BILLS, Raymond Leslie
|14 September 1914, Morphettville, South Australia
|3 Battalion Imperial Camel Corps
|Laura, South Australia, 1892
|Laura, Northern Areas, South Australia
|Laura Public School
|Qld Ag. College, Lawes, Queensland, 18 November 1977, cause of death not yet discovered
|Not yet discovered
|Laura District Honour Roll, Laura Methodist Church Roll of Honour, Laura Public School Roll of Honour, Laura RSL Members WW1 Roll of Honour
World War 1 Service
|14 Sep 1914:
|Enlisted AIF WW1, Morphettville, South Australia
|12 Jan 1915:
|Involvement AIF WW1, Corporal, 100, 9th Light Horse Regiment, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
|12 Jan 1915:
|Embarked AIF WW1, Corporal, 100, 9th Light Horse Regiment, HMAT Armadale, Melbourne
|16 May 1915:
|Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 100, 9th Light Horse Regiment, ANZAC / Gallipoli
|11 Nov 1916:
|Involvement AIF WW1, Private, 100, 3 Battalion Imperial Camel Corps
|14 Feb 1918:
|Discharged AIF WW1
Raymond Leslie Bills No 100
Ray came to the College as a mailman and janitor in the early 1940s. In retirement, he undertook part-time caretaking duties and lived in simple accommodation attached to farm square. According to Mr E.D. Crellin, Ray ‘was one of nature’s gentlemen’. That was a mighty compliment coming from the Housemaster and chief disciplinarian of the College. To many of us who were at the Queensland Agricultural College between 1966 and 1968, Ray was a person we hardly noticed. As we all hurried off to farm square to get out practical work from the Farm Manager Des Paterson, Ray was always pottering around in the background. He was a private person who didn’t draw attention to himself preferring instead to make his contribution to college life in more subtle ways. For many years, Ray played the role of Santa Claus much to the delight of the children of the College staff. He also made sure that a Christmas tree was procured to add to the festivities . Ray also operated a horse-drawn wagon known as the drag. His job was to meet the train at the Lawes siding collect the mail and ferry us up to the College . He must have had the odd night off because on a couple of occasions we had to walk, not that we minded.
Ray was born in the small South Australian town of Laura in 1892. In those days, Laura was a small rural community nestled on the eastern slopes of the Southern Flinders Range. As a boy, Ray grew up enjoying all the things most of us take for granted like the outdoors, farming life and hard work. He was a member of the Laura Rifle Club and like most boys his age he learnt to ride a horse at an early age. Horses were Ray’s passion which endured well into his latter years. We know that Ray had a younger brother several sisters and probably lots of cousins who lived in the Laura area. By all accounts Ray wasn’t a big man. At the outbreak of WW1, he stood 5’6” tall, weighed 160 lbs and had a chest that measured 36”. He had a ‘fresh’ complexion, brown eyes, and fair hair. Ray had no distinctive marks or tattoos and was listed as a Methodist by religion.
On the 14th of September 1914 Ray enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Morphettville, a suburb of Adelaide. His attestation paper record his age at 21 years 11 months. After taking the oath of allegiance, Ray was assigned to A squadron 9th Australian Light Horse Regiment by Lieutenant Colonel Albert Miell, MID. His service number was 100. The 9th LH Regiment was formed in Adelaide but trained in Melbourne between October 1914 and February 1915. Approximately three-quarters of the regiment were recruited from South Australia and other quarter came from Victoria. As part of the 3rd LH Brigade, A squadron of the 9th LH Regiment sailed from Melbourne together with their horses on the troop ship HMAT ‘Armadale’ on the 12th February arriving in Egypt on the 14th March 1915. Perhaps Ray was in the same unit as the boys from Rainbow in Russell Crowe’s film The Water Diviner who knows.
Ray’s service record by all accounts was good. After several months training in Egypt and getting used to local hospitality, Ray’s unit landed at Anzac Cove on the 27th May 1915. Because horses were considered unsuitable in the Gallipoli terrain, the men fought on foot. Ray spent the early part of the campaign in hospital recovering from a recurring ‘condition’. However, by August he was well enough to rejoin his unit fighting in the trenches. The 9th LH was fortunate to be the reserve regiment in the ill fated attack on the Nek on the 7th August. Unfortunately, the regiment suffered 50% casualties attacking Hill 60 on or about the 27th August. Loss of life during this time was horrific on both sides. The commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Albert Miell was killed in action on the 7th August by a sniper and Ray was wounded in the leg by exploding shrapnel probably on Walker’s Ridge on the 12th August though not seriously. Ray was evacuated to the hospital ship HMHS Gloucester Castle for treatment and then on to General Head Quarters on the Island of Imbros to recover. From then on the 9th LH, exhausted and under strength, played a defensive role in the Gallipoli campaign until it finally left the peninsula on the 20th December 1915.
