IN the course of writing about our local war heroes for a good few years now, I seem to have come across most of them. With some, like Victoria Cross recipients Fred Dancox or George Harry Wyatt , I'm almost on first name terms. But until this week I'd never heard of Willie Goodwin.

True, Willie never won the VC, although he was recommended for it, but by the end of the First World War his name had been put forward for no less than nine bravery awards. He ended up twice receiving the Military Cross, being mentioned in despatches on two occasions and was also awarded a Russian bravery medal.

His name appears on the war memorial in the village of Colwall, near Malvern, and I am indebted to local historians Nick Neve and Jenny Harrison for unearthing the Willie Goodwin story. It has remained somewhat hidden so far, possibly because, although born in Colwall, Willie had moved to the other side of the world long before war broke out and fought and eventually died as a member of the Australian army.

However, his family have strong Colwall connections. Willie's father Edward was a well known local farmer and haulier, who used his horses to haul heavy loads up to the Wyche cutting. In fact the first sharp right angle bend heading up from the village to the Wyche is still known as Goodwin's Corner. But Edward Goodwin died in 1911 and not wishing to work for his three older brothers, son Willie, then aged 26, emigrated to Australia in 1912.

Strong and sturdy, he seemed born to the Australian life and soon found work as a farmer at Chilwell, near Geelong, south west of Melbourne in the state of Victoria. When war broke out he was one of the very first contingent of volunteers to step forward in support of "the Mother Country". A fact highlighted by his army number of just 17. Willie Goodwin signed up on August 29, 1914 at Broadmeadows, Victoria and joined the 8th Infantry Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force, or the AIF, as it was then known. Only three weeks after joining up, he had his first promotion, to Lance Corporal. After some rather rudimentary training, Willie took part in the landing on a beach on the Gallipoli Peninsula on April 25, 1915, which became famously known as Anzac Cove. However, he was shot in the leg on the first day and evacuated back to Egypt for treatment. When sufficiently recovered, he was sent back to Anzac Cove on June 22, as the Australians held their positions under terrible fire for the next six months. By the time his battalion finally disembarked for Egypt in the following January, Willie had risen to the rank of acting regimental sergeant major. "This must have surely be one of the most remarkable promotions up through the ranks in Australian military history," said Mr Neves. "He had also been recommended for the Military Medal 'for setting a fine example to all ranks by his unselfish, uncomplaining and cheerful behaviour', although it was not awarded on this occasion. However, he did receive his first 'Mentioned in Despatches'."

Willie's 8th Battalion then swapped the heat of the Mediterranean for the mud of France and after landing at Marseilles took a 58 hour train ride to the trenches near Armentieres. In his first action here, in August ,1916 Willie was awarded the Military Cross for gallant conduct during the fighting at Pozieres, having been promoted to second lieutenant only two weeks before. "In actual fact he was recommended for the Victoria Cross as document s show," added Mr Neve, "However the award was approved as a Military Cross instead. The citation records that Willie 'led a patrol forward gaining valuable information, and supervised supplies for the front line and worked without ceasing for three days and nights in the removal of the wounded under heavy fire'.

"On September 30 he was again mentioned in dispatches for taking part in a very successful raid on enemy trenches. Quite soon after this, Willie was awarded a bar to his MC, in

other words a second MC, for conspicuous gallantry while rescuing wounded men. On this occasion he was tending a wounded man when a shell burst near, killing the man. Though

himself knocked out for half an hour, Willie brought in two other wounded men as soon as he had recovered consciousness. All this time the enemy kept up constant fire from machine guns and artillery. Next day he assisted another officer in rescuing a man from near the enemy trenches.

"In total, including the Victoria Cross, Willie Goodwin received recommendations for awards, including the Military Medal, the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Cross of St. George, a Russian decoration."

Willie was wounded soon after this and sent to England to recuperate. He visited his widowed mother Caroline in Colwall at least twice during this time, recording in his diary that he borrowed a couple of ferrets and went rabbiting on the racecourse.

Returned to France, his luck finally ran out on October 4, 1917, when he was killed in action, riddled by bullets in a burst of machine gun fire at Estock Ridge near Zonnebeke, while taking part in the battle of Passchendaele. He died, having received the last rites, in the arms of the regimental padre and was buried at Hooge Crater Cemetery in Flanders.

"Willie Goodwin was one of Colwall’s bravest, and certainly our most decorated soldier, as well as being recognised as one of the true heroes of the AIF," said Mr Neve.