Soldier profile – Bill Parker

William Henry Graham Parker grew up and worked as a farm labourer in the Cowra area of NSW, namely on the family property ‘Parkerville’.  Aged 20, he enlisted in the AIF on 2 May 1916 at Cootamundra (No 2722); then went on to the Goulburn depot and into the 6th Reinforcements for the 56th Bn.  After first going to England for further training in November 1916, Bill arrived in France on New Year’s Day 1917.  Shortly after, he was taken into the 56th Battalion in the field and allotted to A Company.  Bill’s service record does not tell us much about his movements. He was sick with mumps in December 1916, was wounded by shrapnel in the heel near Bullecourt in May 1917 and was out of action for less than two weeks.  He had a fortnights leave in the UK in mid 1918 and returned to Australia in September 1919.  But such a sparse record indicates a man who was likely present for duty for unusually long periods.  As far as the records show, Bill was relatively lucky to be wounded only once and was rarely sick.  He must have been made of strong stuff and was probably with the unit in the front line for nearly all their major and minor engagements.  The family’s impression is certainly that he saw more than his fair share of action.
 
After the war Bill returned to Cowra and briefly to the family farm.  He apparently secured a soldier settler block but gave that to his mother after his father died.  He then moved to Cootamundra some time during early to mid 1920s and got a job with the New South Wales State Railways (c. 1924), and was foreman of a railway maintenance gang.  He was thus employed for the next 32 years. But Bill was always a farmer at heart, and often had other work on the side, or other business interests in farming. He married Ellen Keogh circa 1925, a woman he’d known for a while as she was from a property adjoining ‘Parkerville’ at Cowra. Bill and Ellen had three daughters, Doreen (b 1926), followed Myra and Joy. The family moved to Narromine in 1932 and there they had a house with a few acres.  Bill named the house ‘Estrées’, no doubt a reference to the 56th Battalion’s last engagement of the war, and memorable because he had survived.

Bill never smoked and almost never drank, apparently even during the war.  He was an excellent provider for his family; even through the worst Depression years they always had sufficient money, and Bill always held his railway job plus his additional farming interests.  People would say his kids were the best dressed in town.  They ate very well because of Bill’s steady income, but also because he was a genuine ‘green thumb’, so there were always good supplies of fruits and vegetables on hand.

He didn’t talk a great deal about the war, but when he did it was always in modest and matter of fact terms.  His old ankle wound didn’t trouble him, and he was fortunate to have escaped gassing, which was particularly bad at Passchendaele and Villers-Bretonneux.  Bill kept the shrapnel extracted from his heel on a fob chain which he wore all the time (see photo below).  He usually attended battalion reunions, and would get together occasionally with old digger mates.  He attended Anzac Day services usually in Narromine, but often went to Sydney as well. His son-in-law told of a time when together they visited Sydney Grammar School.  Bill stared at the memorial roll on the wall for a while and when they were about to leave, turned and gave a heartfelt and emotional salute.  His old commanding officer, Humphrey Scott who been killed at Passchendaele was named on that school honour roll.

Later in life (circa mid 1940s), while still working for the Railways, Bill was elected to the Narromine Town Council.  He ran for Mayor once, but was unsuccessful – apparently being undone by some political underhandedness.  He did however become Deputy Mayor and held that office for quite a long time. 
 
Fate can be fickle and sometimes cruel.  For a man who had ‘gone over the top’ so many times on the Western Front, one might think a man led a charmed life.  But luck doesn’t last forever. Bill was tragically killed in a work accident on 30 May 1956 when he was hit by a train.  A very well respected man in Narromine and district, his death saw the whole town turn out for the funeral.

Lest we forget.

(Photos and background information courtesy of Doreen Austin – nee Parker).

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