(The Ballad of Billy Torrance)
Lyrics: Jacinta Read, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.
Vocals: Eric Read, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.
Production: Leo Dalton, Upwey, Victoria, Australia.
Proud to Be an Anzac (The Ballad of Billy Torrance) is a tribute to Private William Torrance (17/201 Otago Regiment, NZEF), who served in Egypt 1915-16 and on the Western Front 1916-17, at times serving alongside his brother John Westland Torrance.
Tragically, scarred by war physically and mentally, Private William Torrance took his own life in his hometown of Cromwell on New Zealand’s South Island not long after returning home from war, in January 1920, 100 years ago this year. Private William “Billy” Torrance was 29 years old.
Written by former journalist and publisher Jacinta Read in 2020, Proud to be an Anzac (The Ballad of Billy Torrance) is about an imagined graveside conversation between Jacinta’s husband Eric Read and his great uncle, Private William “Billy” Torrance.
Eric and Jacinta Read visited the the gravesite of Billy Torrance at Cromwell and his story has had such a profound impact on them. “We felt the need to return and show that almost a century on, that he was remembered with love.”
Our connections with a life lost and bonds between Australia and New Zealand led to an idea for a song which remembered Private Billy Torrance perpetually and shared a much broader message: that he served his country with pride to give us freedom and has the world learned from those sacrifices so long ago. The song is also recognition of the enduring bonds of shared Anzac heritage between Australia and New Zealand.
A few years after the tragic death of his brother, John Westland Torrance (whose middle name is derived from the Westland Ranges in NZ) his wife Ella and children, including Eric Read’s mother Ada (Madge) Torrance, emigrated to Australia and settled in southwest Victoria.
Madge Torrance served in the Australian Women’s Army Service during World War Two and and at the end of World War Two met her husband John Frederick Read, who also served in New Guinea.
Over the years the family spoke about their lost uncle Billy Torrance as having died due to war injuries.
During our travels in 2016, we visited Billy Torrance’s resting place in Cromwell and rekindled our interest in finding out more about him. A search of NZ war records revealed he took his own life in January 1920.
Billy Torrance’s Scottish-born parents Thomas and Agnes Torrance lived for many years, Thomas passing away in 1944 and Agnes in 1940. They are buried near their son at Cromwell cemetery.
Agnes campaigned for a war gravestone for her son and this was granted in the late 1920s.
They lived those years without their youngest son Billy – and sadly without son John and his family who had moved on to Australia in search of work and a better life.
Curiously, our research revealed a third older son, James Begg Torrance, who lived in the Blenheim area and worked as a miner, who was completely unknown and unheard of in Eric’s family. We will never know if Thomas and Agnes Torrance enjoyed the closeness of any close family in their latter years.
Such were the tragedies and fragmentation of families as a result of war and troubled times.
Ironically, this song was written and recorded during a time of global upheaval and tragedy, as we all went into home isolation to play our part in stopping the spread of the COVID-19 in March and April, 2020.
Using technology, our creativity and a strong will to use our time in a meaningful way, Proud to be an Anzac (The Ballad of Billy Torrance) has come to fruition just a week out from Anzac Day 2020.
Approval has been gained from both the Ministry of Culture and Heritage in New Zealand and Australia’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs for permission to use the word Anzac in this song.
We have also committed to sharing any future profits of sales of this song with the RSL in Australia and the RSA in New Zealand.