Bill Shakespeare’s veteran story

William 'Bill' Hugh Shakespeare was born on 8 February 1942 in Subiaco, Perth.

Bill left school at 15 to work as a harbour assistant, cutting nuts and bolts. Joining the military seemed like an opportunity for adventure. Bill first considered the Navy, but his father encouraged him to join the Army. Bill enlisted on 26 April 1960.

Wanting to work with machinery, Bill requested to work in the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. After training at Kapooka and Puckapunyal, he was posted to B Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment. Not long after, Bill moved to 2 Recruit Training Battalion, training National Service soldiers for Vietnam.

On 18 Dec 1967, Bill deployed to Vietnam, arriving via Qantas to Tan Son Nhut before moving down to Nui Dat. As a sergeant, he commanded armoured personnel carriers (APCs) in A Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment.

The role of APCs is to transport infantry across a battlefield and protect them against enemy fire. It was a dangerous role. Unfortunately for Bill and his men, that danger manifested itself in horrific casualties one day when the squadron's lead vehicle ran over a land mine while heading up a jungle track. The memory of the grisly aftermath remained with Bill forever.

After Vietnam, Bill remained in the Army, serving full-time for 21 years.

Bill Shakespeare (Australian Army), Armoured Personnel Carriers

Transcript

Bill Shakespeare served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. He commanded a section of three armoured personnel carriers.

"An armoured personnel carrier's primary design role is to transport infantry across a battlefield in protection against small arms fire and shrapnel. One of its advantages is it's fast, very manoeuvrable; it's a highly mobile, flexible gun platform, and it can get right in close and support the infantry. But it's a bit dodgy in some circumstances because it's, hasn't got anywhere near the armoured protection of a Centurion. So hence the high casualty rate."

That high casualty rate would increase on one very bad day for Bill and his men. They were carrying a full infantry complement up a jungle track.

"My lead vehicle, George Thompson, he looked back, indicated, 'Which way?' And I sort of shrugged and thought, 'Well, which way?' He chose to go to the left and"¦ ran over a huge mine which turned the vehicle over upside down, backwards, with devastating consequences 'cos it was loaded with infantry. The infantry M60 gunner was trapped under the vehicle by his legs; and of course the engine, the transmission, the differential is full of oil and of course that's running at very high temperatures.

And so if someone gets doused in the oil from the shattered components then they have very serious burns and this infantry lad was trapped by his legs, compound fractures, and of course, with the oil as well. My driver had not made any sort of appearance out of this machine and so I got one of the other vehicles, and put a steel wire round one of the bases on that side and managed to get the vehicle up to about 45 degrees before the rope snagged on this stump. And I then discovered that the driver was deceased, with pretty horrific injuries, and I was pretty determined to get him out. I wanted dignity for him.

Trapped by his right leg and so, I'm up through the same hole as he is dangling from and ah, a fair bit of bodily fluids involved. And, you learn to understand the smells associated with such things, and the hydraulic oil, hot oil. There are many of those smells are with me today. In any case I worked very hard to try and release him, keeping in mind the vehicle's at 45 degrees going twang, twang, twang. And I had to abandon that effort. The Roman Catholic padre who was travelling with the infantry, he came along and said, 'Would you like me to perform the Last Rites on your soldier?' And I said, 'Certainly.' And so there we are on the battlefield and out of his haversack produced his priest's gear and dressed himself and blessed the deceased. That was particularly nasty and has been with me for all of my life."

After Vietnam, Bill remained in the army, serving full-time for 21 years.

"People's humanity is very important. If you're going to come out the other side reasonably well. The humanity gets put in the closet for a few years, and then, years later, if your humanity survives, then it will come out and it will reassert itself. And that's what happens for a lot of veterans."


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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Bill Shakespeare’s veteran story, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 24 July 2024, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories/oral-histories/bill-shakespeares-story
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