Billy Wales was 91 years old at the time of recording, and he is hard of hearing, so the interview is relatively short.
Billy spent 44 years working on the railways as a driver, retiring in the 1950s.
He participated in the 1917 general strike, and remembers receiving a telegram that simply said ‘“Victory in sight, stand firm.” He recalls, ’and that’s all we did. We stood firm until the strike was over.’
At that time, Wales was stationed at Narrabri. He says after the strike, he bought a Lily White medal from the union as a token of his participation, although if he wore it to work, he would have lost his job. After the strike Wales lost all his seniority in the workplace, although he says he knew or remembers little about what was going on and why they were striking.
GW: So what were you doing in 1917?
BW: On strike.
GW: In Goulburn?
LT: In Goulburn or in Sydney?
BW: I was doing a bit of driving.
GW: In Sydney or Goulburn?
BW: No, Goulburn to Sydney, well not actually to Sydney, to Enfield. That’s Sydney isn’t it?
GW: That’s right.
GW: So what do you remember of the 1917 strike?
BW: I don’t remember a terrible lot. I was just told to come out on strike and I went out on strike. I was passed for a driver in about 1916. I should have been made a driver in at least 1918, and after going on strike I lost all me seniority…
They’d sent us a telegram, “Victory in sight, stand firm,” and that’s all we did. We stood firm until the strike was over.