This audio comes from interviews with historian Alistair Thomson (in 1983 and 1987), when
Bill Langham was 86 and then 90 years of age. In the interviews, Bill answers questions about
encounters with German soldiers on the front line, the gap between those who declared war
and the civilians and frontline soldiers who suffered its consequences and the importance of
remembrance in making people aware of the horrors of war. The full interview recordings are
available on the Australian War Memorial website

Introduction by Hannah Ekin

“Under the same conditions, as at the two previous wars, if I had to go again and I was a young bloke I’d do the same thing again.
You often say to yourself you wouldn’t do it, I suppose, but I would.
Because I thought it was right. I had to do it.
We only went, we went away, we tried to save the world from a worse fate than we’ve got now, I think.
But I don’t think we succeeded somehow. That’s the trouble.

I mean…No-one could be proud of killing a man you’ve never seen…
I don’t know, I don’t know whether I ever killed anyone, but…see in the artillery, you’re a long way away from the blokes that you’re after.
You send that shell over there you never know who it will get or where it will go

I still think now that if you put some of these blokes that’s sitting in a lovely chair back in the office somewhere, you put them out to fight, you wouldn’t have many wars. They don’t do any fighting and they tell you to go and do it.

I can remember, when we started the big push. I was back in the wagon lines we used to call it,
This was up at Paschendaele, one of our big battles. And a, an infantry chap came back and he’s got about two hundred German prisoners following him.
Most of these fellows were only bits of kids, these Germans that came in…

…cos one of them said to me – he could speak English – and he said, “I didn’t want to fight you. And he said I was forced into fighting on the other side…”
I was forced into the trenches. And he said that most of these fellows are the same.
They were calling them up very young. They’re forced into the line he said and we were happy to be taken prisoner. Soon as we could”. I realised then we were fighting fellows that didn’t want to fight.
That altered my – sort of altered my attitude all together. I realised we shouldn’t be fighting.

I didn’t want to fight him, he didn’t want to fight me, we didn’t know one another, we didn’t have a grudge against one another. Why should we try and kill one another.
But, you’ve got to do it. If you don’t kill him, he’ll kill you,
one of you got to go. Only one of you survived, if you’re in battle.
And we’re fighting one another and we got nothing against one another.

I thought war was wrong. I always think war is wrong.

It just makes you remember there shouldn’t be any bloody war.
It’s hard to drive that message home to people, I suppose, that’s never been in a war area or anything like that. They don’t realise what those people
It’s not only the soldiers that suffers in war. The civilian suffers more than the soldier, I think.
The soldier’s got things to fight back with, but a civilian’s got nothing.
Now, you take all those towns and things that were blown to pieces.
Women and kids blown to pieces and all that. Who wants to glorify that?

… Well I couldn’t forget it. No man that’s ever been there would ever forget it
we hoped it’d never happen, that we never had to do what we did, but, as we did it, well we still like to remember it.
And I only hope to God that the young generation coming up haven’t got to go through the same things that we went through. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.
I don’t believe in war, but I say if war’s forced on you, well you’ve got no alternative but to fight it.

It just makes you remember there shouldn’t be any bloody war.”

William ‘Bill’ Langham (born 1897) was born in Axedale, a small town around 60 kilometres
from Bendigo, in a large family of 13. The family had to survive on the low wage that Bill’s
father received from quarrying and woodcutting work (around a pound per week), though Bill
described having been part of a ‘good happy family’. Bill did however run away from his home
in rural Victoria to work as a stable-hand at Caulfield Racecourse.
Bill subsequently enlisted for the war as a teenager, lying about his age, as his father refused to
sign the underage enlistment consent forms.

During the war Bill served on the Western Front as a horse driver with an artillery unit of the
8th Brigade. He drew solace from his friends’ camaraderie, and from playing the harmonica. Bill
remembers his encounters with German soldiers as a turning point in his understanding of the

Wounded just before the Armistice Bill returned to intermittent work in Melbourne, struggling
to get a pension or adequate employment training. He eventually found employment with the
Melbourne City Council. Bill married and lived in Melbourne until he died, continuing to play
music and be active in the community into his old age. Bill died in May 1994.

Bill Langham, after the war, wearing his RSSILA Badge

The number of civilian deaths attributable to World War One remains an estimation. There
were no agencies established to keep records of these fatalities, but it is clear that the
displacement of peoples through the movement of the war in Europe and in Turkey,
accompanied as it was in 1918 by Spanish flu, the most deadly flu pandemic in history, led to
the deaths of large numbers of people. It has been estimated that the number of civilian deaths
attributable to the war was around anywhere between 7 and 13 million, higher than the
estimates of military casualties. The main cause of wartime civilian deaths were starvation,
exposure, disease, military encounters, and massacres.

(SOURCE:   Copyright: AWM Licensed copyright,
Accession Number SO1317)


Provided courtesy of the Langham family

Armistice Centenary – World War 1 Stories is a partnership between the Alice Springs Peace Action Think Tank and 8CCC Community Radio. This project was made possible through the support of the Alice Springs Town Council Community Assistance Grants, The Australian Government Armistice Centenary Grants Program and Produced with the assistance of the Community Broadcasting Foundation. Find out more at