History Tuesday……………Billy Young

Young Billy Young

Ok it is History Tuesday and this week I am going to write about another unheard of fella his name is Keith William Young aka Billy Young at the tender age of 15 Billy decided to join the army it was July of 1941.

Now it wasn’t any real sense of patriotism or adventure that made him decide to join up it, it was because he was hungry and broke and homeless, Billy was an orphan and the army offered him a food and blanket and five shillings a day.

Billy was a member of the 2/29th Battalion that went to Singapore with the 8th Division, he saw a lot of action as the Allies attempted to stop the advancing Japanese Army and was wounded in the thigh.

Billy Young with award 2003

Two years later Billy found himself in the back of a canvas-covered truck on his was to the Sandakan POW camp as a prisoner of the dreaded Kenpeitai, Nippon’s version of the Gestapo and he was still only a kid at the age of around 17. He still owned nothing except the rags he wore, a soiled and bloody pyjama top, a pair of filthy shorts cut from a canvas kitbag and his greatest treasure a pencil stub.

During his time at Sandakan he often considered attempting to escape, it was after his mate Jimmy Brown wandered off from the airfield construction site with no intentions of escape, however, when they crept back they realised they had been missed and decided to escape to avoid the punishment that would be dealt out to them.

However, they were soon caught and received severe bashings before being taken to Kuching for a trial where they received a four year sentence at the infamous Outram Road Gaol back in Singapore.

Bill_Scabies_bath_Outram_Rd_Gaol By Billy Young

Many died at this terrible gaol but both Billy and Jimmy managed to survive although they suffered two years of starvation, malnutrition, tropical diseases, along with bashings and the most inhumane conditions imaginable.

When Bill returned home he was determined to tell the story of what happened to all the servicemen in Sandakan and Ranau, this he did by numerous drawings, paintings, writing stories, poems and speaking at functions.

In 2003 Bill drove alone across from Sydney to Perth, across the Nullabor, to visit our Sandakan Exhibition in August 2003. He took with him six of his original paintings that are part of his “Bamboo Collection”, for display at the exhibition. Bill has also completed numerous other paintings, sketches and drawings depicting his time as a POW at Sandakan and later at Outram Road Gaol in Singapore.

He tells of his experiences as a young man at war who was only 19 years old when he returned from 4 years of hell. He tells his story to the memory, and to commemorate, the 2,500 Australian and British servicemen who died at Sandakan, on the Ranau Death Marches or at Ranau. And he tells of his experiences so as this shameful episode of World War Two will never again be repeated.

Billy young

He has also written three books,Long Ago in Borneo,Return to a Dark Age and Once Upon a Time in Kuching, about his years as a POW of the Japanese.

In the October 1st 2003 edition of the Borneo Bugle tribute is paid by way of a photographic display of Bill’s visit to the West. The editorial in the newsletter sums up our feelings..

The visit by Bill Young from Sydney was a special event indeed! He added such substance to both our exhibition and the Sandakan Day Service. Someone said to me, “When we talked to Bill it is as though we have known him and he has been our friend for so many years”. Yes indeed, what a wonderful man he is! Such is the character of Bill that he enthralls both children and adults alike. And the wonderful stories he can tell of his life experiences! As you stand listening to his stories and watch his beaming smile your mind drifts to thoughts of those other great Australians and their British mates who never did return from Sandakan. There are another 2,500 special characters like Bill who lie at Labuan.”

In 2004 Bill was recognised for his services towards the “Sandakan Story” by the Commonwealth of Australia when he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM).


4 thoughts on “History Tuesday……………Billy Young

  1. Wow. Thinking about what I was doing from 15-17, this guy really puts that to shame. Your use of the phrase, “received severe bashings” makes the episode more brutal just by the word choice. Well, I’m glad he lived to tell his story, and thank you for retelling it here.

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