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australian rowers profiles and history

William H Zimmer

Barwon Rowing Club (VIC)

William Herman Zimmer (known as Bill) was born in Geelong and when he enlisted was aged 19 years and 11 months, 5' 11", 9st. 9 lbs. with blue eyes and dark brown hair. He was a former student of Central College, Geelong.

He worked as a law clerk at the Geelong Courts before being transferred to the Colac Court in 1916, the year he rowed in a winning Barwon Maiden Eight at the Colac Regatta.

Bill had been awarded a certificate from the Royal Humane Society for an attempted life-saving at the Barwon River in 1915 and was engaged to be married to Edie Powell. He had joined Barwon Rowing Club in 1914.

He enlisted on 9 September 1916 in the 57th Battalion as a private; reluctantly from a sense of duty, saying for all I know I could be shooting at Zimmer relations, and embarked from Melbourne on 16 December 1916, arriving in France as a Lance Corporal on 11 October 1917.

Bill was killed on 17 June 1918 at Beurre Sur Ancre, France.

The Red Cross files describe his death: "We were carrying trench mortar shells passing through the old Casualty Clearing Station when Fritz opened up a barrage.” “It nearly took his head off, he died instantly.” “Blew his head clean off”. “Half his face was blown off”. “His death was instantaneous and it was impossible for him to have suffered. He was a good soldier and a splendid worker and his loss was felt by all who know him”. "We made up a cross for his grave and stuck it up”.

His parents later received a letter from one of his friends: I have lost the best friend that I have had on this side of the water. On the night of June 17th the company was moving up towards the front line...when the enemy put up a barrage of shell fire and cut off the two rear platoons, one of which your son was a member of. We retired into a ravine about 200 yards in our rear. Here the men scattered themselves out along the embankment. I was lying about four yards to the right of Bill. We had been fighting there about ten minutes with shells bursting all around us, when just in front of Bill there was a blinding flash, and sticks and earth flew in all directions. A few minutes later I went back to the spot, only to find that, in the space of a few seconds, I had lost my greatest friend and companion – your son. A more sudden death could not have occurred.

Years after his death his father, William Zimmer, by then a police sergeant at Casterton, deposited all of Bill's letters to home with the Australian War Memorial, writing that his son was possessed of a singularly good literary ability and a cheerful disposition.

William Herman Zimmer is buried at Ribemont Communal Cemetery, France.

On his tombstone is written

I fought a good fight,

I finished my course,

I kept the faith.

Karen O'Connor 2015

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