After a pleasant childhood spent in Delaware Street on the Ravenhill Road in east Belfast, Billy entered the world of work in the post office as a telegraph messenger at a tender age, “I started at the age of 14 years and 9 months. At the beginning I was the youngest of a hundred boys, at the end I was the oldest out of 100 boys. It was a great experience.”

Billy’s job entailed travelling across Belfast delivering messages to people and this position gave him a unique insight to the streets of his city, “Telegraph messengers knew every street in Belfast, knew every building in the centre of Belfast. You knew where every bookie, boxer, footballer and politician lived.”

“When you were with a hundred boys all of that age you heard everything, you knew about everything. It was a great life, it was my university, and it was probably better than a university.”

Billy became a postman in 1939 but with the outbreak of WW2, he joined the navy as a radio operator for the LST and spent nine months in America. He took part in several landings in Italy, “There’s always danger, but when it happens it happens very quick. We were coming home for the D-day landings, two days out from home, we got torpedoed and sunk.”

“We had 115 soldiers on board and we lost 88 of them.”

After a traumatic time in the water during the sinking of the ship, Billy reminisces, “it is the sort of experience that you would not wish upon anybody and yet it is one of the big things in my life. I think it affected me that I felt I never wanted to be rich. I think this very close brush with death… and there were about three times that I came very close to death in the one morning… you don’t analyse about it, it had quite an effect on my attitudes towards life. If I’m going to live, I’m going to do all the things that I want to do.”

At the end of the war Billy returned to the Post Office. He was made branch treasurer in 1947 and this influenced his decision to become involved with the trade union movement. “It was sort of a moral crusade, it seemed to me that this is what I wanted to do without having any great reason to do it. It seemed to me that there was something to be done and that I would like to do it.”

“From then the Post Office was very important, my family was very important but the trade union was a major influence on my life, it was a major activity. It took up most of my thoughts and most of my talents and it was very good. It extended me in all sorts of ways.”

One aspect of his life, which benefitted from his involvement with trade unions, was education. In the 1950s, through the Workers Educational Association, Billy enrolled with Ruskin College in Oxford and achieved an Oxford University Diploma in Economics and Political Science, “I always had that interest in adult education, still have, I still go to wee classes. That was a big thing in my life, but in a way it’s all to a certain extent integrated to the trade union.”

In 1971 Billy was a senior figure and leader of his section in the trade union movement during a pivotal six-week industrial strike by the post office, “the government forced the post office to stick rigidly to its guidelines. We decided to go on strike and it was the proper decision, had we not taken that decision the union would have disintegrated.”

Billy’s strong sense of community was articulated through his involvement with the Post Office’s youth scheme and the introduction of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme to Northern Ireland. Billy organised expeditions for young people across the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland. “It was very sad because you could see kids being sucked into the paramilitaries in both Protestant and Catholic areas. And in a way I felt that I was doing something to give them a sort of adventure in life and possibly make them think that there were other things to life than joining the paramilitaries.”

Over his life Billy has seen some radical changes in trade unionism, the economy and the privatisation of business. On the changes of community work shifting from the voluntary to professional sphere within society he comments, “I regard it as fun. There have been changes and it seems to me that they have great difficulty in getting people to do things like this. I think it’s very sad, I don’t think that you can take the risks out of life.”

After 24 years in office in the union, Billy decided to move on with his life and his passion for being active resulted in him becoming involved with the Ulster Archaeological Society. “I loved the meetings and I loved going out on the field trips. I went onto the committee in 1987, in my very first meeting with the committee they were looking for somebody to do the Ulster Archaeology Society Newsletter. In the end I said, if you can’t get anyone else I’ll have a go. That was in 1988 and I’m still doing it, I was President for 3 years but my main contribution towards it was turning out the newsletter.”

For a man approaching 90 years of age, Billy is still an energetic and active member of society who is constantly busy. He attributes his youthful approach to life to “an Ulster fry for my breakfast every morning, I would recommend it to anybody.”

Reflecting on his life, Billy feels that, “in a way it might derive from being torpedoed, I think that if you are going to live then you might as well live. I always felt the most important thing, if you have your health, is personal relationships. I find this exciting. You pack in a lot of wee things and they are important. The relationships which I had were important to me and I think they were important to a lot of other people as well and to me that’s life and I’m glad that I had it. I didn’t do too bad and I still enjoy life and still find life an adventure.”