Poem – Our Mate Billy

There are generations of Regimental Sergeant Majors who have aged quite quickly while disciplining wayward soldiers’ intent on challenging rules and procedures or creating their own. It is also true to say that the names of such soldiers were also well known to their commanding officers, who with rare exceptions developed facial twitches whenever such names were mentioned.

In the main, these rogues were among the old hands of the unit and knew all the tricks of the trade. To them, regulations and rule were there to be ignored or manipulated in the name of a fair go for diggers. They were bush lawyers after much experience from standing to attention in front of the Colonel’s desk. It was very rare for any of them to escape punishment which I might add, they readily accepted as a “fair cop’. However they should never be confused with shirkers, jack-men or whiners who after a short time of soldiering were given incentives to seek other employment.

The larrikins I write of were known to all who wore the same badge.  Some even became legends.  In my mind, despite breaches of  Barracks discipline, they carried out demanding tasks wherever and whenever; not because of pompous orders but because they were part of the military family and believed in it.

On operations, they borrowed, traded and liberated valuable and much needed resources from neighbouring allies who had more than they required. The hierarchy on most occasions in such circumstances turned a blind eye.

History records that in the fog of war and without guidance; more than one rebel stepped forward to lead.

One of the penalties in today society is that the powerful computer is slowly but surely removing the initiatives, judgment and authority from unit commanders. There was a time when the commanding officer with the advice of the RSM would decide the future of a reprobate within the family. Today, such authority is being consumed by hungry computers which then spit out the records of offences without any knowledge of the victims they have processed.   It is all in the name of enhanced administration.

Computers do not see the hidden assets so many of these warriors demonstrate when needed.  Good commanders and their experienced junior leaders do.

I have selected a Digger called Billy who is just one of many to have trudged the military track through barrack life and in the field. He readily accepted his punishment as part of the game and no matter when or where was true blue to his comrades and unit.  So here’s to you, Billy Boy, and all the others like you who were very much part of the military family and always there when needed. Let’s hope such genes will still be soldiering long after the Space Age.


                 Our Mate, Billy

Billy was the nightmare of every CO and RSM

Ran the Two Up and Dice Games in many a secret den

He was known to liberate Gurkha Rum from the Q store

Often forged leave passes as long as you paid at the door

The truth or not, swearing a sacred oath on a bible was survival for him

Thus there were times that Billy, according to military law, was free of sin

A bush lawyer, he knew all the tricks of the army game

Even Generals shuddered at the mention of his name 

The story of him finding unguarded bottled beer while on a troopship is true

The feat was celebrated on the lower deck by more than a drunken few 

He rigged a Melbourne Cup sweep so no senior rank could win

Alas, before the draw, their tickets accidentally fell into the bin

Threw a wild party for the rival team the night before the big footy game

Won a fortune backing his own mob and gained more fame

A young officer still wet behind the ears claimed to be the best of the best

So extra weight was hidden in his pack and he failed the endurance test

Today’s computers would mark Billy in red and a liability to all

Yet he was always there in the field when our bugle did call

No matter the hardships, danger, the fearful unknown and mile after mile

Always he was sharing, caring and making many a weary soldier smile

Then one very sad day, our unit radios spluttered the news

Billy’s luck had run out and the grief was felt by more than a few 

Old soldiers still talk of Billy’s time and such a great mate

Even the CO and RSM bet that he has already raffled the Pearly Gates

George Mansford ©January 2018


Editorial Comment.
We can all recall at least one person in our Unit that fits – Our mate Billy

Paul Hogan as Pat Cleary in “The Anzacs” mini-series 1985 would be one


  1. I joined the Army at 17 yrs in 1962.I grew up with these type of Soldiers,how lucky I was to be guided and educated by them.There were a few Billys,but I think I know the one in the poem.My eyes fill with tears when I think of the old soldiers who shaped my life in the Army. They taught me to be a soldier both in War and Peace back in Australia.