From Scouts to Legacy Australia, Lindsay Birrell FCPA celebrates a life of helping others

Lindsay Birrell FCPA's last Legacy ball, where he met Queen Elizabeth II at Australia House in London.

When Lindsay Birrell FCPA turned 65 and was required to step down as vice-president of CPA Australia’s European branch, he didn’t feel ready to put his feet up and rest on the laurels of a remarkable career.

By Katie Langmore

When Lindsay Birrell FCPA turned 65 and was required to step down as vice-president of CPA Australia's European branch, he didn’t feel ready to put his feet up and rest on the laurels of a remarkable career. He soon became involved in London Legacy, the UK branch of Legacy Australia, and before long became president of the association. Birrell realised he’d found his next vocational chapter.

“My personal story of looking after war widows started in my scouting days. From the age of 10 – when my father returned home from the Second World War, shell-shocked and incapacitated – I’ve understood the importance of supporting veterans’ families,” he says.

As a young Scout master, Birrell used to send his troops out to care for the war widows of their area, mowing lawns and helping in the garden. “Being part of the Scouts certainly instils that sense of social duty. My whole life has been about service.”

Birrell has brought a remarkable energy and dedication to his service to CPA Australia and the accountancy profession. Celebrating 60 years of CPA Australia membership this October, Birrell can reflect on his years as CPA Australia’s Victorian division president and his time acting at the helm of CPA Australia, all the while working in cost accountancy and running his own management consultancy business, first in Melbourne and later in France, Monaco and England.

It’s an impressive trajectory for a boy who had to leave school at 14 to help support his family.

“I moved to Melbourne to play cricket and work at a factory in the time-keeper’s office. One day the pay master was drunk, so I stepped in and worked out the clock cards,” chuckles Birrell. “They saw I’d done the work in half the time, so they took me on as a cadet and sent me to night school to do accountancy.”

Birrell hit the ground running and hasn’t looked back.

When he first joined London Legacy, the branch was in bad financial shape. 

“When I took over I had to start from scratch and build up the funding,” says Birrell, who did everything from selling Legacy pins on the street corner to running an annual ANZAC ball at Australia House in London, for the Legacy widows, friends and donors.

He’s also tireless in his advocacy work. “Australian war widows now get the best war widow pension in the world due to the advocacy Legacy has done, such as getting the pension of all overseas widows to be paid directly into their bank accounts at no extra cost,” he says proudly.

Birrell’s passion truly emerges, though, when he speaks of the widows who Legacy supports. He names a few, from the Korean War widow who Legacy flew back to her family in London after her Australian husband was shot down “just 14 weeks after his son was born”, to another whose husband died while undertaking a treacherous army training course in the Brecon Beacons in Wales.

Despite having retired, Birrell still takes calls from many of them today.

Birrell was awarded a Queen’s Scout Certificate – the highest scouting honour – in 1953. In it, the queen wishes the recipients a joyous adventure through their lives. “It has indeed been a joyous adventure I have crammed into my 82 years,” Birrell says, “and it’s not finished yet.”

Legacy Australia

Legacy is a charity that provides services to Australian families suffering after the death of a spouse or parent, during or after their defence force service. From 49 clubs around Australia and one in London, some 5500 voluntary members called legatees provide emotional and practical support to 60,000 widows and their families, in Australia and around the world. To find out more and to donate go to Legacy Australia, quoting London Legacy.

Read next: Giving back to Rotary Club by donating accounting skills


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