108 Walter Stallard – MM
” his presence and cool demeanour “
Walter was a 19 year old carpenter from Merewether, Newcastle NSW, a community that had shown vigorous patriotic support for the war effort.
The photo above is courtesy of the AWM, a pre-enlistment studio portrait of Walter Stallard clearly showing a “presence and cool demeanour” which would serve him well during the entire World War 1 campaign.
Walter Stallard enlisted on 22 August 1914 and embarked with the 1st Field Company Engineers from Sydney on HMAT Afric on 18 October 1914.
Apart from being a “Dawn Lander” and one of the first Novacastrians to set foot on Gallipoli, Walter had managed to dodge both snipers and illness right up to the 8th August 1915.
“One of the most famous assaults of the Gallipoli campaign, the Battle of Lone Pine was originally intended as a diversion from attempts by New Zealand and Australian units to force a breakout from the ANZAC perimeter on the heights of Chunuk Bair and Hill 971. The Lone Pine attack, launched by the 1st Brigade AIF in the late afternoon of 6 August 1915 pitched Australian forces against formidable entrenched Turkish positions, sections of which were securely roofed over with pine logs. In some instances the attackers had to break in through the roof of the trench systems in order to engage the defenders. The main Turkish trench was taken within 20 minutes of the initial charge but this was the prelude to 4 days of intense hand-to-hand fighting, resulting in over 2,000 Australian casualties.” – Source: AWM
On the 8th August at the Battle of Lone Pine young Walter was wounded by shrapnel in the arm and also suffering from shock, he was transferred to hospital in Mudros. His fellow sapper 107 John Slattery was wounded the previous day, but Walter would have been completely unaware that John would die from his wounds and was buried at sea on this day.
This would not be the only major battle for young Walter, and not the only time he would be wounded in action. Each time Walter was wounded he would recover and return to the field and some of the fiercest battles that the Anzac’s had seen.
Pozieres, is a small village in the Somme Valley in France, and was the scene of bitter and costly fighting for the 1st, 2nd and 4th Australian Divisions in mid 1916. The Battle for Poziers was considered the heaviest bombardment that the allied forces had ever seen in the entire war. It was 7 weeks of continual shelling day and night.
On 1st June 1916, Poziers, Walter was wounded a second time, a gun shot wound to his right thigh and his face and this time he was transferred back to hospital in England to recover. Within four months he had fully recovered and in November 1916 he returned back to the field in France.
Fast forward October 1917 – The Western Front Again
The following is an excerpt from “Cameos of the Western Front” – Ypres sector 1914 – 1918 by authors Tony Spagnoly and Ted Smith, it describes the scene that the Anzac’s faced the morning of the 4th October 1917 at Ypres. The land they were fighting over had been held by the Germans since 1914.
“In the early hours of the 4th October , the mass of 1 and 2 Anzac lay crowded along the front line, with a fair proportion of the men placed nearer to the enemy positions than would have been favoured by the planners. Due to the large area of boggy Flanders mud……..several units had to be positioned close up to the enemy lines. Unseen before them , in the dark along the lower slopes of the Broodseinde ridge, lay several fortified farms the enemy would bitterly contest…………………………..the Australians planned to attack at 6.00 am , but about 5.30 am, as they were quietly waiting………Desultory German fire, which had been falling intermittently among the Australians, grew in intensity…..observers further back , grew tense with worry and anxiety. The enemy fire increased pummeling the front line troops…..and British gunnery supports further behind the line. had the enemy anticipated the proposed advance ?.
The fire began to take a heavy toll of the waiting men. casualties were mounting alarmingly….After a seemingly endless half an hour, the line of the barrage was well-defined by the dead and wounded lying thickly around…….At exactly 6 a.m a split second silence was shattered by marker flares sizzling up into the lightning sky. Then the thunderous British barrage rent the air, drowning the enemy fire into insignificance. The German positions , all across the ridge , were now wreathed in a ferment of fire and destruction. The Australian Infantry, thankful to have survived the terrible shelling , hoisted themselves off the wet ground …..casually lit their cigarettes, cocked their steel helmets against flying shrapnel, gripped their rifles and followed their officers into enemy territory.”
