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Bill Haskell, ex POW, passes on – as does his message

Posted by Vietnam Swans on May 10, 2011

Bill Haskell, Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, Thailand, ANZAC Day 2009

An email from the Vietnam Swans National President, Phil Johns.

Dear Swannies

It is with great sadness that the Vietnam Swans have learned that ex POW, Bill Haskell, passed away last week, aged 91.

Bill was a Prisoner of War on the Thai Burma Railway during World War II. We met him at the 2009 ANZAC Match against the in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

Bill’s speech during the official ceremony at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery was extraordinary. Every measured and deliberate word in that speech was worth a thousand. Every word was more precise than a rifle bullet and more powerful than a rifle butt:

They died, in the main, through the sheer negligence of the Japanese in not supplying the basic food and medical supplies, in their inhumane and brutal treatment and in subjecting the prisoners to the absolute extreme of forced labour.

Bill Haskell delivers his powerful speech.

The prisoners were starved, overworked, exposed to diseases, harassed and brutally assaulted at the work place. The established rules of warfare in relation to prisoners of war were abandoned completely in the frenzy to push the railway through.

We remember these men (POWs) with great affection and deepest respect.

That afternoon, prior to the commencement of our ANZAC football match, as the two teams lined up on the side of the oval awaiting the arrival of three ex POWs, Partrick Stringer later wrote:

In the blazing afternoon heat, one man in particular, Bill Haskell, walked slower and I think more painfully than the others. With the aid of two walking sticks, he cut a heart wrenching sight making his way along the boundary line to his seat.  My eyes filled with tears as both teams applauded their presence.  Proud diggers indeed.

Four days after that 2009 ANZAC Match, ex POW Ernie Redman died in Esperance, Western Australia. Grant Harris emailed the Vietnam Swans to say:

I saw Bill Haskell today at Ernie’s funeral. Bill spoke again and once more his words were mesmerising. At around 90 years of age, Bill has sat on a 10 hour plus, 700km bus trip to be at the funeral.

Remembering at Kanchanaburi Cemetery, 2009.

Bill’s body did grow old. However, his age never wearied his fierce but dignified determination to carry the torch for the POWs and to pass on the message for those who could not. We have heard Bill’s message and it now becomes our responsibility to ensure that we never forget.

Bill, may you finally rest in peace having now been reassured by your brothers that you could not have possibly done an ounce more for them.

For those of us fortunate enough to meet you, we remember you with great affection and deepest respect.

The Australian Governor General, Quentin Bryce, at this year's ANZAC Dawn Service, Hellfire Pass.


At this year’s Vietnam Swans ANZAC Friendship Match in Vung Tau, the message was “Honouring lost lives; saving young lives”. As well as commemorating the lives lost in wars, we used the match as a vehicle to promote swimming initiatives to reduce the number of drownings in Vietnam. In Vietnam, each year there are more drownings than road fatalities involving children.

On Saturday, the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia (RLSSA), Montgomerie Links (Danang), Swim Vietnam and the Vietnam Swans will hold the Inaugural Swing to Swim Charity Golf Day. This Charity Golf Day for swimming initiatives will follow on immediately after the RLSSA hosts a global conference in Danang on drowning prevention. That conference starts tomorrow and will be officially opened by the Australian Governor General, Quentin Bryce. Two weeks ago on ANZAC Day, Her Excellency Quentin Bryce attended the Dawn Service at Hellfire Pass and Kanchanaburi War Cemetery in Thailand.

Last Saturday, the Thailand Tigers played a commemorative match as a mark of respect for the late Bill Haskell.

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5 Responses to “Bill Haskell, ex POW, passes on – as does his message”

  1. Marc Drew said

    my hero, my friend, my inspiration.
    I met Bil with Snowy and Neil on the 2009 Quiet Lion Tour.
    What an amazing man.
    May you rest in peace. I will remember you and so will my children.

    Marc Drew

  2. BillH said

    I was lucky enough to be in attendance at Hellfire for the Dawn Services over quite a few years with Bill in attendance. I missed him this year, and am very saddened by this news. R.I.P., Old Fella.

  3. Natasha Monks said

    Bill – a great man, inspiration and best buddy to my father, a fellow POW. Very saddened by the news but so greatly appreciate, admire and adore him for the contribution he has made to individuals and communities alike.

    May he rest in peace.

    Natasha Monks

  4. said

    I am a military artist,and I was at Hellfire pass in 2009 dawn service as well as the Kanchanabri service.I have produced a painting which includes Bill.This painting was a finalist in the Gallipoli Art prize 2010 as well as Fishers Ghost Art Prize (Campbelltown)2010 .I am wishing to contact relatives to let them know of the work which Bill is the center of the painting.The work is called “Revisiting Hell-fire Pass’.I did not know his name but one of my students saw the photo of him in a ATO mag recently.If you wish to see click on artists-then myself Margaret Hadfield and ‘Gallipoli series’-it should be there.He is a real hero.. I am very tired of footballers being called hero ‘s!I am saddened to hear of his death but hope to hear from his descendants-MH ph 02-62970336

    • Dear Margaret

      Thank you for your comment on the Vietnam Swans website.

      2009 was the year that the Vietnam Swans also attended the Dawn Service at Hellfire Pass. A few of us were also lucky enough to attend the service later that morning at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.

      Bill gave one of the most extraordinary speeches we had ever heard. While we can’t reproduce his delivery, his poignant words can be read at

      Margaret, I have passed on your request to both the Burma Thailand Railway Memorial Association (co founded by Bill) and the Thailand Tigers.


      Phil Johns
      National President
      Vietnam Swans

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