Think Piece – I’m just Bill

Source: Bill Corey

Bill CoreyMateship is a big deal to me and always has been. However, after the war [World War Two], I looked at mateship and Anzac Day differently. It was different because no longer was it a commemoration of the diggers of World War One, but to me it meant that I was going to see mates and chaps that I lived with for five years.

For the first few years after the war, Anzac Day was always hard for me, it brought back memories of my service, I even found it hard to sleep a couple of nights before the day. In those early days is wasn’t so much about remembering the war, but meeting up with all the old chaps. But as time has passed Anzac Day has changed again for me. It has turned into a bitter sweet time as over the years most of them have passed on and I am just about alone.

I was a butcher when I enlisted at 22, in June 1940 and I have marched in every Anzac Day since I returned home. I now look forward to Anzac Day. At 98, my son marches with me just in case I don’t make the distance, but I wouldn’t miss it.

I don’t think I am anything special, but I think I am a link between now and that past. I get quite a lot of pleasure out of people asking me if I knew their father or grandfather who served with me in WWII. Talking to these people about their relatives gives me a lot of satisfaction and they think it’s wonderful as well. I also talk to school children often, they love hearing the war stories, but I only talk to them about our living conditions and what we ate etc. I never talk to them about days such as the 3 August 1941.

It’s a day that I have never forgotten. We had an attack on the salient part of Tobruk, it was the worst area of Tobruk. We had 130 men go into the attack and about 30 came out of it after the roll call. I wasn’t in the attack, but I was there, it was a shock to our whole battalion (2/43rd Battalion). In a couple of hours all these fit and well men were either injured or killed. A day I would rather forget. I remember it so well because it was four days before my 24th birthday.

For the next four years I spent my 25, 26, 27 and 28 birthdays in El Alamein, New Guinea, North Queensland and Borneo. And the first nuclear bomb dropped that led to the end of war was the day before my 28th birthday, that day was a relief because I knew I would be going home.

I’m not bitter towards the Japanese or anyone. When I joined the army we were a mixture of all different backgrounds and it was terrific how we just all melded into one and became good mates. A lot of chaps, who had life tough before the war discovered they were as good as someone else. I found everybody has good in them.

When I returned home I became a butcher again and eventually went into my own business. For 25 years I ran a butcher shop on Glen Osmond Road. Looking back I think getting back into work straight away helped me to deal with the war because I didn’t have time to think about things. It was a good way of recovering.

In myself I am just Bill, but I do serve a purpose, seems as though I have been kept alive all this time to be a bridge for history in time.

Bill is a 98 year old World War Two veteran and one of the renowned Rats of Tobruk. He served with the 2nd/43rd Infantry Battalion in North Africa (Tobruk and El Alamein), New Guinea (Lae and Finschhafen) and Labuan Island in Borneo. Five years he was on the frontline fighting the Germans and Japanese. Bill couldn’t be any more South Australian, both his mother’s side and father’s side were pioneer South Australians of the 1830s. He grew up in country SA and after the war married his wife Iris (dec). They settled in Adelaide and had two children.