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William Williams

Black and white photo of William Williams (seated left) with two other servicemen

Black and white photo of William Williams (seated left) with two other servicemen

Today I said a quite prayer and shed a silent tear for my Great Grandfather Cobar Williams. Remembering him for his contribution to this great country. And not taking for granted the freedom we have.

This is his story:

William Williams enlisted in Forbes on the 10 April 1916. He had walked from Trida Station near Carowra Tank to Forbes to enlist, a distance of nearly 300 kilometres across dry difficult country. His regimental number was 2496, and he was placed in the 45th Battalion. This battalion was raised in March 1916 and was made up of Gallipoli veterans and fresh reinforcements, which included Cobar. Travel to war was by ship and it is likely that Cobar Williams was extremely sea sick on the journey, as the battalion records show that one or more soldiers was admitted to hospital for severe sea sickness, and this is matches with Cobar’s Williams records. The battalion arrived in France in early June 1916. Christmas 1916 was spent in barrack tents in deep snow.

Once in France they travelled by train to the Western Front where their first battle was around the village of Albert, a place they would come back to again in early 1918.  The 45th battalion would spend the next 10 months or so alternating between battles on the Western Front, for 5 to 15 days at a time. In battle they had only the bare necessities, and just one set of clothes which they would not change until back in billets or barracks. Conditions were dreadful. Battles included Pozieres, Ypres in Belgium and the Somme Valley in France during 1917.  Cobar Williams was wounded, a gunshot wound to his shoulder, on 7 June 1917. He was initially treated in France and then sent to England for further treatment, he re-joined his company in mid-October 1917.

The 45th Battalion was involved in some of the fiercest fighting of the First World War. The 45th Battalion played a crucial role in the final German defensive in the spring of 1918. And it was during this time that Bill was captured by the Germans. Cobar Williams Bill was a ‘runner’ or messenger in battle, a trusted role that conveyed important communications between companies. He was captured alone on the German side of the Hindenburg Line just outside the village of Alberts in France. It is likely that he may have been wounded at this time, as he carried the scars of two war wounds, but his records show only one. Cobar Williams was then transported through Germany to Gustrow in the north of Germany, near the boarders of Denmark and Poland, to a prisoner of war camp. This was a large specially built camp holding about 5000 men, mostly French, but some from the Commonwealth as well. It was located on the edge of a swamp, and many of the men would have worked in the farms around the area. Food was scarce in the camp, although the POW’s were not treated too badly compared to other camps.

During his time overseas Great Grandfather had engaged in some fierce battles on the Western Front. Through research there were four main battles the 45th Battalion was involved in

  1. The battle of Pozieres
  2. The battle of Dernancourt
  3. The battle of Messines
  4. The battle of Passchendaele- the last final battle of the WW1

Bill returned to Australia, in July 1919, landing first in Perth and then probably travelling by train across to NSW.

Cobar’s records show that he was a modest man of great integrity. He is one of the now verified 1300 (and growing number) of Aboriginal men who enlisted in the AIF, but he is only one of three known Aboriginal POW’s.

The story of William Williams and photograph was kindly provided to DVA for publication by Great Granddaughter, Alison Johnstone and the Williams family.

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