In 2015 Lyle Brown’s grandson travelled to the small town of Fih in Lebanon and asked for a man named Fawzi.
He was led to the house of a grey-haired man who could still recall the troupe of Australian soldiers who had doted on him as a boy.
“We were billeted to his village,” Mr Brown said. “We made a fuss of the little fellow and used to take him on walks. Chris found the village, and Fawzi was still there. Chris was given the royal treatment.”
The impact Mr Brown has made in his impressive 100 years of life has been celebrated a few times of late.
In 2017 he was thanked in Canberra, with 23 surviving veterans of the Battle of El Alamein, for his service. It was the 75th anniversary of the decisive conflict.
Mr Brown spent five months living underground in the lead up to the battle, surviving on tinned herring and bottles of beer his unit buried in the sand to keep cool.
“I had plenty of scares but I had three real good friends and we all came home together,” he said. “We were lucky, very lucky.”
The most recent celebration of Mr Brown’s life was his 100th birthday on Sunday, shared with over 50 guests at Valentine Bowling Club.
A video message from Fawzi was one surprise his family prepared for the day.
Despite surviving war, and narrowly escaping Byron Bay’s first-recorded shark attack in 1937, Mr Brown says family is the area of his life in which he has been most fortunate.
He met his wife Elva at the age of 15 when they were both working at a car parts store in Lismore. They became an “item” two years later. The couple married in 1943 while Mr Brown was on leave before being posted to New Guinea.
“We have never had a disagreement,” Mrs Brown said, herself a considerable 98 years old.
Camping was a hobby the couple enjoyed with their children, Robert, Peter, and Lenore, and seven grandchildren.
Mr Brown was the manager of a spare parts wholesaler in Lismore for 25 years and a volunteer for Legacy for 33.
“My father was a very inspirational example of good character,” Lenore said.
Mr and Mrs Brown moved to Lake Macquarie 20 years ago to be closer to their children. They still live in their home, with some assistance.
The centenarian puts his remarkable age down to “home brew and luck”.
In 2015 his grandson also travelled to the area near El Alamein where his grandfather had camped underground.
The locals had a story for him: a storm that year had uncovered bottles of beer, dating back to the battle, from beneath the sand.
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