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Tuesday 20 October, 2015
It is with great sadness I extend my condolences to the family and friends of Major-General William ‘Digger’ James who passed away yesterday aged 85.
Major-General James, who in addition to an illustrious military career spanning more than 30 years, was a decorated war veteran, former RSL president, leading constitutionalist, Chairman and Board Member of the Australian War Memorial and the Chairman of the Australian Light Horse Association.
Over the next few days his family and friends will remember, mourn and celebrate the life of ‘Digger’ James, a great Australian. To excel and make an enormous contribution in one sphere of Australian life is a great achievement, but Major-General James was a distinguished soldier, doctor and passionate and effective advocate for veterans.
Major-General James served with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) in Korea. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1952 after suffering severe injuries while leading a night patrol and organising the evacuation of casualties back to the battalion, insisting that he was moved last, more than three hours later.
Major-General James graduated from Sydney University, where he studied medicine. From his role as Officer Commanding 8th Field Ambulance in Vietnam between 1968 and 1969, where he was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1969, to being Director General, Army Health Services between 1981 and 1985, he made a great contribution to medicine.
Many veterans will know and applaud Major General James for his role as National President of the RSL from 1993 to 1997, and for his service on the Australian War Memorial Council from 1993, including his time as Chairman from 1999 to 2000.
A proud Light Horseman, Major-General James travelled to Be’er Sheva in April 2008 to unveil a life-sized statue of a Digger on horseback, erected at the new Park of the Australian Soldier. The Memorial was established with $3 million in funding from the Pratt Foundation’s Philanthropic Organisation founded by Richard Pratt, who had grown up with Major-General James.
The face of the Digger on horseback at Beersheba was modelled on a young ‘Digger’ James, a very fitting honour for such a great Australian.
Lest we forget.