrance Day service.

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