Information for the following post has been provided by Bill’s descendant, Steve Dean.
- A young Frederick William (Bill) Dean arrived in Albany, Australia, from Wolverhampton a couple of years before the outbreak of WW1.
- He was one of the original Gallipoli ANZACs serving throughout all of that campaign in 4 Field Ambulance and later on the Western Front as an infantry Sergeant.
- Following the evacuation of troops at the end of the Gallipoli campaign he became seriously ill with ‘Jaundice’ (possibly hepatitis) and was shipped back to Australia for three months ‘debility’. Discharged as medically unfit upon arrival back in W.A.
- Reenlisted (somehow) just a few weeks later and served as an infantry Sergeant on the Western Front (16 Battalion) until the end of the war. Wounded (Gas) in 1918 losing partial sight in one eye.
- Married the girl from down the street (Gatis Street in Wolverhampton) and returned to Australia living in the wheatbelt towns of Bruce Rock, Goomalling and Northam where he operated small businesses, was a JP and an RSL member.
- Had two children Betty (dec) and Bob (now 85 years of age).
Bill’s grandson Steve clearly recalls conversations with him about the war. Although like most war veterans reluctant to recount his experiences, he would recount them in some cases. They tended to be phrased in a ‘parable’ like way always with the intention of making a compelling point (the war being a disaster, a catastrophe….).
Steve recalls his grandfather talking about that very first day at Gallipoli and commenting along the lines of “We’re in a real spot of bother here – I’m going to have to be lucky to get out of this alive and probably won’t.”
Stretcher Bearers at Gallipoli were unarmed, often fully exposed to the enemy and defenceless. It was a job that demanded cold hard courage day after day, along with the demands of looking after men who were all too often beyond help. Not surprisingly their casualty rate was very high, even by the awful statistics of WWI. Steve recalls him mentioning that you just had to carry on never knowing when a sniper’s bullet might come your way.
It doesn’t pay to be too tall in war!
One day a sniper’s bullet did come Old Bill’s way just touching the top of his hair. The fellow next to him was not so fortunate. “It doesn’t pay to be too tall in war”!
The truce at Gallipoli
Steve also remembers his grandfather talking about the brief truce at Gallipoli on 24th May 1915 where fighting was suspended for a brief period so the dead could be buried. He expressed great respect for the character and decency of the Turkish soldiers (a sentiment still strong today between the two nations), sitting with them sharing rations and so on. The brutal truth though was that the ground was so littered with putrifying corpses that it was impossible to keep fighting.
Don’t hesitate – not even for a second!
Another ‘parable-like recollection’ was that of leading a patrol later in the war on the Western Front. Resting with his patrol quietly against a stone wall he heard footsteps approaching along the other side of the wall and German voices. Two bombs (one in each hand apparently!) were immediately thrown over the top. Old Bill found a photo on the body of the German soldier who had been leading that patrol. It showed a happy family scene – the tall fellow in full uniform, one child sitting on his shoulders, wife standing alongside with another child. Many years after the war Bill recounted this event to Steve – showing him that very photo. A message about the futility of war, his disgust at it and profound sorrow followed. Also delivered at the same time was a message about “not hesitating even for a second in war – that’s why I’m alive and he’s not.”
Why I lived in the wheatbelt after the war
Old Bill recounted that he suffered from bad bronchitis after the war and that a doctor advised him to live in a dry, warm climate. The W.A. wheatbelt fitted that bill. The reality was far more harsh than that – most men gassed on the Western Front did not live much past 50 – such were the injuries inflicted by this terrible new form of warfare. The wheatbelt must have helped as Bill died not far short of his 89th birthday.
So what would Old Bill’s message be to us today?
Probably pretty similar to what grandson Steve recalls from the 1960s & 70s i.e.
- WW1 was a disaster, a catastrophe in fact with too many good men on all sides dying, being maimed and so on.
- Our nations should be able to settle their differences peacefully, and whilst we must always be capable of defending ourselves, war must be a final resort.
- We need to learn as a nation to keep our noses out of other people’s bloody business (an oft expressed sentiment of his).
- A good first port of call might be to set up a boxing ring in the middle of a paddock and have the leaders of quarrelling nations fight it out themselves without involving others (a frequently expressed sentiment of his during the time of the Vietnam War – he felt our involvement in it was a mistake although he admired the people we sent there to fight).
Like most surviving WW1 veterans, Bill was a man profoundly affected by his experiences and struggled with his demons for the rest of his life – and he was one of the lucky ones.
An interesting aside – fast forward to 2012
During early 2012 an interesting artefact was found in the linen cupboard of Bill’s daughter Betty (now deceased). In amongst the contents of her linen cupboard was a long piece of cross stitching carefully folded with a stainless steel needle still embedded in it., bearing the words Egypt 1916, the Pyramids & Sphinx, the words ‘Advance Australia’ and the flags of a number of nations. Steve believes that this work was completed whilst Bill was a patient in hospital shortly after the completion of the Gallipoli campaign. It was probably quite a brilliant idea of the nursing staff to occupy traumatised minds for extended periods with few available resources.
Grandson Steve’s wife, Catherine, is the grand daughter of Harold James (Sam) Bacon – a Queenslander, also one of the original ANZACS who served as a runner with the 9th Battalion throughout the Gallipoli campaign and on the Western Front until the war’s end.