A cosy living room, Templestowe, 2:3opm
When Bill Haines reached eighty, he was told by Neighbourhood Watch they couldn’t get insurance for him to deliver pamphlets anymore. Unperturbed, he ‘scaled back’ to volunteering with the Red Cross and donating to twenty charities every year.
Our communities and neighbourhoods are built by people like Bill. He has spent a lifetime in the service of others; firstly as a bomber pilot during World War II, then working as a taxi driver back home, before spending over twenty-five years as a community volunteer.
Now aged 85, Bill and his wife Marie, 95, live an active life in Templestowe, an outer eastern suburb of Melbourne, where they have been since they married in 1971. Together they have raised children, grand children and great-grand children, with another great-grand child born this week.
Bill invited me over last Sunday for a chat about his life’s work. I was greeted with a big hug in the front passageway and immediately felt as if I had arrived home. It was high time for tea, buns and a good yarn.
From Australia to Europe – and everything that happened in between
I was born in 1925 in Brunswick and I grew up there. I got called up to the army when I turned eighteen. I always wanted to fly, so I tried to get into the air force instead.
I was in electronics at the time which was a protected industry, and that meant the boss kept deferring me from going off overseas. So I walked out of my job one night without saying a word and forgo a couple of weeks leave in order to get into the air force. That was 1943 and I was overseas for three and a half years.
I suppose we were keen to go. There was a strict medical, and only one in ten got into the aircrew. Being young and stupid you didn’t worry about flying. We realised it was dangerous, but we felt as if we were immortal. Actually as it turned out, the air force aircrew comprised of two per cent of all military personal but they suffered 20 per cent of the total casualties.
I’ve done more ship miles while I was in the air force than my mate did when he was in the navy. We left Sydney on the way to Brisbane, then to San Francisco, and then we spent two or three weeks in New York before they put us on the Queen Elizabeth ship. So six different ships to circumnavigate the world in three and a half years, in the meantime we did a bit of flying.
When I was in New York I got talking to an old fella who was working on the door of a dance one night. This fellow was English and had migrated out to America after the First World War. He asked me to stay with himself and his family while I was in New York. I reminded him of his son who had died a few months before in Italy.
While I was staying with them, the family asked me to put on his uniform and they took some photos. That same day we all went down town into New York to look for the new Bing Crosby record, White Christmas.
It was impossible to find until I went into the shop and asked. They gave me the album straight away because I was dressed in the US serviceman’s uniform. I was part of that family for Christmas and New Year in 1943, all that just from meeting the father at a dance.
Once we got to England we finished our training and started the missions flying in Wellingtons and Lancasters. They were bombers, some of the flights were three or four hours, but the majority were eight hours. I remember the missions across Cologne, Bremen and Hamburg, in particular. On one of the missions, I got my leg smashed up when I was flying. They were throwing everything up at us from the ground, including the kitchen sink. So I like to say the kitchen sink got me.
The Queen and I
I went to hospital in Scotland and that’s where I met Queen Elizabeth.
Every Saturday afternoon the Red Cross took some of the patients into Edinburgh for soirées and garden parties. So we were at a party, a few of the ladies came out of the door and started chatting to us, and it turned out to be Princess Elizabeth and Princess Mary. So we had quite a chat together while she was there. She has a shocking memory though, because when she came out in 1956, I was in Collins Street, front row, waving like mad with all the other people. She looked straight at me in the crowd and ignored me! You think she would have jumped out of the car to say hello.
I ended up flying in the squadron until the end of the war in May 1945. Flying missions was not a person-to-person
thing. When you are in an aeroplane, you just try to shoot down another aeroplane, you don’t think about the person in it. This is what goes on. We were bombing places or industry, but not people. Your mind just blanks out.
After the war, I went up to Canberra and I saw one of the planes from our squadron at the war memorial. I went up to the wheel and I stood next to it. I just broke down.
Now I belong to a group called Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Ex-Servicemen which looks after servicemen who suffer from their war injuries. I also keep in touch with the squadron fellas, but we don’t talk about those days. You don’t brood or discuss the raids.
Come Fly with Me
I’ve always been interested in music of various sorts. I remember going to a piano concert with my father in the Melbourne Town Hall when I was thirteen to hear a pianist playing a whole concert of Chopin. I’ll never forget it. Dad played the mandolin and I played the guitar and mouth organ.
I built my first radiogram back in 1949 and since then I’ve collected music. I play through my music in order and mark down all the dates I’ve listened to the recording.
I’ve got cassettes, records and CDs and everything is catalogued. I’ve got 343 CDs and all of them are numbered. Every composer, song and record is kept on these cards.
See here is Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York under the ‘N’, Golden Instrumental Hits Volume One. I could do the cataloguing on the computer but I don’t want to learn any of that stuff.