Matthew Locke | A modern day hero

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FROM bridges and parks to mountains and lakes their names live on, but have you ever wanted to know more about the people behind these place names…. 

IN the Bellingen Shire just north of Raleigh is the Sgt Matthew Locke MG Bridge.

Born in Bellingen, Matthew Locke was the youngest of six children.  He entered the army at the tender age of 17.

In 2006 he was awarded the Medal for Gallantry – the third highest award in the Australian honours system – after he and another SAS soldier, greatly outnumbered by the enemy, dodged volleys of gunfire to neutralise an attack on an SAS observation post in Afghanistan.

The operation was a triumph of Australian military ingenuity, with synchronised attacks overcoming the "extremely stiff resistance" of the deeply entrenched Taliban, said the SAS commander at the time Major-General Mike Hindmarsh.

After he was awarded the Medal of Gallantry, Sergeant Locke said the Taliban should not be underestimated.

"They are quite fierce fighters … from my experience that's the hardest enemy we've ever fought," he said.

But tragically, his distinguished military career was cut short the very next year when he was shot in the chest by Taliban fighters during an operation to drive them out of the Chora Valley, a Taliban stronghold 15 kilometres from the Australian base at Tarin Kowt. It was his second tour of Afghanistan in as many years.

Then Prime Minister John Howard and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd put aside their election campaign to attend his funeral service in Perth.

At the time Mr Howard said he felt responsible for the deaths of soldiers in combat: "I think about it a lot because I'm the person in the end who sends men and women into battle." 

Sgt Locke's wife Leigh paid tribute to her soul mate, best friend and rock, saying she was so proud he defended his country to the end. 

The bridge was named in Matthew’s honour in 2009 and unveiled by his son Keegan.

In addition to the bridge named in his honour, a rugby league charity match has been run every year in his memory.  The match is between the Bellingen Magpies and the Australian Army Rugby Team.  

Funds raised from the charity event go towards Legacy Australia and The Grub Club.  The Grub Club is a not-for-profit organisation established by Matthew’s sister Debbie Locke to assist Afghan children from the Uruzgan Province obtain an education through the supply of resources.

This story What’s in a name | Matthew Locke Bridge first appeared on Guardian News.