Tuesday 28 April 2020

William Naylor

The Covid-19 pandemic across the world has dramatically interrupted local and international activity, with huge cost in lives and livelihoods. Yet it is small compared with the 1918-19 pandemic, the so-called “Spanish Flu”, when millions of people died, including about 12,000 deaths among Australia’s small population of 5 million people. Thankfully today the world benefits from massive improvements in medical care and has governments able act appropriately. This is very different to the situation in 1919, in the immediate aftermath of World War 1 with its loss, destruction and disrupted governments. Against this background, it is no surprise that Dreadnought Scheme did not resume until late 1921.

William Lofthouse Naylor was one of the boys of the resumed scheme, disembarking in Sydney on the 30 October 1922 from the SS Themistocles. Born at Ilkley in Wharfdale, Yorkshire, England on 4 January 1905—one of six children, he migrated to Australia under the Dreadnought Scheme, wanting to become a farmer. He was sent, with eleven other boys, by train to Cowra Experiment Farm where he stayed for twelve months of training and experience.

His first placement was with Dr Hawthorne on his properties at Carcoar, the sheep property ‘Stokes’ on the Belubula River and the cattle station ‘Highbury’ at the foot of the mountain. William left there twelve months later, after a disagreement with Hawthorne’s manager. He tried his hand at rabbit trapping, then worked in the iron-stone mine at Cadia, south of Orange. The mine had just reopened for the Hoskins Company (Australia’s steelmaking pioneers), and provided ore for their steelworks at Lithgow. However, the Company had problems due to the dumping of foreign iron and steel in Australia, and an extended company-wide strike over payrates in 1926-27. With the slump in demand for ore, and a fatality in 1928, the mine closed down. But William Naylor had already moved on.

He rode over 200 miles round NSW on his pony without finding work, except for odd jobs like cutting wood for food. Arriving back in Carcoar, he got a harvesting job with Mr Ned McCooey for six weeks. The next-door neighbour, Mr Jack Ewin, was looking for a man and, after an interview, William got the job and remained with him until 1928.

On Anzac Day in 1928, William Naylor married Irene Beatrice Cook, and then when her brothers Clarence and Albert started a produce business, worked with them as a lorry driver.

William enlisted in the AIF in 1939, first posted as a nursing orderly in the Sydney Showground, then transferred to the 2nd/12th Field Ambulance stationed at the Cowra. The unit later moved to Darwin, where he suffered a spinal injury, and was sent to Yaralla Hospital in Sydney. In May 1943, he saw his old unit join the Hospital Ship Centaur. The Centaur sailed unescorted from Sydney, carrying her crew and personnel as well as stores and equipment of the 2/12th Field Ambulance, but no patients. It was sunk without warning by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine about 4 am on 14 May 1943, approximately 50 miles east north-east of Brisbane, with the loss of 268 lives. “By all rights I should be at the bottom of the sea”, William reflected later.
The Hospital Ship CENTAUR        (Public Domain)
Post war, William Naylor worked in the Commonwealth Public Service in the Import Procurement Department, then in later years was transferred to the Stevedoring Industry Department, from where he retired at the age of 60 years.

William and his wife left on a caravan tour of Australia for two years, after leasing their home at Rockdale. Heavy rains and road closures changed their plans. They sold their home and built in Rockhampton in Queensland, where they lived for thirteen years. On medical advice they moved back to NSW, to Ettalong Beach for several years before moving into Courtlands Retirement Village in Parramatta in May 1982. His wife Irene, passed away on 17 April 1991.

William Naylor lived to the age of 95 and passed away on 8 August 2000, “a gentle man and a gentleman”.