Bill and his kind

frank-bill-price.jpg

Do you see that boy sitting, smiling between the legs of his Dad?  That’s my Uncle Bill, the only brother of my father.  The photograph was taken in about 1925. Bill grew up in a poor street in a poor part of a large city.  In his bedroom he had a home-made crystal set; he collected cigarette cards of cricketers and a model of a biplane hung from his ceiling.  He was a boy was my Uncle – one day he fell off the roof of the house; another day, running from the rain, he careered neck first into the single strand washing line. But he survived into an unremarkable young adult life, working in a tile factory only ten minutes walk from his home.

Bill became a toolmaker and somehow he became serious.  He joined the Communist Party and read books from The Thinker’s Library.  On Sundays he attended church.  Then he became engaged to a pretty young redhead called Therese who played violin in the city’s symphony orchestra.  Bill liked dancing and playing tennis. 

When war broke out and his factory was converted to produce armaments, he was “man-powered” into the essential services.  Unable to enlist, Bill rebelled by taking a pile of books to work.  Then he sat alongside his lathe reading and refusing to operate his machine.  They finally let him go and he joined the 24th Australian Infantry Battalion.  In 1945 the dark haired, hazel-eyed machinist was 24 years old and headed for the island of Bougainville in the Pacific. 

516 Australian lives were lost at Bougainville.  Another 1 572 were wounded.  For their part, the Japanese lost an estimated 8 500 young men.   The war was over before the battle for Bougainville was brought to a military conclusion. 

One day my Grandfather and Grandmother got this handwritten letter: 

Dear Mr Andre,

I am writing to offer you my deepest regrets and sympathy on the loss of your son Bill.  I was his company commander when he was killed and I feel you would like to know how he met his end. Bill was commanding his section on a patrol to locate enemy positions preparatory to an attack by the company.  When only a short distance from the position the enemy opened fire on the patrol and Bill was killed by machine gun fire.  Due the great superiority of the enemy and others of our own casualties, it was impossible to recover the body which was found untouched when the position was taken the next day.  The information gained by the patrol no doubt saved many lives the next day. I would like you to know, Mr Andre, how greatly I admired your son for his coolness, disregard of danger, and general manliness.   I had recommended him for his second stripe just before he was killed.  He was always quiet, never complained and his men would follow him into any scrap; in all respects he was a son you could be proud of, as I was proud to serve with him. I can only hope that the people of Australia realise just how much they owe to Bill and his kind, and as fully as we that are left realise it. 

Yours most sincerely

Stuart C. Graham  

This month my country signed a military treaty with Japan.  I know that’s the way of the world and I suppose it’s for the best.  But I wish I could have seen my Dad and Uncle Bill discussing it over a beer. 

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6 Comments

Filed under australia, life, loss, Men, war, youth

6 responses to “Bill and his kind

  1. For some reason this post really touched me and I felt compelled to write something. Not that I’ve known anyone who was killed on the front line.

    My grandparents were children of WWII, and often I’d listen to the war stories my grandmother had, how bad life was, and how much she hated the Japanese. These were typical coming from people of her generation, some of which rubbed off on those who didn’t know much about the war, but held the same sentiments anyway.

    And how much all these would shape the world as we would see it, and how much it all doesn’t matter in the name of war and politics.

    At the end of the day, it is all a game. A game of political evolution, the strongest (and fittest) would survive.

    Yet, who are we? Pawns. 🙂

  2. I know how you feel mate. My Uncle Arthur was stationed in Singapore when it was captured by the Japanese. He was never seen again. His wife waited many years for his return as he was reported as ‘Missing’, which sort of gives the impression that someone is lost in the jungle rather than that they have been blown to pieces.

  3. ladypirate

    It is the way of the world. But why? And who decided it would be this way? There’s no easy answer, is there? Do you suppose there ever was?

  4. That was a touching post. A feel lucky to be in this generation having NOT to endure the hardship and suffering brought about by the war.

    I grew up in the Philippines hearing stories from my grandmother about the horrors they have endured in the hands of those cruel Japanese soldiers.

    But why do we have to have wars? Can’t we all just live in peace?

    Here’s hoping.

    PS. Thank you for visiting and commenting on my blog.

  5. Thanks for your comments everyone – I get so sad when I see the smile on the face of that little boy, Bill, and then I think of all the little boys and girls who grow up to die in strange places and far from those that love them. And often for lies.

  6. Saurtan

    I don’t know if you still visit old posts, but I do hope that you get this.
    This was a beautiful post, reminded me of Kipling and his crippling pain when his son died..

    “If any question why we died,
    Tell them, because our fathers lied.”

    I’m glad I went back to the beginning. Hope that you will continue posting.

    Cheers,
    Sub

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