William, or Bill, was Michael and Caroline’s first son, born after five daughters. He was a quiet yet happy-go-lucky fellow and perhaps his mother’s favourite. He was born on the 10th of October 1887 in Emerald while his father was there working on the railway line.
William was also the first of the family to join WWI. His younger brother Tom followed him as soon as he was of age (21). William enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in Rockhampton on the 10th of November 1915. He was 27 years old.
He served firstly with the 42nd battalion in France. In 1917 he was transferred to the 30th battalion. He was wounded in action on the 29th of September 1917. He was also gassed several times and suffered severely from trench feet.
William was present at the signing of the Armistice on the 11th of November 1918. After the war, he remained in Europe as part of the occupying force. According to family accounts he fell in love with a German girl and was heartbroken when he was unable to bring her back to Australia. He never married.
William’s mother, Caroline, sent him postcards during his time overseas.
He also received postcards from his youngest brother, Fred.
Although William volunteered to remain in Belgium as part of the occupation force after the war, he must have found it difficult to readjust when he did return home. An incident reported in the local newspaper hints at an unquiet mind.
Transcript: A BADLY FRACTURED ARM. About midnight on Saturday William Ahern, a returned soldier living with his parent s in Phillip-street, Emu Park, severely fractured the upper part of his left arm near the shoulder, a bullet pass- ing through the bone. It is understood that the bullet was fired from a shotgun; but the police are not in the position to say at present whether the wound was self-inflicted. Matron Curtis of the Emu Park Convalescent Home, rendered first aid and Ahern was brought to the General Hospital in one of the motor ambulances from the rockhampton Ambulance Brigade.
William continued to suffer the effects of the Mustard Gas poisoning from the war. His feet were also irreparably damaged from being in the trenches. However, he supported his mother and younger brothers through fishing after his father died in 1931. He also worked for the railway, eventually transferring to Elalie, near St Lawrence. He retired due to ill health in 1964 and returned to Emu Park to live with his nephew, Fred Ahern. Fred is the son of Fred senior, William’s brother, who he later lived with in Koumala. William died while living with his brother and is buried at the Sarina Cemetery.
William never had any children, but he is remembered by his nieces and nephews and even some of their children. He lives on in Emu Park where his name is etched on the cenotaph at the RSL.
Read more about Bill’s war service here.