Heritage Guide to The Geelong College

Search the Guide

To find information in this Guide please select one of the green coloured options.

To Select a Page Group when displayed, right click and select 'Open'.

Copyright Conditions Apply.

MORROW, William Andrew (1920-2018)

MORROW, William Andrew (1920-2018)

Born on 7 April 1920 at Ballarat, the son of Hugh Gordon Morrow and Elsa Margaret nee Stewart, 'Bill' Morrow attended Ballarat College. He then boarded at Geelong College from 12 February 1936 to December 1937. His address at enrolment was 1419 Sturt St, Ballarat.

'Bill' was a member of Morrison House and gained House Colours in athletics in 1937. He also rowed in the 3rd VIII and was Captain of the 3rd Cricket XI. Pegasus in December 1937 noted that a competition in photography entitled 'Light and shade in the Cloister', part of the House of Guild activities, was won by W A Morrow.

He served two years in 5 Battalion Victorian Scottish Regiment before enlisting (VX 19434) during World War II on 5 June 1940 as a Gunner in 2/12th Field Regiment in the Middle East (November 1940-December 1941). He suffered a gunshot wound to the left upper arm at Tobruk on 15 June 1941, and was medically classified 'permanently unfit for service' on 10 September 1941.

The procedure for injuries was standard in any war zone: cut the clothes from the patient, and start the procedure. Bill had a cigarette case in his pocket which had the Ballarat College crest on it, and his name; this cigarette case had been given to him by his mother. It disappeared that day, only to turn up many years later in the possession of Clarrie Fountain, of Grenfell, who had served in Tobruk as a Lieutenant in the 9th Div AASC. Clarrie contacted Doug Cowells, who was deputy editor of the Ballarat Courier newspaper, in the 1990s to find if there were any Morrow descendants still residing in Ballarat. Bill Morrow was very pleased to be reunited with his cigarette case nearly sixty years later.

He had been evacuated from Tobruk on a destroyer to Kantara, where he was hospitalised. He was treated by the pioneering plastic surgeon, Dr Benjamin Rank and, as Bill Morrow described the situation, he was Benny Rank's 'guinea pig' in the treatment of his severe arm injury. He was discharged from the Army on 14 August 1942.

On 24 September 1945 he became engaged to Helen Rosemary Hamilton, second daughter of Dr Malcolm Talbot and Beatrice Morris nee Craig, of South Yarra, and they married at Christ Church, South Yarra, on 15 January 1946.

Bill's family had a strong association with Ballarat College. His father and brothers attended the school, all three served in World War I, and two paid the supreme sacrifice. Lt Andrew Duncan Morrow served in 'Pompey' Elliott's 59th Battalion and died on 21 July 1916 of wounds sustained at Fromelles; he is buried at Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, France. Lance Corporal Thomas Cuthbert Morrow, 46 Battalion, died on 12 October 1917 of wounds sustained at Passchendaele; he was buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium, and left a widow, Lucy Mary Morrow, of West Perth, whom he had married in 1910 in the East Coolgardie area. Bill's father, Lt Hugh Gordon Wilson embarked for France with 39 Battalion in February 1916, and returned to Australia in April 1918.

'Bill' Morrow, WWII (Morrow Family)

'Bill' Morrow, WWII (Morrow Family)

'Bill' Morrow and Tobruk: An interview by his grandson, Andrew Ingham for a school project.

'In March 1941 some units of the 9th Division were already in action in Cyrenaica, and in April, German troops invaded Greece. On 18 April, after four months in Palestine, the regiment moved south to the Canal (Suez) by train and on to a camp at Ikingi Maryat in the desert outside Alexandria. There we had violent dust storms, known as khamsins. I caught sand-fly fever and was sick for a few days.

On 9 May orders came for Don Troop to proceed to Tobruk by destroyer. Tobruk had been cut off by land by the advancing Germans and Italians. We sailed in the afternoon from Alexandria aboard
HMAS Vendetta, after loading about five tons of anti-aircraft ammunition (the Egyptian wharfies had gone on strike). It was essential to have a moonless night to avoid attacks from enemy aircraft. We were crammed in, and slept under tables, in mess rooms and on deck. We arrived in Tobruk harbour about midnight and went alongside a bomb-scarred wharf. We were allowed twenty minutes to get off with stores and ammunition; at the same time naval ratings were loading wounded for return to Alexandria. We could hear shell-fire and anti-aircraft guns, our first experience of this, as we moved by truck from the wharf area to a wadi. We were given tea made with water treated with chemicals; it had a horrible taste like sulphur, but we became used to it.

