“And then I got hit,” Bill said, so casually that it took a moment to realise the severity of the situation he found himself in some 70 years ago. The story begins in 1950, and 23-year-old Bill had just joined the Occupation Force.
“They said they wanted more people to volunteer to occupy Japan because a lot of men wanted to come home, so we volunteered. But after a couple of weeks they told us they didn’t want us!” he laughs. “But not long after that, the Korean War started.”
Bill’s younger brother was in the navy at the time. Seeing that his brother didn’t have to earn his living ordinarily, Bill thought it was a good idea to join the military. “I was young and anti-communist. And there was a gang of us,” he says simply, as he points to the photo of the Fremantle policeman who joined him and who later got hit in the head, forever affecting his ability. He then points to another who won a military medal.
“This is the girl I was going to marry,” he says, pointing to the fair-haired beauty. “And the bugger next to her was my best friend who ended up marrying her!”
“And this was a British pilot we met at a nightclub one night,” he says. “And this one later died in a dosshouse from drugs. Some people can’t handle life after the military, and he was one of them.”
After a month of training on a Bren Carrier – a small open tank with tread on it, and a machine gun at the front and back – young Bill was sent off to Korea in 1950. He saw a lot in his time of combat, but it was one fateful day that saw him seriously injured and subsequently brought home.
“We were trying to take a hill off the Chinese who were helping the North Koreans,” he explains. “I had an automatic machine gun and I got hit by the bloke on the top of the hill about 300 yards away. Put a bullet through my face. It broke my jaw in about three places and they wired it back together until it grew together again.”
The harrowing story is just one of many, but it brings home the incredible bravery and resilience of these soldiers who were fighting on foreign soil. These days, 93-year-old Bill enjoys a quiet, independent life. He grew up in foster care in the southwest, and after the war he spent years moving from house to house in shared living arrangements. He heard about St Bart’s from someone on the bus one day and made his way to us.
Through our Assistance with Care and Housing (ACH) program, we were able to help Bill with his Department of Communities Housing application and a priority housing interview was arranged. That same day he was offered a villa of his own.
An email to No Limits – a local organisation helping members of the community in crisis – resulted in Bill’s new home coming fully furnished. Bill couldn’t believe that the villa was all his, that he was not required to share it with anyone else, and that the furniture and goods supplied were a gift.
A carpenter by trade, Bill has now recommenced his love of the craft. He insists on continuing to use public transport as long as he is able, and still manages grocery shopping without assistance.
Bill loves nothing more than a chat, and his sharp sense of humour keeps everyone on their toes. He’s a true inspiration, and we feel privileged to know him.