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REID, William James MC (1895-1930)

REID, William James MC (1895-1930)

William Reid was born at Richmond, Melbourne on 4 January 1895, the son of James Armstrong Reid and Mary nee CIark Dickson, of 'Dromkeen', Riddell's Creek. He became a boarder at Geelong College in 1907 continuing his education at the School into 1914. He was in the 1st XVIII from 1911 to 1914 captaining the team for three years from 1912 to 1914. He rowed in the 1st VIII from 1912 to 1914 becoming Boat Captain in 1914. A member of the Athletics Team in 1908 and 1911 to 1913, he won the prestigious Geelong College Cup in 1913. He was a School Prefect in 1912 and School Captain in 1913 and 1914.

He went to England at his own expense, and served throughout the Great War with the Royal Field Artillery (RFA), having received his Lieutenancy at Edinburgh in the Divisional Ammunition Column. In 1915 he wrote to the School, his letter being published in Pegasus, telling of his experiences: 'He was attached to an Ammunition Column, supplying ammunition to four batteries, and had two horses wounded under him' .

He also wrote a long letter from the Somme, dated 2 November 1916: ‘When my division went to the Somme Front early in August we left a quiet part of the line and were very impatient to see what difference there was between peacetime warfare and the real thing. We soon found out. The firing was so constant that in one short week the guns had fired more rounds than they were made to fire in a lifetime, and almost every man in the detachments was as deaf as a post. This state of things was kept up for eight week without a rest. The enemy's bombardment was constant and tremendous, but it was not one-third as terrific as ours. On the 15th September I was Artillery Liaison Officer with the Infantry Brigade, which our guns were covering at the time – the 2nd New Zealand lnfantry Brigade. On this day, the biggest battle of the Somme advance took place, and we advanced over line after line of Trenches and wire, about two miles on a front of six miles. It was on that day that the land-ship or 'tank' was first used and it was an extraordinary sight to see these structures creeping along about four miles per hour just behind our 'barrage'. Several were struck and one capsized, but others went well into the Hun lines, firing machine guns and little four and six pounders. One stopped astride a trench that our infantry had not reached, and swept it with enfilade fire for some minutes, killing scores of Huns. Nothing in the form of shells has any effect on these 'mobile forts', except a direct hit from a six-inch howitzer or something bigger.

My business was to collect all possible information, such as any change of position of the enemy, or any concentration of his forces, and in this case I was fairly successful owing to the splendid communication maintained by the New Zealand infantry, whose organisation and fighting powers made a great impression on all our officers. Your English officer was greatly amused, and at the same time puzzled, at the familiar way in which the men spoke to their officers, but one of these same men summed up the situation very well when he said to me (not knowing I was a Colonial), 'We're no soldiers, sir, but we're ___ good fighters'. However that lack of discipline, for which the Colonial soldier was notorious, is now non-existent; he has learned by bitter experience the penalty paid for impatience, and now does just what he is told, and does it well. The Brigadier was a former Sandhurst instructor, but has been with the New Zealand troops since early in the war. He struck me as being just the sort of man to handle them - brisk, curt, very often angry, but never excited. Once during the bombardment he came up from his office (an old Hun dug-out) and, seeing me, said: 'Well, young man, this is some battle, the biggest there has ever been'. Then, pointing to the valley just below us he said: 'There are more guns in that one little valley than there were in the whole of the original Expeditionary Force', and I believe he was right. 'This fact alone will show which way the war will end when it doe end, but it is a long business yet and will cost a lot of life and money before it is over'.

William Reid rose to the rank of Captain in the Royal Field Artillery, and was awarded the Military Cross, gazetted 16 August 1917, the citation for which read: ‘During heavy shelling a dump was set on fire, and he headed a party and succeeded in extinguishing it. Shortly after another dump was set on fire, when he again set to work and got the fire under control. By his fine example and help a serious situation was averted’ .

Captain William (Billy) Reid, in a letter home (published in Pegasus of May 1919), wrote that he had volunteered for the Army of Occupation early in April and was then at Cologne, having a good time fishing, shooting, and riding. He returned to Australia.

Pegasus in August 1925 reported on his activities: '... ‘Billy’, has settled down to grow wool, having recently bought ‘Darkwood’, a nice little property about thirty miles from Miller's Creek, where his uncle Bob is, in N.S.W. ‘Billy’ has had a varied experience since he left the College in 1914. First, at the war, then a year on a cattle station at the Gulf of Carpentaria, next a year at Bradford studying the manufacture of wool, then a couple of years on a sheep station in North Queensland. He and his uncle, 'Bob', were at the recent Quirindi Polo festivities.'

He died at Armidale, NSW, on 30 Apil 1930.

His brothers, George Clark-Dickson Reid (1892-1967), and James Armstrong Reid (1909-1987) were also boarders at the College.

Sources: Pegasus August 1925 pp28-29; Geelong Collegians at the Great War compiled by James Affleck. pp289-290 (citing The Pegasus; The National Archives (Kew).
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