Families reconnected through radio call

May 19, 2024 BY

As it was: The restored Halifax bomber on display at the museum. Photo: SUPPLIED

CHANCE sometimes plays a part in life, and for Bill Williams it was a radio interview that made his private project become a personal highlight.

And it was Canadian-owned Agnico Eagle, which operates the Fosterville Gold Mine near Bendigo, which added the final touch.

In 2016, Mr Williams – who splits his time between Albury and Barham – decided to find out more about young Canadian pilot Nelson “Ty” Cobb, who his father Norman flew 38 missions in a Halifax bomber over Germany in World War II with.

Norman Williams, who died in 2007, was a rear gunner in the Halifax. Seriously injured on the 38th mission, he became Australia’s most highly-decorated non-commissioned officer and is generally regarded as a war hero.

History in person: Mr Williams’ children Emmy and Ted standing at the rear turret of the Halifax bomber at the National Air Force Museum in Canada. Photo: SUPPLIED


Cobb flew three more missions while Mr Williams was in hospital, but was killed when his aircraft was shot down over Cologne in June, 1943. He was just 21.

“My father always talked about Cobb with great affection and respect,” Mr Williams said. “They must have been close because years afterwards he still felt a deep sense of the loss of one of his best friends and comrades in arms who was taken too young.”

So in 2016, Mr Williams wrote to Saskatchewan newspaper The Weyburn Times – published in Griffen, where Cobb grew up – seeking help tracking down Cobb’s family, but managed to find little information.

Tribute: The side-by-side plaques for Nelson Cobb and Norman Williams.


Also, no one from the family saw a subsequent article printed in the Sask Today publication.

But fast forward five years, and Mr Williams woke on November 11, 2021, to discover five emails from different members of the

Cobb family.

“Dillon Buck, the great-grandson of Nelson Cobb’s brother Kenneth was researching military history before Remembrance Day and came across the Sask Today article… and had circulated the link to his family,” Mr Williams explained.

On that very day, Mr Williams heard a story about a soldier settler who had been denied a farm on the basis of inexperience on the ABC Victoria Statewide Drive program, and rang in to speak about his father’s similar experience with land at Wakool, near Barham, and some of his war history.

Decorated: Norman Williams, who is widely regarded as a war hero.


As it happened, Agnico Eagle’s chief geologist Wess Edgar heard the interview and, hoping to further foster links between Australia and Canada, approached the company to see if it was interested in the story.

It certainly was, and ultimately funded a meeting between the families.

“Wess’ company took about another year to actually find me, but when they did they offered to facilitate a connection between the Williams and Cobb families,” Mr Williams said.

The result was a trip to Canada for Mr Williams, his wife Heni and children Emmy and Ted to attend a Cobb family reunion in Cobourg, south of Toronto.

It also included a visit to the National Air Force Museum of Canada in Trenton, which features a fully restored Halifax bomber.

As an extra surprise, Mr Williams discovered that Agnico Eagle had arranged for a stone plaque for his father to be placed beside Nelson Cobb’s as part of the museum’s Ad Astra memorial program.

Of the Cobb reunion, Mr Williams said there was a two-way flow of stories. “It turns out that both Nelson and his father left detailed journals, both of which told stories about my father that I had never heard,” he said. “Nelson mostly called my

father Aussie.”

Mr Williams established an online friendship with members of the Cobb family before the trip, a friendship that continues today.

For his part Mr Edgar, who lives at Elmhurst, felt the Williams/Cobb story was a prime example of the strong links between Australia and Canada, and admitted to becoming “quite emotional” when he heard the radio piece.

“I thought it was a stunning story,” Mr Edgar said. “I feel quite privileged that Agnico had the resources to take it up.”

Mr Edgar said the gesture was also recognition of the bravery and efforts of young men from both countries who made such sacrifices during war.