BILL Babington almost got a good telling-off when he jumped the gun at El Alamein and fired before the sergeant’s order.
As his commander came thundering towards him, the young soldier from Culcairn knew he was in trouble.
Then the news came through that his shot was a direct hit.
Mr Babington served in the 9th division of the Australian Army in all but one of its campaigns, leaving the gun layer with a special place in Australian history and a lifetime of bad hearing.
The 95-year-old died at the Culcairn Hospital on Sunday, one of the last remaining Rats of Tobruk.
His daughter, Culcairn hairdresser Ros Barber, said her father was a “special fella” and a great sports lover.
He become a Geelong football club fan when he spent some months in the city training before World War II and he was a regular cheering on Culcairn with his late wife, Val, and, recently, his daughter Ros and granddaughter Amy.
Ros said her father was also a talented sportsman in his own right.
Mr Babington was playing rugby at Morven the day war was declared in 1939 — he signed up in Albury the next day with four teammates and a spectator, Jack Bates, Merv Brown and Eric and Trot McKinley.
On the boat from Australia to the front, he used boxing to combat his terrible seasickness.
In an account of the journey supplied by the RSL, Mr Babington recounts helpful advice he received on docking in Freemantle — someone told him that “seasickness was really mind over matter”.
“With this in mind, we boarded the boat and I entered a boxing tournament,” he said.
“I had five fights and made the final, at this point I started to think I was pretty good.
“Although I was obviously not as good as I thought, meeting a sailor in the final and being beaten on points.”
For his trouble, Mr Babington won a Swan fountain pen, while the winner got a pen and a pencil.
On returning from the war, Mr Babington spent much of his working life with the Culcairn Council and, because of his war service, was allowed to retire at 60.
He was married to Val for 60 years.
Ros said her parents’ loving relationship was proof opposites attract — Val the party-goer and Bob more the type to stay home and watch sport on television.
It was when she died almost six years ago that Mrs Barber said her father decided he was ready to go too — “and now he is with her”.
Mr Babington leaves behind a son, Ray, and daughters Sue Jackson and Ros, along with nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
His funeral will be held on Monday.
Friends and family are also invited to a grave-side service at the Culcairn cemetery at 3pm.