Back in Egypt, the 3rd LH Brigade was absorbed into the ANZAC Mounted Division and in March 1916 joined forces with other units defending the Suez Canal from a Turkish push across the Sinai Desert. About this time Ray was taken on strength to the 3rd LH Training Regiment, a unit of the 3rd LH Brigade.
In his new role, Ray was tasked with training incoming reinforcements and looked after the wounded and sick before returning to active service. At about this time, Ray’s career in the AIF took some unexpected twists and turns. On the 9th July 1916, he was transferred to 13th Coy 3rd Battalion Imperial Camel Corps where he was promoted to L/Cpl but lost his stripe soon after a minor misdemeanor. It was here that Ray quickly learnt the art of riding camels. Records indicate that he participated in long-range camel patrols out in the Libyan Desert from his base on the outskirts of Cairo. So our Ray became a camelier. I wonder what he thought of that!
Later on in the year, Ray’s unit shifted its sphere of operation to the Sinai Peninsula, Palestine and the Suez Canal. Here the ANZAC ICC battalions fought alongside Australian light horse units at Romani, Magadha and Rafa and later at Gaza and Beersheba. At about this time Ray got another promotion this time to the rank of signaler which he seems to have kept. On the 16th March 1917, Ray was transferred to the newly formed 4th ANZAC Battalion ICC where he played a supporting role while recovering from boils, lost false teeth and a bout of septic dermatitis. However, on the 20th August 1917 he was transferred back again to the 3rd ANZAC Battalion ICC once again serving at the front. I don’t think Ray liked camels that much. Camels transferred mange to humans. The smell and the ‘itch’ must have been terrible. In order to control this zoonosis, frequent fumigation of clothing, blankets and equipment was necessary. Compared to horses, camels needed more fodder and water and were much slower on open ground besides they had a vile temper and were hard to manage. I don’t think Ray took a shine to these ships of the desert. In fact I don’t think he liked the desert at all.
Meanwhile back in Australia things weren’t going too well either. On or about the 30th October 1917 Ray got word that his father had suffered a serious stroke and wanted to see him again before he died. On the 14th December 1917 Ray’s application to return to Australia was approved. Subsequently, he returned to Australia on the troop ship ‘Tofua’ on the 28th December 1917 and was discharged at Keswick Barracks in South Australia on 12th February 1918. In all, Ray served a total of 3 years 154 days in the AIF and was paid the princely sum of 3/- per diem. His sister, Miss E. M. Bills was the beneficiary.
After the war Ray earned his living as a stockman. In 1935 he was living in Collinsville in Queensland working as a laborer. There are reports that he was a shearer’s cook travelling from station to station in outback Queensland.
His famous scone recipe enough to feed 36 men would seem to support Ray’s venture into the kitchen. However, by the 26th March 1940 Ray had migrated to Gatton and was living at the Commercial Hotel. We have a letter written by Ray to the Officer in Charge, Base Records, Melbourne in which he requested a duplicate copy of his discharge papers to further his application for ‘special work in the AIF’. There are no records to indicate that Ray served in WW2 so his application for special work in the AIF remains a mystery. Perhaps Ray thought he had something to offer to the new blokes we’ll never know besides he was nearing 50 years of age at the outbreak of WW2.
Ray’s contribution to the College touched the lives of hundreds if not thousands of students and staff alike. He was part of the social fabric of the College offering encouragement and words of wisdom to those who confided in him. Ray embraced the College just as much as the College embraced him. Ray [Monty] Montgomery remembers Ray when he was student at the college between 1944 and 1947. At the time, Ray was living in the original Farm Hands Quarters close to the present day hayshed. This was the beginning of a friendship that was to last for many years. Monty remembers the joy of accompanying Ray in the drag to the Lawes siding on many occasions. Invariably, there was a third occupant perched on the seat between the two, Ray’s beloved dog and best mate. Monty renewed his friendship with Ray in 1968 after a stint in the Agriculture Department in Papua New Guinea. Now a member of staff, Monty remembers finding Ray sitting in the sun quietly smoking his pipe in Farm Square. After introducing himself and waiting for what seemed like an eternity, Ray finally looked him up and down and remarked ‘my God son you look just like your father’. Ray’s laconic humour often took many off guard; he was nobody’s fool.
