Scattered around the home of the late Russell Williams were pieces of history; photographs, postcards, diaries, and other treasures – the legacy of Private Victor Owen Williams who served with the 47th & 45th Infantry Battalions in France during WW1. We are fortunate that his descendants donated the original material to the State Library Queensland, so that we too can share in his story. Because this collection contained such a lovely variety of material, we selected Victor as one of the 25 Queenslanders to feature in our recent Distant Lines exhibition.
Vic enlisted in April 1917, when he was not quite 19. He had been brought up in a farming community at Rosevale and like his peers couldn’t wait to enlist. He sailed from Sydney in August; his first diary records with great excitement the journey – the passage through the Panama Canal – the gathering of a convoy at Halifax – sailing on to Glasgow where they disembarked, all the while writing with wide eyes and a great sense of adventure.
His unit spent several months at Codford training camp, honing their skills and kitting up for the task ahead. Young and resourceful, Vic bought a bicycle and was able to catch up with his best mate Allan, stationed at nearby Fovant Camp.
Vic embarked for France in January 1918, where his Battalion was rotated in and out of the front line north of Hollebeke, Belgium. During the Spring Offensives the Australians suffered heavy casualties and in a bitter day of fighting at the 2nd Battle of Dernancourt, Vic was wounded in both hands. Evacuated to hospital he saw only another month of active service having contracted influenza and then dysentery. When he returned to his unit, now the 45th Battalion, it was after the Armistice.
His second diary, of the voyage home in 1919 is written with thought and humour. He uses his camera to document the journey, with views of wrestling matches, and troops lining the deck as they come into Sydney Harbour.
Victor Owen Williams was an ordinary soldier who returned safely home from an extraordinary war. His legacy to his family and others was his strength and honour in that service.
Digitisation of the 28939 Victor Owen Williams First World War Diaries, Photographs and Personal Papers 1917-1919 is now complete, and the final items are available through our One Search catalogue. You can read previous articles about Vic and his collection on this blog.
Robyn Hamilton – QANZAC100 Content Curator, State Library of Queensland