Later that day we moved on to gun positions with Don Troop on four 60-pounders, which we learnt had seen service on the Indian Frontier. From that day we were in action.

I was a signaller, the job being to maintain commu­nications between the troop position and battery headquarters/command post/observation post by field telephone. With 60-pounders there was a sig in each gun pit relaying orders from the command post to the gun sergeant. The wire from the OP to the guns was often cut by enemy shellfire, and a sig would have to go out on his own to locate and repair the break - often a risky job.

The battle for the defence of Egypt in 1941 was fought in the Libyan desert, and Tobruk, with the only good harbour after Alexandria, was the hub of it all. In early April, Rommel and the Axis forces surrounded Tobruk, cutting all access, and for eight months the garrison held out against persistent German attacks. Australian infantry patrols went deep into enemy territory at night, often taking prisoners, and were a constant thorn in the side of the Germans, who had their first defeat in the war on land, and Tobruk greatly helped to prevent the Germans and Italians reaching Egypt and the Suez Canal. Tobruk was relieved on 10 December after a siege of 242 days. British, Indian and South African forces advanced from Egypt and linked up with units of the garrison, including the only Australian Infantry battalion left - the 2/13th. Other Australian units had been taken out by the Navy and replaced by the Polish Brigades.

My unit was chosen to go to Tobruk because of previous training on 60-pounder guns (medium artillery). In addition the 2/12th used captured Italian 75-mm, 105-mm, 4.5-inch Howitzers, and some old 25-pounders. We were the only Australian field regiment in Tobruk together with three British regiments of the Royal Horse Artillery. I think there were about 35 Cruiser tanks, some light tanks, Bren gun carriers and armoured cars left in the fortress. Four brigades of infantry were holding a perimeter about thirty miles long in a semi-circle, with the sea on the northern side. The Northumberland Fusiliers manned heavy machine­guns, and there was the 2/4th Australian General Hospital, a casualty clearing station and four Field Ambulance units.

Early in June I had been transferred to E Troop which had four Italian 75-mm guns. On the night of 4 June we put over a heavy concentration on the enemy lines. Retaliation came the next day, when the Germans pounded hundreds of rounds of shellfire into our gun position. During this barrage I was on a field telephone in the troop command post. Two men were killed and I was wounded in the arm when a shell burst near the entrance to the command post. When the shelling stopped the command post officer applied a field dressing to my arm, and helped me to the Medical Officer who had a
sanga further along the wadi. Then an ambulance arrived and, with the two bodies, we went to an underground RAP, from there to the Tobruk hospital for an operation. I can't remember much after that, as I must have been doped up for a day or two. We were taken on stretchers to a cave hospital near the Tobruk waterfront to await the arrival of a destroyer that night, a soldier with a billy full of boiling water shaved me. Early the next morning we were taken on board the destroyer which turned out to be the Vendetta again, and the stretchers were put on deck. The ship set off at full speed for Mersa Matruh, about 100 miles west of Alexandria. At Mersa we were carried ashore to a South African Casualty Clearing Station set up in a big galvanised iron building. A doctor changed the plaster on my arm, which was showing signs of gangrene. I remember a Salvation Army Captain playing a violin.

We were taken by hospital train from Mersa Matruh to the Suez Canal, then across to the 2nd AGH at Kantara, where I was admitted to the plastic surgery ward for skin grafting. After the way we had been living, the comfort and food at the hospital was a welcome change. It took about six weeks to get rid of the infection in my arm, then after two operations I eventually got some movement back in my left arm and stayed at the hospital until November 1941. We were then taken by train to Port Tewfik where we boarded the hospital ship
Wanganella, which used to carry passengers between Sydney and New Zealand. It was comfortably fitted out, with good food and medical attention. We called at Colombo and Fremantle before arriving in Melbourne on 1 December 1941. I had a few weeks leave at my home in Ballarat, and then reported to Heidelberg Military Hospital, where I was an outpatient for eight months. I was discharged from the army in August 1942, and returned to my civilian job.'

Sources: Pegasus December 1937 pp25, 33; 'Geelong Collegians at the Second World War and Other Conflicts' compiled by J Affleck pp 394-395, 671-672, (citing The Pegasus; Australian War Memorial; National Archives); Ad Astra December 2018 p59. OGC 1933.
© The Geelong College. Unless otherwise attributed, The Geelong College asserts its creative and commercial rights over all images and text used in this publication. No images or text material may be copied, reproduced or published without the written authorisation of The College.