19 April, 2024

Former ‘armourer’ turns 100

LIKE so many others of his generation, William ‘Bill’ Vale looks back on the war years with mixed emotion.

By Staff Writer

Bill Vale relaxes in his room at Warrnambool’s Mercy Place.
Bill Vale relaxes in his room at Warrnambool’s Mercy Place.

A former member of the Royal Australian Air Force, having served as a leading aircraftman in World War II, Bill’s memories are ones of comradeship and challenges.

“They were certainly tough years but I made some good mates and we all worked hard together,” Bill said.

“It gave us a solid foundation for hard work. We travelled around a fair bit but there was always plenty to do.”

Having spent his early childhood years on a soldier settlement block (Woolongoon) a young Bill used to ride his push bike up to 14 miles each day to get to and from school in Mortlake.

Finishing his ‘state school years’ Bill then caught a bus from Mortlake to Terang High School to continue his education.

“I got my merit certificate when I was 12 years old but my father always said an education was important so I stayed another two years to complete the intermediate certificate,” Bill recalled.

“Then I got a job in an office where I spent most of my days unloading the goods train in Mortlake.”

By the time he turned 18 Bill joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and took on the role of an armourer with the 76th Squadron.

“As armourers we were responsible for keeping the planes fitted with ammunitions, guns, rockets and various pyrotechnics,” Bill said.

“We were transferred to lots of different places including the Trobriand Islands (off the east coast of New Guinea) and some of the smaller islands just off Manus.”

September 2, 1945 marked the end of World War II.

Bill returned to Australia and soon headed to Mildura for a short stint with the operational training unit.

He applied for a soldier settlement block but was told there was a three-year wait.

“I guess there was lots of us in the same boat, so to speak, back then,” he recalled.

“So quite a few of us decided to study for a Diploma of Agriculture. There wasn’t much transport around in those days but there was a bus load of ladies who travelled out from Shepparton to attend some local dances with us.

“That’s where I met a lovely young nurse, Margaret, and we married in 1947.”

Finding it difficult to get a job, Bill was encouraged by his brother-in-law to join him in the Victoria Police Force.

“So I did, and it was the start of some great years for us. We travelled around from various one-man stations to another, filling in when staff needed holidays, the work was interesting.”

When Bill’s brother Eddie started a garage in Mortlake – Vale Motors – he swapped his police uniform for overalls and together the pair ran a successful business in the town for many years.

“The garage kept us both busy but after 30 years it was time to retire. We both built houses in the town and enjoyed the peace and quiet,” Bill said.

Over the years Bill and Margaret raised five children and also now have six grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

He has been an active and loyal member of the Mortlake RSL for “70-odd years” where he has held various positions including president (three times), secretary and treasurer.

“The RSL is an important organisation not only for current and ex-service men and women but also for their families and communities,” Bill said.

“Anzac Day is always a special time to remember and to reflect, but we all do it every day in different ways.”

Bill is now enjoying living a “relatively quiet life” in Warrnambool’s Mercy Place.

He turned 100 last Monday, April 15, and was guest of honour at a birthday celebration at the weekend.

William ‘Bill’ Vale was a leading aircraftman with the RAAF.
William ‘Bill’ Vale was a leading aircraftman with the RAAF.

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