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Victoria: the last World War I sailor dies.



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

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PM

 

Tuesday 18 October 2005

Victoria: the last World War I sailor dies

 

MARK COLVIN: A significant part of the nation's war history has been lost with the death of the last man to serve overseas in World War I.  

 

William Evan Allan, who served in both World Wars, died at the age of 106 in a Melbourne nursing home last night. 

 

His death leaves 106-year-old Jack Ross from Bendigo, who signed up but was still in Australia when the war ended, as the only remaining survivor of the more than 400,000 men who served in the Great War. 

 

Political leaders and historians today paid tribute to William Allan, saying his death marked the passing of an extraordinary generation of men. 

 

Daniel Hoare has this report. 

 

DANIEL HOARE: The death of William Allan is an event of extraordinary significance in Australia's short history. 

 

The World War I veteran was the last surviving member of the more than 300,000 Australians who fought overseas during the Great War.  

 

106-year-old Jack Ross, from Bendigo in Victoria, is now the only remaining veteran of World War I, but he didn't serve overseas. 

 

William Allan, or Evan to his friends and family, gave more than three decades service to the Australian Navy after enlisting as a 14-year-old, just prior to the outbreak of World War I. 

 

William Allan saw action in the Pacific and Indian oceans and also fought in World War II. 

 

Historian Jonathan King interviewed Mr Allan only three weeks ago. He says Mr Allan had a remarkable career in the navy. And, he says, fate had dealt him a lucky hand.  

 

JONATHAN KING: It was almost as if he led his life for a biography, because not only did he serve in World War I, but he also served in World War II. And he served on some of the great fighting ships, like HMAS Sydney

 

And he also went overboard, in between the two World Wars from HMAS Australia . And having gone overboard, you usually drown. And he was in the North Atlantic, but the ship, HMAS Australia , turned back for him and fished him out of the water. And so he was an extremely lucky fellow. 

 

DANIEL HOARE: Jonathan King says William Allan was a modest man who thoroughly enjoyed his time in the service.  

 

JONATHAN KING: He loved the sea so much that he stayed with the Navy for 34 years. From 1914 till after Second World War in the mid-1940s. And he only retired then, he told me, when I did the last interview with him recently, that he only retired because he hadn't spent any time with his wife and they hadn't had a chance to have a family. 

 

Look, he was a quiet, modest, retiring man, who was really a quiet achiever. He wasn't at all puffed up with his own achievements. 

 

DANIEL HOARE: Political leaders across Australia today paid tribute to William Allan.  

 

Prime Minister, John Howard, says Mr Allan epitomised the sacrifice of the more than 400,000 Australian men who served in World War I. 

 

JOHN HOWARD: He's the last sailor and he takes with us a piece of our history. And it is quite a moment.  

 

And he lived a long life; he lived a very good life. And we extend our love and sympathy to his family, but we, more than that, we honour that extraordinary cohort of a remarkable generation of Australians.  

 

DANIEL HOARE: Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks, says Mr Allan's family have accepted his offer of a state funeral.  

 

Mr Bracks says the funeral will be a significant moment in the nation's history.  

 

STEVE BRACKS: Having a veteran, a World War I veteran and a World War II veteran - he served in both, he gave service to his country, it's important we recognise that, we acknowledge that, we remember it.  

 

We remember that the very freedoms that we enjoy now are forged by people who fought for those freedoms in those engagements.  

 

DANIEL HOARE: Historian Jonathan King says that during his recent interview with William Allan the veteran sailor was in remarkably good shape for a man of his age. 

 

JONATHAN KING: He had a really active mind right through to 106 and he was like a little boy, like a little, sort of, adventurer, telling me excitedly about what you do when you go overboard.  

 

So, yeah, he enjoyed his life. He was proud of his 34 years of service with the Navy and the fact that he'd been in two World Wars.  

 

He was a bit of, like, a boy's own adventure story, but Evan Allen really was larger than life.  

 

So his passing is the passing of a great era. We'll never see the likes of these fellows again. 

 

MARK COLVIN: Jonathan King, the historian, ending that report from Daniel Hoare.