Squadron Leader William John (Bill) SHEPHERD ,
1935 - 2001
|EULOGY by Wing Commander Brian Dirou, DFC (Retired)
'I feel greatly honoured that Pat has asked me to speak about Bill's Air Force history. Our military careers and interests were similar in many ways and we often came together. About 30 years ago, my family used to vacation at Woody head with the Budd family, now of Iluka, and we may have influenced Bill and Pat somewhat regarding settlement in this beaut little community.
In 1955, Bill did 6 months National Service Training with the RAAF at Rathmines, South of Newcastle, and he enlisted as an Aircrew Trainee in 1956 to undergo basic pilot training at Uranquinty near Wagga. He progressed to applied flying training at Point Cook in 1957, about when I also enlisted as an Aircrew Trainee to undergo Signaller training at Ballarat.
I first met Bill and some of his course mates in the bar at the Hotel London in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, which was the Saturday morning watering hole for Aircrew Trainees, and we had the dubious distinction of being kicked out of 1 or 2 famous pubs in following months.
Bill was hospitalized soon after arriving at Point Cook with a broken leg - maybe a motor cycle accident. Like several others before him, he was also back-coursed for pranging one of Her Majesty's Wirraways.
He eventually graduated as a Sergeant Pilot 2 years after beginning training and I attended the passing out parade. The aftermath in the Sergeant's Mess is somewhat hazy, but 3 of us awoke on the lawn after sunrise next morning, still resplendent in our dress uniform, but thoroughly saturated because it had rained throughout the night - we were of course oblivious.
Post-graduation, Bill flew Dakotas (DC3) at Canberra/Richmond with Nos. 34 & 38 Squadrons and at School of Air Navigation, East Sale, where I was also serving before undergoing pilot training. I later returned to the same unit as a pilot for more service with Bill. We were mostly NCO aircrew in those days; enjoyed great flying all around Australia, PNG, New Zealand and had much fun socializing, fishing and playing golf.
Bill was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in 1961 and underwent Flying Instructor training in mid-1962, serving 2.5 years instructing at Point Cook, before posting to No. 9 Squadron at Canberra to undergo helicopter training.
Mid-1966, 9SQN elements embarked on HMAS Sydney under Bill's command for deployment to Vietnam, where Shep was to serve for about 10 months. He was involved in many actions during Vietnam operations, including the night evacuation of casualties after the Battle of Long Tan.
Early during his Vietnam tour, Bill had clipped trees a couple of times and the CO, then Squadron Leader Ray Scott, told him to go and get his eyes tested. Subsequently, Bill was among a flight of Hueys approaching Kangaroo Pad at Nui Dat after some trooplifting. Suddenly, Shep grabbed the controls yelling: 'WIRE - what stupid bastard put that there?' The other pilot nonchalantly responded: 'Its been there for weeks Bill'. That particular flight was Bill's first day out with his new glasses and he reckoned that he then saw a whole new world.
Air Commodore Ray Scott, DFC, AFC and now retired, mentioned to me this special tribute. He considered Bill a very dedicated Squadron man and, if he ever again had to form a unit under similar circumstances, Shep would be among the first guys that he would want in the Squadron. There are also some other former Commanding Officers of Air Force helicopter units here today.
After his Vietnam tour, Bill instructed on helos at No. 5 Squadron, Fairbairn and we had an interesting incident when he was teaching me to fly Iroquois in 1967. We were doing an approach to a little hill in the training area and I mentioned to Bill that we almost ran out of tail rotor pedal on landing. Shep took control and after a bit of manoeuvring said: 'She's okay'; so, around we went for another approach. Controllability seemed to worsen and I suggested to Bill: 'Maybe we should land in a paddock and get our maintenance guys out to have a look!' He pondered this, eventually saying: 'No, we'll take it home.'
We landed safely back at Fairbairn near the Senior Engineer Officer's hangar office. I was first out of the aircraft after shutdown and walked back towards the tail rotor, which looked abnormal. A large retaining nut had been inadvertently lock-wired to itself and had rotated loose with only one turn of thread remaining before inevitable loss of the tail rotor. Had we remained airborne for a few minutes more, then this ceremony may have been held about 35 years earlier; for both of us.
There was a somewhat comical aftermath. I called Bill to take a look and he quaintly raised his glasses to focus. Some profanity followed and he hustled across to Clive Cotter's office (the Senior Engineering Officer). Clive was then a fairly taciturn ex-Royal Australian Navy type who was not particularly fond of aircrew. He believed that he owned the helicopters and only loaned them to us, provided we used them carefully. Clive's office had large windows so he could view aircraft activity and the ensuing animated 'debate' between he and Bill was viewed with much mirth by many bystanders on the tarmac - it was akin to a Charlie Chaplin silent movie. Bill never mentioned to me what was said, but it was noticeable that they distanced themselves from one another for a time, until the incident was forgotten.
Bill was promoted to Squadron Leader in 1970 and spent time at Department of Air, Canberra and No. 9 Squadron Amberley before posting to PNG as the Resident RAAF Liaison Officer. Shep had a fascination for PNG from earlier experience on Dakotas and Iroquois, which developed into a love affair. He became fluent in Pidgin English and developed a great understanding of the country and its people.
He was very talented in many respects, as mentioned by his daughter Karen, and perhaps should have been an actor because he was exceptionally clever at imitating people, not in a demeaning way but usually with animated humour. About 2 years back,he sent me this piece of amusing satire illustrating the difficulty that some people have with the English language. There are numerous copies near the Church entrance, if you would like one as a memento (see 'Try This' under Humour/Trivia on the website menu).
Following 3 years in PNG, Bill spent another 2 years at Amberley associated with Nos. 9 and 12 Squadrons, before leaving the RAAF in 1979 after 23 years service. He was passionate in all that he did in the Service and particularly fervent toward 9SQN. He was delighted that we are belatedly forming a unit association and would have eagerly become involved. I was particularly looking forward to him helping me compile a comprehensive unit history to be titled: 'SEAGULL TO BLACKHAWK' and am greatly saddened that he cannot now participate in something that he would have much enjoyed.
These woven cloth badges were created after Bill's time in Vietnam and I am unaware whether he ever acquired one. They are now a collector's item and the embryo No. 9 Squadron Association would like Pat and family to have this badge, perhaps for mounting with his medals. Shep was Mentioned in Despatches during Vietnam operations and awarded a Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air during his earlier career. He is the only Air Force member I know entitled to wear the PNG Independence Medal.
Bill was a very compassionate man and always showed concern for the well-being of anybody he worked with and especially those who worked under him. My wife was very moved by his recent moral support when she encountered cancer for the second time and is quite upset at not being here today - she is travelling to Sydney to begin radiation therapy.
Shep, you have left us with many fond and enduring memories and we are all privileged to have served with you. I feel particularly humble that you considered me a Mate. Rest in Peace Bill.'