Making her exit with grace at the same time as the world’s longest-reigning monarch, the “Queen of Canberra” Alison Aitken OAM is also being recognised for her dignity and dedicated service to the community.
Mrs Aitken, a resident of Deakin in her latter years, was born just five weeks before Her Majesty.
She was best known for her many years of service at the Australian War Memorial, where she began guiding in 1976. She was awarded an OAM in 2020 for her voluntary work.
AWM director Matt Anderson said: “While her stride may have shortened since her first tour of the memorial some 50 years ago, her drive to remember stories of Australian service never waned. Long after her time as a guide concluded, Alison continued to attend the memorial as a visitor and regular attendee of commemorative ceremonies.”
Mrs Aitken’s brother, Flying Officer Colin Lockhart, was killed when his Lancaster bomber crashed over France in 1945. He was one of 4000 Australian casualties from Bomber Command — representing Australia’s costliest campaign of World War II. The death of her 20-year-old brother affected Mrs Aitken for the remainder of her life.
Mr Anderson said Colin’s final letter to his sister was part of the AWM National Collection, while his words to her are engraved in the stone walkway at the International Bomber Command Memorial in England, something that made Alison very proud.
“This war was inevitable and I could never have been content unless I did my share … I have been very proud to wear my uniform,” he wrote.
“I want you to know therefore that if I should die I shall not be afraid because my heart is at ease.”
Mrs Aitken was raised in Sydney before marrying her husband, John, and moving to Melbourne for his job in the Department of Army.
When the public service began moving to Canberra in the postwar years, Alison, John and their sons arrived in what was to be her home for the next six decades. A third son was born at the old Canberra Hospital.
Mrs Aitken recalled early years in Canberra before the lake was filled, much of inner Canberra was still paddocks and their nearest neighbours in Campbell were Duntroon on one side and Anzac Parade on the other.
A regular parishioner at St Andrew’s for many years, Mrs Aitken was well known throughout Canberra for her impeccable dress sense. A lifelong lover of fashion who was rarely seen without a large hat and gloves, she recalled that her husband always encouraged her sartorial flair.
She was a regular at Manuka boutiques and her bright-yellow Volkswagen Beetle, nicknamed Sunshine, was often seen locally.
Mr Anderson said that while much of Mrs Aitken’s time at the memorial had been spent speaking with visitors, she had also embraced it as an opportunity for personal reflection.
“She would spend time by herself, with her memories, not unlike many other family members of the 103,000 servicemen and servicewomen whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour,” he said.
“For me personally, Alison was a treasure to the memorial. She possessed a strong love of life, and I always looked forward to her visits.
“Alison will be dearly missed.”