Dudley McArdle

For me, Anzac Day is a day of reflection – at many levels.

Do you have a relative or friend who is aged in their early twenties?  I have two grand children who are approaching their twenty-first birthdays.  They and your relative/friend are about the same age as William (Billie) Barkas was when he enlisted in the AIF in September 1916.

Private Billie Barkas, 6 Battalion AIF, 1916

His name appears on the war memorial in Bourke Square, Vincent St. Daylesford.

His occupation was recorded as ‘plumber and gas expert’ as he sailed direct to England.  He was posted straight to France in March 1917.  He was hospitalised twice in France, once with ‘trench feet’, which gave him a period of recuperation in England.  “Blackpool is the best place I have ever struck for a holiday” he wrote to his family.

When he returned to France in September 1917 he was sent immediately to Belgium.  He was listed as missing three weeks later.  He was declared killed in action at Westhoek Ridge, in the Passchendaele area, in what is referred to as the 3rd Ypres battle.  He has no known grave, but is commemorated on the famous Menin Gate.

Billie’s is one of the 145 names of Daylesford locals appearing on the war memorial, and one of the more than 60,000 Australians (in a population of 5 million) who gave their lives in World War I – the ‘war to end all wars’.  102,000 members of the Australian armed forces have died during or as a result of their service in wars and peacetime operations.

And yet our twenty-year-olds are confronted today with the prospect of more war in Europe as the twenty-year-olds of the Ukraine are engaged in combat for the survival of their country against the Russian forces of evil.  Australian servicemen (some of them in their 20s) are already assisting the Ukrainians by providing training and equipment.

So this year, as we remember Billie and those who sailed to faraway lands to courageously serve our country’s flag, some to make the supreme sacrifice, we should also reflect on the extraordinary courage it takes for everyday citizens to stand up to modern day tyranny.  May this generation not be called upon to repeat the tragedies of history.

I also reflect on other parallels between our lives today and those of Billie and his mates.  At the end of WW1, millions of people died from a virus that ravaged communities across the world.  In the past few years, millions more have died across the world from another virus, many thousands in Australia.

But today’s twenty-year-olds can reflect on their own strength and resilience and that of the sacrifices made by so many in controlling its effect on our communities over the long Covid pandemic – and those who have made similar sacrifices concerning the ever-more-frequent natural disasters to which we have been exposed.

The fragility of peace and the need for vigilance in the face of aggression and of other existential threats to our community life is cause for serious reflection on the eve of our upcoming Anzac Day commemorations.


Thanks to the Daylesford and District Historical Society for details of Pte Barkas.

Dudley McArdle is a former RAAF training officer and emergency management consultant who now lives in Daylesford. He is a member of the Wombat Post Editorial Board. He did not participate in any decisions relating to the publication of this article.

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