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Issue #1706      October 14, 2015

Vale William Horace (Bill) Langlois

The Maritime Union is in mourning after Seamen’s Union legend, Bill Langlois passed away at 92-years-old on September 26. MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin said Bill would be remembered as a tough activist with a big heart who loved the SUA and the comrades he met along the way.

The original crew from the Caltex Liverpool, the first tanker on the Australian coast: (left to right) Tex Moran, Alan Oliver, Bill Shaddock, Pat Geraghty and Bill Langlois. (Photo: www.mua.org.au)

“Our thoughts are with Bill’s family and his many comrades, as we remember Bill, who was the embodiment of a merchant seaman,” Crumlin said.

Born in 1923 in Holloway, North London, he began his career on Thames Barges at just 13-years-old. It was not long before World War 2 broke out and Bill found himself working on the North American Convoys, which he recalled in his interview for Diane Kirkby’s “Voices from the Ships”.

“(It) weren’t the safest way to earn a quid, because if you got sunk you lasted about two to five minutes in the water,” he said.

Bill was decorated for his war time service and honoured for his great contribution to the war effort as a merchant sailor as well. He fought in the battle of Normandy, as well as his trips to the Soviet Union in cargo vessels along the supply chain through enemy territory in the North Atlantic. It was here that ships were continually torpedoed by German U Boats, or blown out of the water by mines positioned in their thousands by German raiders.

Following the war, Bill moved to Australia in 1948, where he continued his life as a merchant seaman and ramped up his political life. He was a member of the Communist Party and Secretary of the Australian Peace Committee at a time when the Cold War was at its height. For this action, Bill found himself, like many other active Communists at the time, on the ASIO watch list.

He was also active around the solidarity campaigns with Greek seafarers and joined former deputy national secretary Mick Doleman and another famous Sydney seaman John Benson on the 1 Million March for Peace in New York in 1982.

Apart from being a seafarer, Bill was a teacher at the Australian Maritime College in Launceston. It was there he met his partner in crime George Martindale.

It was there, according to Sydney Branch Secretary Joe Deakin, that they taught up-and-coming seafarers not only seamanship but also the political requirements of the working class.

“Bill was a people’s person as well, he never went around skiting about what he done in his life, but always, always, placed great emphasis on peace being the total objective of all the world’s peoples,” Deakin said.

“He was an outstanding delegate and political mentor, he was one of my mentors and I will be forever grateful to him for steering me the right way, the revolutionary way.

“When EV Elliott, federal secretary of the Seaman’s Union of Australia was being harassed and threatened by the thugs and groupers, Billy was there to look after him.

“This wonderful man leaves behind such beautiful memories, memories of the struggle that he was up to his eyeballs in; the struggle for national independence for developing countries, the struggle against the ruling class hegemonists who wanted to turn the world into a fireball with their dreadful promotion of a nuclear war as the only alternative to combating the growing movement for national sovereignty and independence, and comrade Bill Langlois was a strong and influential advocate of this movement.”

Despite his political nous, Bill will still be remembered as a good mate.

Another contribution he made to “Voices from the Ships” was in fact about mateship.

“If a bloke needs a hand, you give him a hand. You go to sea and unless you can rely on your shipmates, you’re dead. Your shipmates are your background, they’re your sidearm, they’re your everything,” he said.

Bill was a proud husband of Gloria and leaves behind children and grandchildren as well as a legacy of stories and will be remembered for the numerous framed ship’s knots dotted around the country.

He will not be forgotten, as Joe Deakin put it, “People like Bill Langlois don’t come by everyday.”

Next article – Taking Issue – Anti-Soviet propaganda and Stalin

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