On 2 December 2022, Resthaven Murray Bridge, Hills & Fleurieu Community Services Client, Mr Colin Wagener, gathers with his nearest and dearest to celebrate his 105th birthday.
Mr Wagener has worn many hats throughout his 105 years — a WWII Sergeant, a real estate developer, a classic car collector and a history-changing photographer. He’s also the oldest person in South Australia (and maybe even Australia!) to hold a Driver’s Licence.
Born in Adelaide on 2 December 1917 to Mary Ann and William Wagener, Mr Wagener was the youngest child of three, living with his parents and two older sisters in Hyde Park.
‘My mother was a housewife, and my father was a mechanical engineer. Well, he put motors in bikes and called them motorbikes! His machine shop was attached to the family home.’
‘I went to Parkside Primary School in my early years, and then Pulteney Grammar School after that.’
‘My parents did quite well for themselves, and I was quite a lucky child. On my 16th birthday, my parents gave me a motorbike. I suppose they wanted to get rid of me, but it didn’t work!’
‘I learned from my father and built my own motorbike at age 18. Then, I bought my first car — a Vauxhall Sports Roadster.’
‘I loved that car. I always drove it to impress the ladies, which is how I met my future wife, Peggy.’
‘I suppose, in another life, I would’ve been an apprentice to my father, but in 1938, we all sensed that the war was coming.’
With his three best friends, Mr Wagener signed up at Keswick Barracks to join the militia forces part-time. Sadly, he was the only one out for the four who survived the war.
‘For the first part of his army life, Mr Wagerer was stationed in Woodside, working in signals intelligence, before joining the army full-time in 1939.
He was posted to Loveday, then, in 1942, to the army camp at Bonegilla in Victoria.
‘I only had about four hours’ notice before I was due to leave, so I rushed back to Adelaide to marry Peggy!’
‘It wasn’t very romantic. We quickly married in the registry office in the city, and then I immediately headed to Bonegilla.’
Whilst there, he worked his way up in the ranks, from Lance Corporal, to Corporal, to Sergeant.
In 1944, Mr Wagener had to move locations once again, this time to work in the signal office in Townsville.
‘Before heading off, I came back to Adelaide and bought a house in Glen Osmond for Peggy and our son, John. Peggy was also pregnant with our second child, Paul, so I wanted to ensure they were well looked after,’ says Mr Wagener.
‘I worked in Townsville for a while, and then in 1945, the Air Regiment gave me my own operational unit.’
Mr Wagener’s unit was sent to Borneo, where they were incidental witnesses to the surrender of infamous war criminal, General Baba Masao. Mr Wagener photographed this historic occasion, trading rationed cigarettes for darkroom equipment and developing the photos at night.
His photos would later be displayed in the Australian War Memorial, alongside the official photographs of this historic event.
On 10 December 1945, Mr Wagener and his fellow troops were sent home, arriving in Brisbane in mid-late December. Eventually, Mr Wagener boarded a special troops train, which took him back to Adelaide.
‘The best Christmas present I ever received was at half past ten on Christmas morning, 1945. The train rolled into Adelaide station, and I was on it,’ he recounts.
‘My father picked me up and brought me home, and my wife and two sons were waiting for me.’
‘It was the most wonderful feeling to be with my family.’
‘I was discharged after serving nearly 2,000 days in the army, and I was awarded the Australian Efficiency Medal. It was such an honour.’
Once discharged, Mr Wagener wasted no time catching up on everything he had missed.
‘I felt that the best years of my life had been taken from me, so I had to make up for it. I lived life to the full,’ he says.
In the post-war years, Mr Wagener became a real estate developer, building one of the first motels in Adelaide. He continued his love for motorsport by collecting (and driving!) classic cars and motorbikes.
‘Peggy and I had great fun travelling around the world. Our trips to New Zealand and America are the most memorable,’ says Mr Wagener.
Sadly, Peggy passed away in the 1990s.
In his later years, Mr Wagener is now a great-great-grandfather and enjoys a quiet life, remaining at home on a property in the Adelaide Hills.
‘I am so pleased to be independent and remain living at home. It makes a big difference in my lifestyle to have assistance from Resthaven staff with everyday things,’ he says.
But Mr Wagener certainly still enjoys living in the fast lane, ticking a memorable experience off his ‘bucket list’ at 102 years of age — getting behind the wheel of a Jensen Interceptor for a hot lap at The Bend Motorsport Park.
‘I count all the years after the end of the war as my “bonus years” of life,’ says Mr Wagener.
‘Is there a secret to a long life?’ he questions. ‘Not that I know of, but if a vitamin company wants to sponsor me, I’ll take it!’
Thank you for sharing your story, Mr Wagener, and many happy returns!
In light of his milestone birthday, Mr Wagener has also been interviewed by 5MU Radio, have a listen below!