The Collection of Medals formed by The Late John Hillard

The Collection of Medals formed by The Late John Hillard

John Mackie Hillard (1921 - 2005)

My father, John Mackie Hillard, was born on Christmas Eve 1921 and, aged 16, joined the senior cadets of the Victoria Scottish Regiment. At the outbreak of the Second World War he was not quite 18, and despite repeated requests, his parents refused to sign his enlistment papers, fearing they would be signing his death warrant. Having turned 18, however, he changed tactics, and in 1940 went along to the enlistment centre for the Royal Australian Navy, had the medical and took the enlistment papers home to his surprised parents. Considering this a safer option than the Army and, assuming he would only be sailing around the Australian coastline, they relented, and in April 1941 he commenced service in the Royal Australian Navy.

Following training at H.M.A.S. Lonsdale and the Flinders Naval Depot at Crib Point, he was drafted to his first ship, the corvette, H.M.A.S. Wollongong on which he served until May 1944. According to the book Little Ships for Big Men, the Wollongong was one of only two Australian corvettes to serve in every theatre of the war other than the Arctic. Following 28 days leave, he was then drafted to the tribal-class destroyer H.M.A.S. Arunta, in which ship he served alongside the huge American armada in the Leyte Gulf, survived an attack on the ship by a kamikaze pilot and was part of the post-war occupation force in Japan. Released from service, Dad settled back into civilian life with his new bride, Gwyn, and resumed his career in insurance, retiring as Assistant Manager for Victoria for his company, before selling up his own insurance brokerage and retiring for a second time at the age of 65.
His great passion over the years was his collection of medals, guns and other military memorabilia, so while most children grew up in homes with pictures and paintings on the walls, we grew up surrounded by swords, pistols, ammunition belts and gun racks. And though we were always schooled in the use and care of firearms and were told to never point a gun at anyone, some of the other kids in the street were not allowed by their parents to play at our house! Our single garage was converted into his den and Dad could spend hours in there, happily researching or just passing the time with fellow collectors. The den became the scene for much wheeling and dealing over the years. At nights and on weekends, other collectors would come over and together they would lock themselves away. Every few hours, if Dad had not emerged, Mum would send me to knock and see if the guests required refreshments. Upon opening the door, you would be consumed in a cloud of cigarette and pipe smoke. Once the smoke cleared, figures could be made out in the gloom and beverage orders taken.

He placed wanted-to-buy advertisements in the local paper and over the years trawled country antique stores and was contacted by many people who wanted to sell family medals. And whenever he dealt with ex-military families, he always made sure that they had checked with any other children or grandchildren to see if they wanted the medals before offering to buy them. Eventually his collection included all manner of things, ranging from one of his earliest prizes, a piece of the kamikaze plane that had hit H.M.A.S. Arunta while he was on board, to a live hand grenade which he kept under the bed until Mum made him get rid of it! But the cornerstone of his collection and his great love remained medals. Collecting them gave him a great understanding of history and, by his own admission, he learned more from reading and researching medals than he ever learned in history at school. He amassed a large library of reference books about different campaigns and battles.

Whilst I was in high school and studying the Second World War, Dad realized that we knew little about his time in the Navy and so wrote his recollections, both the factual and the amusing. Over the years, this composition, Ships I Have Sailed in and Bastards (and Others) I Have Known, was modified and expanded to provide insight into the pre-and post-war years.

A gentle giant, with a keen sense of humour, Dad suffered a stroke in 2000 and passed away on Valentines Day 2005, joining Mum who had died two years earlier. They are survived by my brother and I, and my nephew. Recently, when sitting at his roll top desk - a silent witness to all the earlier years of wheeling and dealing in the den - I was suddenly overcome by the smell of his pipe tobacco, as if he had just lit up. I was instantly reminded of all his happy times spent at the desk, with his fellow collectors and the joy that the medals had brought him, and decided it was time they were offered for sale, so that others could appreciate them. Enjoy!