29 November 2019
Bill died 29 October 2019, 39 days short of his 102nd birthday.
Sapper Bill Rudd was taken prisoner at Alamein 27/7/1942. A POW of the Italians, he escaped in September 1943 and within a fortnight he tentatively stepped into Swiss territory.
In recent decades, Bill became known and deeply respected by POW families and researchers for his extensive research activities, his gathering of accounts by fellow ex-POWs, his generosity in communications to all who sought information to understand more about POW experience.
Bill quietly initiated and supported many commemorative projects. One example: collaborating with New Zealander POW Charles Watkins, the ex-POW duo sourced funds to create and install a plaque to commemorate POWs killed as a result of the torpedo attack on the Nino Bixio, 17 August 1942, and its aftermath. Bill wrote on his Campo 57 website that ‘there were remains of humans hanging in the rigging, and body parts littered the bloody deck’. Charlie: ‘Nothing could be done for those screaming for help in the water. You had to walk over dead bodies to move anywhere.’
Bill Rudd is one of the most remarkable persons I have met. Stumbling upon Bill’s website in 2011, searching for any snippets about the POW context of my father Col and his mate Peter, I saw photos that sit in my father’s Globite case and with further digging I now know where, when, and who snapped these shots. Meeting Bill and becoming a regular correspondent, my curiosity about two POWs snowballed to two thousand when Bill, in his mid-90s, invited me to assist him to compile a nominal roll of Australian POWs in Italy. Bill, always busy, always productive, needed to shift his focus in his late 90s to other projects. I plodded along with this roll. Nominal rolls of a subset, the Campo 106 Australian and New Zealander POWs, are appendices in Shooting Through, a paperback that he will not hold in his hand, nor sit amongst his collection. Bill’s research energies for these rolls outlived those of his valued colleagues Brian Sims and Ken Fenton. Bill thrived on collaborations. Working with and expanding their research foundations regarding Campo 106, I’m privileged.
Since 2011, Bill nurtured my abandoned love for archival and interview research and writing history. I’d completed a bachelor degree in history decades ago, then diverted to other studies and careers. Taking me under his wide wing, mentoring, encouraging, listening, explaining, information-sharing, email bantering, pub lunching, network-building, an ex-POW turned historian took me prisoner.
I’ll miss him. But, as Bill whispered just a few weeks ago, there is much more to do.