If you caught the Anzac Day fly-past over Sydney Harbour in 2014, then you witnessed Flight Lieutenant Bill Purdy’s skill in the lead aircraft. Behind him, 40 Tiger Moth aircraft flew in formation. He’d just turned 91.
Now, aged 100, he discounts his time in the RAAF as anything to write home about. “I am only famous because I am alive!” He recently joined his team at Mosman Bowling Club for a tournament in Hobart. And he’s a 65-year member of Elanora Golf Club. Both activities take up four days a week.
Mr Purdy flew Lancaster bombers attached to No. 463 Squadron’s Bomber Command, and completed 37 ‘enemy engagement ops’ between April and August 1944. The squadron’s average per pilot had been five. He was 21.
Mosman’s Bill Purdy is an Australian war hero who flew 37 missions in World War Two.
Laconic, self-deprecating, erudite, humble and fiercely intelligent, Mr Purdy reels off memories of mid last century as if each one a fresh event.
Military service occupied three years of his life. But it was his career in food distribution, his business acumen and innate ability to grab opportunities before they knocked, that were standouts.
In a ‘leave no man behind’ plan, Mr Purdy fortified the food industry against a market strike by American giant Nabisco. He formed a co-op of domestic grocers, big and small, which traded among itself. The tight structure held and doused Nabisco’s idea of a foothold.
“We ended up with 74.3 percent – probably as high as any company in a competitive environment in Australia had ever achieved,” he said.
After the war, Mr Purdy became a successful businessman in the Australian food industry.
The business had taught him self-sufficiency and, after leaning on the bank, he and business partner, ex-Spitfire pilot Jim Summerton, were able to buy premises, warehousing, and cold storage facilities.
“We’d been going for seven years when Max Edgell visited,” he said. “They’d bought Birdseye but knew nothing about frozen food.” So, they bought Mr Purdy’s business, formed a new entity, and put Mr Purdy as head of frozen food.
Learning came swiftly to Billy Kent Purdy, first evident at Lindfield Public School from where he graduated, aged 10, having been bumped from 4th to 6th class, then at North Sydney Boys High School.
Seeing his father doing so well, Bill opted for a career in the grocery business, kicking off at one of his father’s Moran & Cato stores, which dotted the north shore. At the time, it was the largest grocery chain in Australia.
At the age of 100, Mr Purdy is still a keen golfer and plays Bowls weekly.
He enrolled at Wentworth College and, on Friday evenings, took the late shift at M&C Chatswood. “No pay, of course!”
Bill was at Lindfield when a woman came in with news that England had declared war on Germany, and its Allies had been summoned.
“I was cutting a half-a-pound of bacon for another customer…,” he recalled. At 16, “I was just too young to think of going.”