Memories vivid at 100

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Centenarian…West Otago war veteran Bill Roulston who read the oath at Sunday’s Anzac day service is celebrating his 100th birthday today in Tapanui. PHOTO: SANDY EGGLESTON

Being wounded with shrapnel and buried alive are two wartime experiences of a World War 2 veteran who has reached a milestone.

Ribbonwood Country Home rest-home resident Bill Roulston celebrates his 100th birthday in Tapanui today.

At the West Otago Returned and Services Association Anzac service on Sunday, Mr Roulston recited the Ode of Remembrance from memory.

He also told the 400-strong crowd he had not thought about his age until about five years ago when he became a resident in the rest-home.

“I suppose it is a milestone but I never ever thought I was old until I went into the home and everything I do there [people remark], ‘look at your age’,” Mr Roulston said.

“I had never looked at my age.”

Mr Roulston grew up in Hillend, near Balclutha, and helped his father on the farm before leaving for war when he was about 21 years old.

It was at the Battle of Casino that a piece of shrapnel hit him in the side.

“It took two months for the graft to grow over the nerve so I could move again,” he said.

After recovering from the wound, he went back to join a gun crew in the 17th Anti-Tank Regiment.

One morning, five of the seven were killed by mortar fire, and Mr Roulston was buried under a building.

His division moved on while he was still unaccounted for, and the British who took over the position dug him out about 24 hours later.

The rescue came just in time.

“I was on my last breath,” Mr Roulston said.

“I was hardly hurt at all. I just couldn’t move.”

After that experience, he could not sleep in a building.

“I would go outside and dig a trench.

“One morning I woke up and there were mortar holes all around me.”

When he returned from the war, he farmed at Toropuke, near Tapanui.

His take on surviving the war and outliving many of his peers was: “I just feel as though I am pretty lucky”.

He was not sure why he had lived so long, but he had always had a good work ethic.

“There is one thing that won’t kill you and that’s hard work.”

He started playing bowls at 80 and was fit until he had two strokes in his 90s.

He was now short of breath.

“It means I can’t even blow the mouth organ .. I can but very quietly.

Anzac Day had always been important to him.

“Well, it’s remembrance day.”

West Otago Returned and Services Association secretary Horace McAuley said that as the association’s sole remaining World War 2 veteran, Mr Roulston represented a generation of fathers who served their country.

“He is the last person who talks about [the war],” Mr McAuley said.

“For me personally he’s the connection to my dad and for all of our RSA people in this area.

“He’s the last of the summer wine and we don’t want to take the top off it.”

Mr Roulston occasionally attended Friday night gatherings where the Ode of Remembrance was said at 6.30pm.

If Mr Roulston was there, he said the ode.

“When Bill does it, seriously we stand to attention.

“It has a completely different meaning.”