Instead of re-posting the fifth part of, ‘the writing of Blood and Bandages’, today I pay tribute to my dear friend and co-author, Bill Earl, who passed away peacefully on 11th March 2022. He was two months shy of his 107th birthday.
Our friendship began when William was 94. By then, he had already lived a full life. In 1941, he had married his sweetheart, Mary Standen, and they had had two sons; he had served in the Royal Army Medical Corps from 1940-46, and he had worked for Boots the Chemist as a dispensing pharmacist for 33 years. In 1986, Mary had died from a heart defect. She had unknowingly passed it onto their sons, who tragically died within seven years of her death. In 1991, Bill had met his second wife, Judith Deak. They had married the following year and Bill inherited a step-daughter. This had heralded the start of the second chapter in Bill’s life, which had began brilliantly with a three-year world tour with the Jose Carreras production team. My appearance in 2010, marked the start of his third and final chapter.
By this time, Judith was commuting between her homes in Germany and Shoreham and Bill was living independently. Although he had his interests, classical music, flowers, Arsenal, and photography, he enjoyed company and eagerly seized the opportunity to tell his war story.
He loved our interviews so did not complain when things were re-done or took an age. He worked hard, checking each draft and making suggestions and corrections. He selflessly shared deep emotions and harrowing events for the sake of honesty and accuracy. Occasionally, we played hooky and at the top of his road turned right towards fish and chips, rather than left, towards a working lunch. We had fun during our seven years working on Blood and Bandages.
Bill was 101 when the book was published by Sabrestorm, and from that point on, he came into his own. For the next three years, he attended book talks, signings, interviews and appearances. He rose to each occasion and would not have dreamed of letting me down. It was tiring for him, but if he flagged, he’d say to himself, “C’mon old man, you can rest tomorrow.” He focussed completely on everyone he met and touched so many.
Bill and I were close, but there was one connection that transcended all, that with former or serving medical men. I first saw it at the Armed Forces Weekend when Bill met Stephen Searby, who had served with the Queen Alexandra Royal Naval Nursing Service, (QARNNS). There was an instant recognition between them and I saw Bill relax completely. It was as if he had returned to the comfort and familiarity of a beloved home.
He never forgot his comrades. Bill was 104 when we went to Italy to film for the Gary Lineker documentary. On our last day, we visited the ‘English’ cemetery. It was only accessible via a long flight of stairs but Bill was determined to climb them. At the top, he turned and saw row after row of headstones. I was stunned when he spontaneously burst into a furious triade at the loss of so many lives because of a ‘mad man.’ I had no idea that he still felt it so keenly.
I was blessed to have spent the last 12 years with Bill. I will remember his humour, generosity, kindness and courage but above all, his commitment. He embodied it, regardless of personal cost.
I’ve put together a collection of some of the moments along the way. The accompliment is by one of Bill’s favourite composers.
There is also an on-line book of condolences if you would like to pay your respects to one of the last members of this exceptional generation.
Sleep well dear friend. Tomorrow has come and it’s time to rest.
J.S Bach – Violin concerto no.1 in A Minor BWV 1041 – II. Andante by Hilary Hahn and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchester with Jeffrey Kahane