Billy (Keith William) Young was born at Hobart in 1925 and spent his childhood in poverty in Ultimo. When his father joined the Communist Party and died fighting for the Spanish Republic, friends and neighbours looked out for Billy. He became street-wise helping barrowmen in Paddy’s Market, learning to avoid school and all other authorities. In 1942, aged fifteen, he joined the Army, just in time to be captured by the Japanese as a prisoner of war. By the age of 20 he was a veteran.
The suffering and mortality of POWs was catastrophic, especially among those who – like Billy – worked under the lash in Borneo. The resilience he learned on the streets was a major asset helping him survive. This is the theme of Anthony Hill’s novel The Story of Billy Young, based on extensive interviews with Billy himself. Hill is a market trader as well as a prize-winning author and bookseller. With this background he brings to life not only the hellish conditions endured by POWs: it is the most vivid account we have of the poverty of the 1930s, and the extraordinary humanity, resilience and creativity of those who lived through this era.