At the age of 100, Bill Aldcroft was a prisoner of war, an advocate for the Canberra prison and a recipient of the Order of Australia

In his 100 years, Bill Aldcroft has seen things that can span multiple lives.

Born to a disadvantage in East London in 1922, Mr Aldcroft left school at the age of 14, “barely able to read or write”.

But he didn’t let that stop him. World War II soon began and Mr Aldcroft said it soon became clear to him what to do.

“I was in the military, so… they came down and asked if I wanted to join the special services and I thought it was going to be driving trucks and stuff… because I was kind of stupid,” he said. through laughter.

“But it turned out to be jumping out of planes, and I was like, ‘My God, should I do this?’ But I did it!”

An elderly man is sitting in a chair, with a dog on his lap.
Bill Aldcroft was a prisoner of war on the Polish border.ABC News: Nick Haggarty

In 1942, Mr. Aldcroft joined the paratroopers and undertook “do or die” operations in Africa and Europe, until it came to an abrupt end during one mission.

“I got caught in Poland,” he said.

“That was bad news… It was pretty rough there.”

When he was finally released, he spent five years in the Middle East before retraining as a marine engineer and making Australia his permanent home.

“I landed in Melbourne, where it was raining, cold and miserable and I just got out of sunny Egypt and I thought, I’m not equipped for this,” he recalls.

A gray-haired man in a red sweater looks at a black-and-white photo of himself
Aldcroft said the war “saved” him after he was born into a disadvantaged situation in London.ABC News: Antoinette Radford

Order of Australia for Voluntary Service

Once in Australia, Mr Aldcroft worked on the Snowy Hydro project in Cooma and volunteered to teach English to workers who had come to Australia as part of the project.

After moving to the national capital, he became one of the first voices calling for a prison within the ACT and a Canberra-based parole system.

“There were problems with boys going to jail in Goulburn, and their families were left behind.” [in Canberra],” he said.

“So, to silence me I guess I became an official visitor so I could go to the different prisons” [and offer support to prisoners]†

For his years of volunteering with Prisoners Aid and within the justice system, Mr Aldcroft was recognized with an Order of Australia in 2012.

He was also nominated for an Order of the British Empire, but declined the title.

A man with gray hair looks at birthday cards
Bill Aldcroft is celebrating his 100th birthday today.ABC News: Antoinette Radford

When asked on his 100th birthday what was the greatest lesson he had learned in his century, he recalled a song:

“You have to keep walking forward, you have to keep walking forward, keep walking forward, never look back. No, never look back,” he sang.

“Never look back on the things you’ve done wrong. And we’ve all done wrong things… Forget it, you know!

“You still have a life ahead of you, and mine is almost at the end, but you still have a life to go.

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