On this day the 1st Field Company Engineers would be recognised for their enormous contribution to the success of the day. The Anzac’s had once again displayed unswerving determination and bravery in this attack and six original members of the 1st FCE would be awarded the Military Medal, 66 Norman Masters, 99 John Jackson , 119 William Pitt, 153 Phillip Charmichael, 67 Albert Currie and 108 Walter Stallard. Two Australians from the 3rd Division were also awarded the Victoria Cross, such was the significance of this battle.
The following is the official citation for 108 Walter Stallard.
‘During the operations east of YPRES on 4th October 1917, he was employed on the construction of a strong point on BECELAERE RIDGE. Notwithstanding the constant shell and machine gun fire directed on his post throughout the day he rendered very valuable assistance to his section officer and later on to his section N.C.O.s. in setting out the task and supervising the work. He was constantly encouraging his men by his presence and cool demeanour and was responsible to a large extent for the excellent post constructed.’
Source: ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ No. 31
Date: 7 March 1918
The indestructible Walter finally returned home to Australia on the troop ship Port Sydney (formerly the Star of England) on the 2nd December 1918. He was lucky to share the journey home with some of the original sappers who had all signed up together 4 years earlier. On the same troop ship were nine of Walters mates, the equally indestructible 174 Everleigh Hodges MM, 12 Thomas Rose, 42 Roland York, 38 William Smith , 250 Fred Wicks DCM, 130 Leonard Johnstone, 177 Reginald Jessop MSM , 176 William Harvey, and 207 Norman McKee.
For these men who had survived four hard years at war, it must have seemed a lifetime ago when they last left the shores of Australia. It is impossible to imagine their thoughts and stories they must have shared on that return trip. But no doubt the journey would have been a welcome respite, filled with anticipation of the reception they would receive when they finally landed home on Australian shores.
The Merewether community were eagerly awaiting Walter’s return and anticipated his arrival on Saturday 30th November and had prepared a celebration for Walter and other returning soldiers. Walter’s arrival was delayed in Melbourne and the celebrations for Walter were simply postponed and it appears even more effort went into a more formal reception for this brave young man a few days later when he arrived by train.
DISTRICT NEWS – MEREWETHER
Published -Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate – Friday 6 December 1918.
“Corporal Walter Stallard, a returned Anzac, was officially met at the Newcastle Railway Station last evening, where two motorcars and municipal representatives, a number of relatives and friends, were in waiting. Corporal Stallard joined the car with Alderman R. Wells, the Mayor, and Mr. T. Adams, the town clerk, and was conveyed to his father’s residence, in Alworth street. Prior to leaving the railway station, Alderman R. G. Kilgour, the Mayor of Newcastle, welcomed Corporal Stallard, on behalf of Newcastle, and wished him long life and prosperity.
A large number of residents extended their felicitations to Corporal Stallard upon arrival at Merewether. The Mayor told that Corporal Stallard was one of the original Anzacs, and had been away from his home for four years, defending the liberties of Australia and the Allied nations. They were glad to see him home safe and sound, and he had pleasure to accord him a welcome on behalf of the citizens. Alderman Dixon supported the welcome, and said that the council should give welcomes to all the returning soldiers. Mr. Friend said that Corporal Stallard was an apprentice in his employ, and he was proud that he had done his duty. Corporal Stallard expressed his pleasure with the welcome which had been extended to him.”
There is a strong sense that Walter was very much the “quiet achiever”, perhaps a man of few words but a determined young man who didn’t shy away from danger and maintained that cool demeanour and bravery through to the end. His hand written application for the Gallipoli Medallion in 1967 is possibly the simplest and shortest hand written letter this researcher has found. A simple request with his regimental details and no mention of his Military Medal. Walter’s quiet modesty was so typical of many of the Anzac’s and perhaps characteristic of his approach to life after the war. Walter lived a long life and passed away in 1981, he was a great Australian.
This Day and Forever more – Remembering 108 Walter Stallard -MM
Story Copyright Vance Kelly2015