Warrnambool World War II veteran Eric Williams reflects on service

Reflection: Warrnambool's Eric Williams served in Darwin and Timor during World War II. Picture: Christine Ansorge
Reflection: Warrnambool's Eric Williams served in Darwin and Timor during World War II. Picture: Christine Ansorge

A simple toss of the coin changed the course of Eric Williams’ experiences in World War II.

Mr Williams, now 97, was born in Tasmania and at 17 joined the local military cadets at Deloraine. 

He was at the movies one night when a notice appeared on the screen calling for his unit to report in full battle dress at the local drill hall on September 2, 1939. War was coming.

The next day, his company were assigned to a large radio transmitter near Launceston.

From the other side of the world he heard war declared by UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

“There’s a big radio station there bringing in news from all over the world and we heard war declared in England,” he said.

“We heard it all. It was amazing, all the way in Tassie.”

In 1941, Mr Williams joined the Australian Imperial Force. He later completed officer training. Mr Williams was promoted to lieutenant and took a platoon of 30 men north.

A decision then had to be made on whether it would be his platoon or another that would be shipped to Papua New Guinea.

“We tossed a coin,” Mr Williams said.  He considers it a loss that his platoon was the one to stay in Darwin, but it saved his men from the horrors of the Kokoda Trail. Darwin was dangerous enough.

“We were being bombed by the Japanese,” Mr Williams said. “When the Japanese got south, it was strongly expected that they would raid the Northern Territory and Tasmania. We fully expected a Japanese landing.”

Mr Williams remained with his battalion in the Darwin area until the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, they then shipped out to Timor, spending seven months disarming the Japanese.

After the war, Mr Williams married Rita, who he had met at a dance in his hometown in 1938.

He was posted to manage the Warrnambool ANZ bank in 1971. Mr Williams became heavily involved in the community. He was foundation treasurer for the Kiwanis club and woodturning club.

He was foundation president of the city’s Probus club and retirees group and past president of the Rotary Club of Warrnambool.