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June 09, 2022

Vale Walter Williams OAM

RSL LifeCare staff and residents alike have been deeply saddened to learn of the passing of long – time ANZAC Village resident and respected RSL NSW member, Walter (Wal) Williams OAM late last week.

Wal was a popular resident of the ‘Kokoda” aged care home at Narrabeen, where he had resided since 2017.

Wal grew up in Northbridge, Sydney, and attributes competitive swimming as a child to saving his life as he headed off to the front line.

Despite his father’s disapproval, a WW1 Gallipoli veteran himself, at 17 Wal gained his permission to join the Permanent Army – posted to RMC Duntroon. While transferring into the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was not straight forward, young Wal was determined, and found his way into the 8th Infantry Battalion.

Sent to the front lines.

Wal trained with the AIF in Dubbo, sailing on the Aquatania into Singapore Harbour in December 1941. Pearl Harbour had just been attacked, and Wal was among reinforcements sent to Malaya to the 2/19th Battalion.

Taken prisoner during the fall of Singapore, Wal was interned at Changi Prison before being sent to work on the Burma Railway.

Still a Japanese prisoner of war (POW), Wal was then transported by rail into a camp in Thailand and sent to Saigon to load rice onto ships. He and his mates were then shipped to Japan aboard the ‘Rakuyo Maru’ on a working party, only to be torpedoed enroute by an American submarine.

Surviving the sinking of the ship, Wal and his two mates were picked up by a Japanese whaling boat, and eventually found themselves in a labour camp in Kawasaki.

There they were forced to work 10 days on with one day off, with a diet of boiled rice to sustain them. Sadly, both of his mates died of pneumonia within 24 hours of each other, just before the end of the war.

A miraculous story of survival.

Wal miraculously survived the US air raids that obliterated both residential and industrial areas in Japan before the country surrendered. He arrived home to Sydney’s Rose Bay on his 23rd birthday. “It was like walking into a different world,” he recalled.

In the years following the war, Wal was heavily involved in the Pittwater sub-Branch of the RSL, holding various positions including President from 1992 to 2002. He was a life member of RSL Australia, NSW.

A true legend

Later in life, the valuable and inspiring work he did on behalf of the broader veteran community earned him a Medal of the Order of Australian and his willingness to share the learnings of his wartime experiences piqued the interest of journalists and media, the latter keen to share the story of his wartime experiences with younger generations.

True to form, one of the last projects in which Wal was heavily involved prior to his passing is the creation of a commemorative plinth and memorial seat. These are in memory of the 1,800 Australian Prisoners of War, nurses from Singapore, civilian internees from Rabaul, and casualties of hospital ships, who lost their lives at sea due to enemy and Allied action, whilst being transported to Japan and islands in the Southwest Pacific during World War Two 1942 – 1945.

The plinth and seat are due to be unveiled on 30 June 2022, for what is the 80th anniversary of the sinking of the ‘SS Montivideo Maru’ on 1 July 1942.

Always remembered

Mr Williams leaves behind his son Neil, along with two grandsons, Robert and Nicholas, as well as one great grand- daughter, Sophia. A funeral service will be held at 10.00am Tuesday, 14 June, at the Anzac Village Chapel, followed by a wake at the Gallipoli Centre from 11.30am.

Thank you for everything you did Wal and may you Rest in Peace.

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