Personnel of 6 Battalion Royal Australian Regiment are supporting the Queensland Police Service at Hebel, 650 kilometres west of Brisbane, to help protect Indigenous, remote and vulnerable communities from COVID-19.

During the operation earlier this month, Lance Corporal Justin Wells discovered that a local resident has a direct connection to the Army. 

“We found out Tonia Ellis is the mother of Sergeant Hugh Ellis, who died in one of the nation’s worst peacetime military disasters,” Lance Corporal Wells said.

Sergeant Ellis was one of 18 men – 15 Special Air Service soldiers and three aviators – who died on Townsville’s High Range when two Black Hawk helicopters collided in mid-air during a training mission on June 12, 1996.

With her home overlooking the movement control point on the Queensland/New South Wales border, Mrs Ellis had been visiting the task group members with baked goods.

“I’m delighted to have them here, so I took down some Anzac biscuits every now and then,” Mrs Ellis said.

“It’s been very healing. I’ve been able to talk about things you can’t talk to others about.”

Lieutenant Colonel Bryce Herslet, Commanding Officer of Task Group 629.3’s Task Unit 1, said it was during those talks that the soldiers realised who she was.

As an act of kindness, nine off-duty soldiers donated their time to transform her yard. 

Lieutenant Colonel Herslet said the soldiers were keen to lend a hand.

“The project members were humbled by the opportunity to contribute to a very deserving person,” Lieutenant Colonel Herslet said.

“Members of the community also responded positively to the work completed by our personnel. Being fully aware of her family history, they believed she was most deserving of such a gesture.”

The soldiers were thanked with a generous country lunch and by Mrs Ellis saying that her son would be very proud of them all.