BILL DUTTON – EULOGY BY JOHN HULBERT
We are here today to celebrate the life of Patrick William Arthur Dutton, known, as you have heard, by most of us as 'Bill', but to many, he was referred to as 'Dexter' or 'Starchy'.
Bill was born in Charters Towers on 10 March 1916 to Jo and Charity Dutton. He was one of seven children, having two older brothers and four sisters. He told me over the years that he had a very happy and adventurous childhood and he was a very keen and active sportsman with interests in cricket, rugby league, cycling (professionally), tennis, surfing, angling and boxing. He boxed with Jimmy Sharman a few times. Bill was devoted to his family, and especially devoted to his mother and his sister, Rose, who had suffered from an unfortunate accident early in her life.
When he was 18, Bill joined the 31st Infantry Battalion with his two older brothers as an anti-aircraft gunner so he could serve his country during the Second World War. He served in the Australian theatre before being medically discharged following a motor vehicle accident. At the conclusion of hostilities, he re-enlisted in the Service Corps and served in the Occupational Force in Japan before being discharged in 1948. Bill then joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1949 and began what was to be an outstanding career. His career in the RAAF was studded by many highlights, some of which included the recruit training of the first intake of air force national servicemen, training the newly formed RAAF Central Band, and shortly after that, he was the flight sergeant drill instructor at the RAAF Academy, and then as a WOD, or Warrant Officer Disciplinary for the un-initiated, at RAAF Base Forest Hill. I will talk a little more about his service career later.
It was during his time in the RAAF that he met and married his sole-mate Margaret, who has been by his side ever since. Bill finally retired from the RAAF on 22 April 1968, and was given a great farewell as he was ceremonially chaired-off the base at Forest Hill. Bill then joined the New South Wales Public Service, working for the State Housing Commission, where he served for ten years, again with distinction. Following retirement from the Housing Commission, Bill and Margaret moved to Newcastle, returning to Margaret’s home town, and finally, due to unfortunate circumstances he and Margaret moved to Merriwa where they lived in the hostel at Gummun Place until he was moved to the Merriwa multi-purpose hospital where he ended his days at 2:00am last Sunday, 2nd January.
Bill enjoyed a long retirement. Having been a very active sportsman in the past, he loved to follow sport on television. He never missed a live televised rugby league match or a replay if he could help it, and he gained much pleasure in following the fortunes of the Brisbane Broncos, for which I have forgiven him. In his later years his sport was pretty much his main interest.
That is very much a potted history of the life of Patrick William Arthur Dutton, but doesn’t say anything about 'Bill the man', and there is much that should be said about this extraordinary human being. I first had the pleasure of meeting Bill a little over 48 years ago, when I was a very young and very green newly commissioned officer, and Bill was this larger-than-life WOD who reigned supreme in his office at the railway crossing on the base at RAAF Forest Hill. His strategically-placed office meant that everyone on the base, from the base commander down to the recruits and trainees, had to pass by when transiting between the working and domestic areas of the base, and everyone from officers down would undergo this remarkable transition - by stiffening their backs and swinging their arms - to ensure that they were not subjected to a gentle reminder for officers, and less than gentle reminder for the other ranks, that they were in the air force and had better act accordingly. He was the most professional of WODs that I met in my career, and there is no doubt in my mind that had the current post of Warrant Officer of the RAAF been in vogue at that time, he would have held that appointment, and done so with great distinction.
In those days, the summer uniform was cotton khaki drabs. They were an absolute curse to maintain in any reasonable state, since they had to be starched and hence they creased beyond recognition as soon as you put them on. Not so Bill, who always looked immaculate, hence the name 'Starchy'. Bill earned that name following an incident in Amberley when a visitor he was escorting around the base referred to him as “that starchy-fronted corporal”. The name stuck and at Forest Hill it was rumoured that he had an iron and ironing board and a full wardrobe of newly starched uniforms in his office that he could jump into when the need arose, but that was not the case, he was just very particular about his dress, and carried himself in such a way that he retained a very neat, tidy and unwrinkled uniform. He was indeed an impressive figure of a man in his uniform.
But Bill’s immaculate bearing and turn-out had been recognised earlier by the RAAF. When he was a flight sergeant at the Academy, he was involved in preparing the RAAF Manual of Drill, and he was the model used to demonstrate drill positions. He was also the WOD called upon to prepare the RAAF contingent or honour guard whenever there was a very special occasion that needed his special touch. He really was one of a kind when it came to preparing troops for ceremonial occasions.
But this very impressive, and to some daunting, man, also had a special way of relating to men. He was a no-nonsense man, of that there is no doubt. As a drill instructor he was without peer, and in time-honoured fashion he would berate those troops who did not toe the line. How many young men have heard him say “am I hurting you laddie”, with the reply “no sir” followed by a very cutting “well I should be - I’m standing on your hair! Get a haircut laddie”. But unlike his counterparts, I have never once heard him use a profanity. He was in every sense a gentleman, with a job to do that meant he came across as a strong and unrelenting man, but he genuinely cared for his charges and could be soft and gentle when the need arose. Bill was an extraordinary role model to thousands of young men who passed through his care over the years, but perhaps the most influence he had was with his relationship with a number of RAAF apprentice courses where his role became more of a father figure and mentor to these very young and impressionable teenage boys, who to this day have the highest regard for Bill the man. To them he is Dexter, the man who had a major influence on them in their formative years and on whom many of them have said they modelled their own lives and careers.
As a mark of that respect many of those with us today are from those apprentice courses, and have travelled great distance to be here and honour this special man.
I know that I speak for those many hundreds of men who are now senior citizens of this country, having made their own mark on society, when I say that Patrick William Arthur, 'Bill', 'Starchy', 'Dexter Dutton', was and still remains to us, a very special person in our lives, who had a major influence on us as a mentor and role model. He still stands tall in our minds and hearts and we are blessed to have shared some part of our lives with him.
To Bill I want to say that you were and remain an inspiration to me personally, and to our family where you have enjoyed a special role as honorary uncle to our children, Godfather to our son, and good friend to June and myself for the best part of half a century. Thank you Bill, God bless you and keep you.
I do have one task to perform. On behalf of the Australian Government I now present Margaret with the Australian National Flag in honour and recognition of her husband’s service to our nation.