I remember Ray as the cook who accompanied us to Timber Camp up at Murphy’s Creek. The accommodation wasn’t too flash, a simple hut with dirt floors and rough hessian bunks but the food was to die for. After a day’s work splitting logs using mauls and wedges we would often come home to find Ray slaving over a hot combustion stove. On one particular night he served up a meal of steak & onions and mashed potatoes. I have to say that the steak was good but the mashed potatoes were out of this world. I remember coming back for seconds, thirds and possibly fourths. I was like one of Dickens’ characters - more please sir! Ray’s secret spud recipe included lots of butter, full cream milk sprinkled with finely chopped onions. I used his recipe time and time again with groups of students in one of my roles as an Outdoor Educator. Although Ray wasn’t in the same league as Celebrity Chef or My Kitchen Rules, he none the less provided nourishing wholesome food to an appreciative generation of hungry College students. I think Ray found his true vocation in life as our cook at Timber Camp. He would have drawn a great deal of satisfaction from his simple but basic contribution to College life.
Ray is remembered for his care and concern for returned soldiers from the Great War. He was the President of the Laura RSL sub-branch in 1920 and Vice President of the Gatton RSL sub-branch in 1952 and 1953 . On Anzac Day, he honoured those who did not return by attending the dawn service, marching in the parade and remembering his fallen mates over a beer. A soldier’s pride was not something on display one day a year. For Ray, it was something he lived each and every day until the end. In a letter to his sister he says:
The papers give you an idea of the trials and horrors of a battlefield. No one who has not seen the real thing can realize what War really is. It would not do, either, for therein, I think, lies the secret of where a Soldier gets his pride. To have watched Death in its various approaches: Sometimes stealthily; sometimes openly; quick; lingering and agonizingly. To have kept watch for it day by day and vigil night after night. To bury one who has been as a brother who was killed next to you, and you yourself escape unscathed. To the Soldier alone these things are known. Hard trials they are, but we have been through them all and you have not. Therein lies our pride.
To the outside world Ray is remembered for being a ‘good bloke’. But underneath there lay a sensitive man for ever haunted by the horrors of war. It’s ironic that Ray is remembered at QAC by the R. L. Bills Cadet Training Center which was officially opened by Air Commodore D. W. Kingwell, D.S.O., Officer Commanding, RAAF Amberley on the 8th April 1970. I’m sure he had mixed feelings about that. Ray died on the 18th November 1977, aged 85 years. Well done, Ray.
- Lest We Forget-
Adrian O’Connor 1966-1968
I would like to thank all those who helped with the writing and researching of Raymond Leslie Bills No 100, particularly Julie Reid, Kay Galletly, Dr. Jim Galletly, Peter Douglas and Ray [Monty] Montgomery. Whilst every effort have been made to document people, events and organizations accurately, some readers will be disappointed with aspects of Ray’s story that have not received the weight it deserves. It’s impossible to please everyone.
WW1 Service Records of Raymond Leslie Bills No 100 National Archives accessed at: http://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/scripts/AutoSearch.asp?O=I&Number=3082687
Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade assessed at: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000279/
Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries 9th Australian Light Horse Regiment accessed at: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000267/
Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries 3rd ANZAC Battalion Imperial Camel Corps accessed at: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1016569/
Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries 4th ANZAC Battalion Imperial Camel Corps accessed at: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000287/
E. D. Crellin Remember When Gatton College Revisited Queensland Agricultural College Past Students Association Inc Magazine 1985 pp. 89-100.
Annual Report, Queensland Agricultural College 1970.
Annual Report, Queensland Agricultural Report, 1977.
Stephen J. Craig-Smith, Craig j. Pearson and Juliet C. Middleton, Gatton College 100 Years of Science with Practice University of Queensland, 1996.
Personal correspondence Mr Ray [Monty] Montgomery past patron of The QAC Past Students’ Association, August 2015.
Raymond Leslie Bills, Letters I, Published by Queensland Agricultural College.
Raymond Leslie Bills, Letters II, Published by The Laura Standard Our Boys At The Front.
Queensland Times Offer to Increase R.S.L Membership Monday 3rd March 1952, p.4
Submitted 30 August 2015 by Adrian O'Connor