Bill Rowe: A Military Family
Bill Rowe's Red Cliffs family - his father, brothers & brothers-in-law - all served in the World Wars, his father in both of them.
In this interview Bill recalls his family history, and his own, in terms of the service to Country they all performed.
-I think it was very close within the first two days of the War being declared dad immediately joined up, as did his younger brother as soon as he was old enough to join up. And he had two other brothers that eventually got old enough and joined up the Army, too. So there were four out of the six of them joined up.
I'm one of eight children. And they had the four boys and four girls. Burt joined the Air Force and was, as I say, killed in Canada. And we idolized him, too, you see, Sorry, getting a bit emotional.
So when I was old enough to join, I sort of had to talk my mum around to signing papers and things to join the Army. I was in the 22nd Second Infantry Battalion. Brother Jack, as soon as he was old enough, he joined the Air Force. Then brother Rex, as I say, as soon as he turned 17, he did this Officers Training skill at Portsea and came out as an officer when he was 18.
So that's the boys sort of the side of the family. The girls didn't join the services. They all married ex-servicemen. And two of them married two ex-servicemen, or servicemen.
When the big fight came on in Gallipoli at Lone Pine, dad transferred to the 7th Battalion from the headquarters division so he could go up and fight at Lone Pine. And on the night of the big battle, dad was wounded. It went about on and on at 10 o'clock at night or something, I think it was. And they carried him down the beach where he laid there for 24 hours whiting for a place on one of the hospital ships out in the bay. So eventually he got on that and went back to Egypt into hospital.
There weren't many of them alive that next morning, and four of them got VCs. He said to me-- I can remember this. I was only, what, probably four or five years old. I didn't even know what a VC was. And he said, Rusty, he said, if I'd have lasted til the morning, I'd have got a VC.
His records read that he went to a headquarters unit for a while. And then he transferred out of that into the 9th Field Engineers because he wanted to get back into the action. He actually dropped his Sargent's stripes again to go back as a sniper. And he went to the Western front with the Engineers and had a pretty hard time of it there.
There's a story. And I can't provide any evidence or proof of it at all, but this was dad's story. He was walking back to the lines one night from the front after being up there. And he walked past some big brass and he didn't salute.
The big brasses already come, pulled dad up. And they started giving him a bit of a dressing down and said, why didn't he salute? Dad said, if you'd been where I've been for the last 48 hours, without any sleep and fighting, he says, you wouldn't be saluting anybody either.
So the officer then again started to give dad a dressing down. And the senior officer that should have been saluted said just a moment to his [INAUDIBLE] and questioned dad about where he'd been and what he'd done during the war up to this juncture, and he asked dad what he would like to do. And dad said, well, I'd like to join the Australian Flying Corp.
And so he was asked his name and rank and Army number, and said, right, we've got that information now. You can go back to the back lines again, which dad did. And sometime later he got a notification that he was to attend Queens College at Oxford University for training to be an Australian Flying Corp pilot, which he accomplished and was finished up the war, the last several months of the war, in the Australian Flying Corp.
And of course, dad again had joined up as soon as the Second World War broke out, dad joined up again. And I suspect from this, you'll gather the type of fellow he was. He was a gung-ho fellow. And he wanted to be where the action was and where things were, and looked to be doing something good.
I didn't get to come home on leave very often in the four and half years I was in the Army. But each time I did, dad just looked and saw my two stripes which I'd got after about a few months in the Army. And four years later, I still was walking around with those stripes of mine. That didn't impress dad too much at all. I suspect that when we were growing up, if dad had had his way, we'd have come into our meals up at the bugle call, for a missed bugle call, and we'd have lined up and we'd have saluted him at lunches.
I was in the 22nd Infantry Battalion. And not long after I joined the Army, I found myself in the horse stalls at Caulfield Racecourse on the ground, on the duck boards in the horse stables. That was our sleeping quarters.
At this very same stage, my father was also billeted in Caulfield Racecourse. It was a bit of a giggle, actually. His quarters were in the ladies toilets at Caulfield Racecourse.
And to this juncture, I hadn't been in the Army long. I'd never, ever saluted him because he was an officer and I was at this stage still a private. Of course, you were supposed to salute the officer every time you see him. And, of course, if I saw dad coming one way, I'd duck around another way. Never, ever saluted him until years ago when he was at land Army headquarters up in Swanson Street.
Brother Jack that was in the Air Force, he happened to be on leave in Melbourne the same time as I was, and we needed to see him about something. And I said, right-o, Jack, we'll go in and front him and bung him one, which meant a salute. And I think it was one of the happiest days in his life when two of his sons walked up to his desk to see Captain Rowe and bung him the salute. Because a smile went from ear to ear on his face that his siblings would, or his sons, had actually walked up and saluted him.
Without really knowing, I suspect mum put pressure on dad to get me organized out of this 22nd Infantry Battalion that finished up going to New Guinea. And I went up to the territory, didn't I. And then we sailed off to Bougainville up in the Solomon Islands, and Guadalcanal, and all those dicey areas. And I was seasick 24-hours a day when I was at sea. Soon as I got on back on the land, I was right again.
The [INAUDIBLE] is probably the worst, my worst, Army experience. On that thing I just showed you, the machine guns on that have a steel sheet in front of them that you were standing behind. On our ship, we just had the bare gun. And to have a plane coming at you to strike at you when you've got nowhere to hide, bullets zipping off of a steel deck all around you, I tell you, it's the most frightening thing that could ever happen, and you just have to stand there and fire back. Yeah.
I can't, as I say, I think I'm lucky, or was lucky, in that I didn't have hand-to-hand fighting at ground level. So you know it's just like I don't profess to be a hero or anything else. But there were some very, very difficult times.