Most stories, adventures and memories from our lives stay stored within our minds, but for one Sidney resident whose memories are especially important to him, his plan was to get them all on paper and have them published as a novel — and he did.
At 91 years old, William Pennington is still able to recount his many stories from his days as a boy soldier in India, but he rests easy knowing he and his family will also always have his book Pick Up Your Parrots and Monkeys which was published in 2005, to remember his life story.
Pennington’s adventurous story begins at an early age. He was born in 1920 in Lancashire, England and at only 14 years old he joined the British Army as a boy trumpeter. A year later he was sent to India and posted with the Royal Horse Artillery. Pennington spent six years with the Royal Horse Artillery without home leave and was then requested to return to England in anticipation for the Second World War. Upon his arrival in the UK, Pennington took officer training on the East Coast. He and the other men would have lessons all day and would spend all night preparing for an invasion that would thankfully never come.
Following his officer training, Pennington was sent to India and Burma (now Myanmar) where he fought for about three years, finishing off with the rank of captain. During his time in Burma, Pennington was a forward observation officer which meant he would travel ahead of the troops to be able to radio back commands and positions for the soldiers to take. Pennington had many harrowing experiences during his time serving his country, including a scenario where he and his troops had to make their own rafts to cross the river Irrawaddy. Unfortunately, the Japanese soldiers were expecting the British troops and opened fire on the men as they were crossing. Many of the British soldiers were killed or captured but Pennington managed to swim to shore after his raft was shot out from underneath him. Once Pennington had reached the shore, he realized he had left his radio behind and swam back to get it, all while avoiding gunshots being fired at him. Pennington also spearheaded many attacks against the opposing troops, including what is known as a “Corps Shoot” where he was in charge of hundreds of weapons and the soldiers operating them. Promptly after his return to England from Burma, Pennington was posted to Germany until the end of the war. For his many other contributions during his service, Pennington was awarded with the Military Cross and would eventually meet Prince Charles and Prince Phillip at the Queen’s Garden Party.
In March 1946 Pennington and his wife, Enid, met in London, England at a dinner dance. The two corresponded for the next four months and Pennington proposed in June. By October of that year, the two were married and in 1951 they immigrated to Canada to avoid the rationing and low employment rates still occurring in post-war UK.
The two lived in London, Ontario and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan before finally moving to Victoria. Once they settled in Victoria with their children, Pennington became the director of general services at St. Joseph’s Hospital (open from 1876-1972) and eventually joined the Department of Hospital Planning for the B.C. Government. When asked what prompted his interest in hospital planning and administration Pennington responded laughing, “I really don’t know; I had no work experience except soldiery so I didn’t have much to put on a résumé for the hospital administration job.” Regardless of his previous experience, Pennington’s enthusiasm made him a huge asset to the department and as a result his position was one of high importance. Pennington was instrumental in many of the hospital planning projects in Victoria including the Saanich Peninsula Hospital and Victoria General Hospital. “I loved what I did with hospital administration and the department of hospital planning, it was such an interesting job,” said Pennington of his career.
In the past two decades, Pennington has formed the local branch of the Burma Star Association and served as secretary and president for the branch. In 1997, he began writing down his experiences as a soldier. Eventually he taught himself how to use a computer to type out his memories and he ended up with the novel Pick Up Your Parrots and Monkeys which was published in hardcopy in 2003 (and subsequently in paperback in 2005) by major UK-based publisher, Cassell.
Pennington and his wife moved to Sidney about five years ago and says they haven’t been happier. Pick Up Your Parrots and Monkeys is available for loan at the Sidney branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library.