Growing up in Coolaroo during the Vietnam War, every second street had an army house in it. Glenn Vessey’s was among them. The now 52-year-old’s mother worked as a secretary at the Broadmeadows Army Camp during the war, while his father was at sea working on a cargo ship.
The army was all around Glenn growing up. “In Coolaroo during Vietnam they scattered the army houses all around the place so the families had support,” he said. “It was like you were part of the army – everyone knew someone who was involved.”
Glenn’s older brother joined the Navy and worked on HMAS Melbourne for three years before moving across to the Army Reserve as a medic. Glenn joined the Navy Reserve at 14. During his time in the Reserve he learnt to shoot with the old .303s. He went away for trips during the school holidays on HMAS Melbourne and spent two weeks on HMAS Stuart.
Glenn also spent a lot of time restoring HMAS Castlemaine, which is now a WWII museum ship docked at Williamstown. School in Coolaroo, then Upfield never quite compared to weekends in the Reserve. “When you’re out shooting .303s and on Navy ships on the weekend, school’s a little boring by comparison,” he said. “I always wanted to get out of there. My intention was always to join the Navy and I spent four years in the Reserve. After that I left and did an apprenticeship. I guess I wanted to try something new.”
While he looks back on his time fondly, one memory has stuck with him the most. “The proudest thing I got to do was the Guard of Honour at the Shrine of Remembrance when I was 16,” he said. “They marched us in to the Young and Jacksons and we stood to attention in front of former WWII servicemen. It was my proudest moment and it was really moving.”
His interest in history and servicemen has not waivered since those early years, with Glenn now owning a large collection of military memorabilia. “My main interest is collecting Australian memorabilia from 1942, but I’ll collect anything,” he said.
Among his favourite possessions are a WWI Light Horseman’s feathers; WWII slouch hats; a shell that was shot at Owers Corner along the Kokoda Track during WWII; a pair of original Australian Army boots from Vietnam and several original newspapers from 1942. But his most treasured collectable came into significance in Singapore during WWII.
“The coolest thing I have is from when the allies took Changi Prison in Singapore,” he said. “It’s the cutthroat razor of the officer-in-charge, who was holding it back.”
Glenn also has a selection of military firearms. The oldest in his collection is a 1813 East India Company flintlock pistol. “The East India Company were the Pirates of the Caribbean; they were the ones who took out the last of the pirates,” he said.
His 1942 Australian-issue Enfield .303 was used by an Australian during WWII.
Some of Glenn’s favourite items would be worth little money, but the story behind them is what makes them precious. “It’s just history,” he said. “Just to hold something that’s over 200 years old is pretty amazing. The flintlock pistol is 203-odd years old and you’ve got to make your own projectiles. Every piece of the collection has a story to tell.”
About a year and a half ago Glenn began combining his interest in collecting memorabilia with shooting. Before then, he just “hadn’t gotten around” to getting his firearm licence. “I did it all as a kid and it didn’t really interest me that much for a while, until I found the Military Rifle Club.”
Now the whole Vessey family has joined the club and regularly shoots black powder and military firearms at Eagle Park. Glenn’s partner, Dayle, and sons Luke, 28, and Kane, 20 regularly attend MRC club shoots.