Every child believes his or her dad is a hero. Sadly, this was confirmed in the most horrific way in the tragedy of the recent bushfires. So far, out of the 26 deaths, three were men who gave their life in service for others as volunteers in the Rural Fire Service. Two were fathers, and one was expecting his first child in May.

I remember as a child reading commando war comics and, at times, being overcome with tears at the bravery of the VC Stories. It would seem that half of the guys who received a Victoria Cross in combat gave their lives to save their friends.

Every Anzac Day we remember those who died in active service by saying the words found in the Bible: “Greater love has no one than this, that he gives his life for his friends.

This story is a tribute to Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, and his colleague Geoffrey Keaton, 32, as well as Samuel McPaul, 28, who died in another vehicle fire incident in southern NSW. All three gave their lives as a supreme sacrifice for others. The tears flow again as I read their stories. Long may we remember them!

The story written by Josh Hanrahan for the Daily Mail Australia called “My daddy’s a hero: Heartbreaking moment Australian firefighter’s little daughter wears his hat and plays next to his coffin” tells the story of Andrew O’Dwyer’s funeral beautifully.

“As tears welled in the eyes of the hundreds packed into the church, ready to burst at any moment, the bravery and blissful innocence of a young girl brought a smile to their faces.

Charlotte O’Dwyer is too young to understand that she’ll never see her father Andrew again, let alone that he won’t be there on her first day of school, or her last day of school, or able to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day.

She will grow up without a father, but people everywhere will tell her that her daddy was a hero.

Mr O’Dwyer, 36, and his colleague Geoffrey Keaton were killed on December 19 when the truck they were in rolled and hit a tree while fighting a bushfire at Buxton, south of Sydney.

As mourners heard about the heroic efforts of Mr O’Dwyer that fateful night, little Charlotte donned her father’s helmet and accepted a RFS service medal which he had been posthumously awarded.

Moments later, the 19-month-old lay on the floor under her father’s coffin and ate a bag of chips, bringing a much needed smile to the faces of mourners.

Her innocence, on full display against a backdrop of grief at the front of the church, is exactly what her father and thousands of other firefighters right across Australia have been fighting so hard to protect over recent months.

Little Charlotte also accepted and wore a RFS service medal which her father had been posthumously awarded at the service

In another photograph, the 19-month-old held the side of her father’s coffin as she carried a cookie in her other hand.

An experienced volunteer firefighter, Mr O’Dwyer had been a member of the Horsley Park RFS for 18 years.

That he had first joined the brigade as a teenager was pointed out by RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, who gave a moving speech during the service.

‘Charlotte should know her father was a selfless and special man, who only left because he was a hero,’ he told the packed church…

With her hair in pigtails, the toddler stood still as Mr Fitzsimmons pinned the RFS service medal to her white dress.

He then handed the fallen firefighter’s helmet to his widow Melissa, a move which sparked a thought in the young girl’s mind.

Looking up at her mother, Charlotte put her hands on the white hardhat as if asking Mrs O’Dwyer to put it on her.

Naturally, she obliged.

With the hat now sitting loosely on her head, the young girl shone a smile in the direction of her tearful relatives.

At the conclusion of the service she was swept up in her mother’s arms and together they walked from the church.

When her mother briefly shed tears as they walked outside, Charlotte tried to comfort her by holding a hand up to her face.  When her mother stopped crying, the young girl smiled again.

Mr O’Dwyer’s father Errol said in his eulogy that farewelling his son was the hardest thing he had ever had to do.

Outside the service, Melissa O’Dwyer carried carried Charlotte in her arms before lowering her down so she could give her hero father’s coffin a kiss goodbye. Around her, eyes welled with tears.

As her husband’s coffin was loaded into the back of the hearse, Mrs O’Dwyer carried her daughter over and after giving it a kiss herself, lowered Charlotte down just enough so that she too could kiss her father’s coffin goodbye.

Standing around the young girl, big brave men who have spent weeks fighting horrific fires wept.

Charlotte should know her father was a selfless and special man, who only left because he was a hero…

As the back doors of the hearse shut, hundreds of RFS members put their hands on their hearts and lined the road, guiding the car out of the church grounds…

In the days after her husband’s death, Mrs O’Dwyer admitted she had never considered the possibility of having to guide her daughter through life alone.

But as she soon realised, nor will she have to.

‘Our kids have got all these aunties and uncles now and that gives me a lot of comfort,’ she said at the time about the brave RFS volunteers who always help out.

‘They can hear the stories about their dads and how mighty they have been.’

Although she won’t have her husband by her side, Mrs O’Dwyer knows she’ll always have some of him in Charlotte.

As for Charlotte, well she will always have some of her father in her new uncles and aunties.”

Before Christmas I wrote an article thanking Senator Pauline Hanson for defending the noble Australian men who fight the fires on behalf of their fellow Australians.  The article, titled “Pauline Hanson Wants to Honour Men & Some Feminists Want to Kill Them”, was republished in the Spectator.

If you think the title is a lie, you had better read the article for yourself. It is ironic that the ABC can allow such toxic talk about men to be articulated on our publicly-funded news channel, and yet it is men who are laying down their lives for the safety of all. From the most up-to-date list of the 26 people who died in the fires, 23 of them were men.

This week, tell your children about these brave men, and let’s all thank God for them. Lest we forget!

Yours for courageous men,
Warwick Marsh

PS: Please pray for the two young children and the baby coming along in May, and for the three brave women who have been left behind! They need our support and love!

About the Author: Warwick Marsh

Warwick Marsh has been married to Alison Marsh since 1975; they have five children and nine grandchildren, and he and his wife live in Wollongong in NSW, Australia. He is a family and faith advocate, social reformer, musician, TV producer, writer and public speaker. Warwick is a leader in the Men’s and Family Movement, and he is well-known in Australia for his advocacy for children, marriage, manhood, family, fatherhood and faith. Warwick is passionate to encourage men to be great fathers and to know the greatest Father of all. The Father in Whom “there is no shadow of turning.”

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