Bill Scurry arrived back in Melbourne on May 16, 1919. Over four years he had seen action in Egypt, Gallipoli and on the Western Front. On the voyage home he found the love of his life, Sr Doris Barry, a nursing sister from South Australia, who had spent the past four years caring for wounded soldiers here and in Europe. Within ten months they would marry and over the next decade have four daughters; Helen, Pat and twins Anne and Judith.
What would greatly affect Bill’s post-war life were the health issues he would experience as a result of the wounds received during the war. He was totally blind in one eye and the shrapnel embedded behind his eye gave him severe headaches for the rest of his life. Doris’s days of caring for wounded soldiers would not be over. Much of her marriage would be spent caring for Bill.
His failing eyesight meant that he could no longer work as an architectural modeller in his father’s business. As a result Bill decided to take up a farming block here in Silvan, under the sponsorship of the soldier settler scheme, where he grew strawberries and for a time passionfruit.
In Silvan Bill and Doris became a part of the fabric of the community and the girls all attended the state school next door. When the Depression hit in the late 1920s, life on the land became much harder as prices for fruit plummeted. To compound the difficulty, a vine disease hit the area that killed off all the passionfruit.
When his good friend and long-time mentor, Pompey Elliott, passed away Bill was inspired to do more for the ex-service community. He often assisted local veterans who were doing it tough and then in 1933 he joined the Lilydale branch of the RSL. He was elected its president the following year.
One Anzac Day Bill gave a memorable speech in Lilydale where he said: ‘many people were too prone to think that the war ended for the soldier with the signing of the armistice. That was not so. Thousands of returned men were still paying a heavy toll in suffering and early death. The outward and visible wound was not the only mark of suffering, for many carried torture inside their bodies. The aftermath of war had been as cruel as the war itself, flaying its victims with mental and physical torture. The community should remember that every man re-entered civilian life with a physical handicap while still more found, and still find, it difficult to obtain work at all – in the country they fought for’.
In the late 1930s the family moved to Dorset Rd, Croydon, where they could be closer to the Golf course which Bill and Doris loved.
With the outbreak of World War II, despite Bill’s health issues, he enlisted once more. In uniform for a second time he was eventually promoted to Major and attached to the 17th Garrison Battalion, comprised mainly of First World War veterans who were given the job of guarding prisoner of war camps.
He started off at Number One Camp at Tatura, guarding German and Italian civilians, and then when Japan entered the war he was made commandant of Number Four Camp which housed Japanese civilian internees. One person, who worked with him there, would later write: ‘Major Scurry set an exemplary standard of humane understanding of dignity and kindness to those who, through no fault of their own, became enemies of this country’.
In the decades following the war the tables had turned for Bill and Doris and he now spent most of his time caring for her, as she battled rheumatoid arthritis. His daughter Judith recalls they made an interesting sight as Bill wheeled Doris around with his limited vision.
Bill passed away in 1963, after a game of golf. He is buried at the Lilydale cemetery. The following week a tribute was published in the RSL magazine Mufti that eulogized his famous invention that saved so many in the evacuation off Gallipoli. The article stated: ‘How great the debt that Australia owes to Mr William Charles Scurry. How many lives were saved by the stratagem of unattended rifles being fired automatically and intermittently at the enemy lines it is impossible to say, but they could have numbered hundreds, or perhaps thousands. It is not difficult to believe that Australians, who returned to their homeland owing their lives to the inventiveness of Lance-Corporal Scurry, have made a great contribution to the development of their country. In how many ways or to what total effect history will never tell.
But the measure, going far beyond their individual achievements, will, through their descendants, influence generations to come until the end of time. Never were more gallant men rescued, and never was better stock preserved.
Water dripping from one tin into another caused a weight to pull suddenly a trigger. It was as simple as that, but how important the invention was, especially to Australia!’
I want to conclude by reflecting on what the evacuation meant to the Anzacs.
Ralph Goode was the first Lilydale local to enlist in 1914. Thanks to Anthony, the daily diary he meticulously kept has been published. We can now look back through his eyes at what he felt.
He was back at Lemnos Island as the evacuation took place, and his words sum up the rumour, secrecy and emotions of the prospect of leaving ANZAC.
On the 12 of December he wrote "Something big on, if only we knew what it is. He writes of large numbers of troops arriving "everyone with the same idea that we are going to give up ANZAC. Just fancy it, will break our hearts after all we've done there.....
On the 14th… More troops coming in today.
On the 15th … Troops arriving by the thousands.
On the 16th ... It's now quite certain we are leaving Anzac, troops arriving daily.
On the 21st... at 4am this morning the last of our boys left Anzac. What a wonderful piece of work something like forty thousand Australians and New Zealanders have left Anzac and are safely here, without losing a man. Evidently the Turks know nothing about it, what a shock they will get when they find nobody in our trenches…
Little did Goode know, but the man whose clever invention, a piece of simple Australian ingenuity, that saved thousands, would soon move out here, and become a friend. Both would be President of the Lilydale RSL and serve the local veterans as they had served their nation.
But before this, there were years of horror to endure.
But all they could do was ponder what lay ahead.
Ralph's last word on the 21st sums it up. And it is appropriate that those last words be mine today.
"I will now close this book on the day we finished at Anzac and say 'here endeth the first chapter of the Australian Expeditionary Force' - I wonder where our next chapter will start?”