A new discovery of what is likely to be the first pictures published of original members of the 1st Field Company Australian Engineers.
The picture above showing a relaxed and cheerful group of sappers “ON A PONTOON OF THEIR OWN CONSTRUCTION” on the lakes of Centennial Park , Sydney. They look proud of their achievement and at this early stage of their training completely unaware of how valuable these skills would prove to be throughout the war.
The pictures were published in the ‘Sydney Mail’ on the 23rd September 1914 just weeks after the men had enlisted.
– ON A PONTOON OF THEIR OWN CONSTRUCTION-
– ERECTING BARRICADES FOR PROTECTION FROM THE ENEMY’S FIRE –
“The work of the Field Engineers includes the construction of roads, pontoons, trestle bridges, barricades, wire entanglements, laying ground mines, digging entrenchments, and many other important as well as frequently dangerous duties.”
Known as Billy McDevitt,….. a rowing champion from Tasmania.
In 1911 Billy was travelling between Tasmania and Sydney and was planning his course towards becoming the world sculling champion when Australia suddenly joined the war in 1914.
An original member of the 1st Field Company Engineers, Billy was severely wounded at Gallipoli. Billy returned to Australia and with strength and determination recovered and when the war ended he returned to his love of rowing.
Ten years after he volunteered as an original member with the 1st FCE and at age 36 he became the Australasian Rowing Champion and was regarded by his peers as the best in the world.
In 1925 Charles “Billy” McDevitt was later declared World Rowing Champion.
Published The Bathurst times Friday 20th October 1916
To the long list of brave men who have offered their lives for the Empire is Lieutenant Ewen Lord Macpherson, a grandson of the late Mr. Randolph Machattie , who was in the landing at Gallipoli Peninsula, and having been invalided to England rejoined the army at Ypres recently with a commission in the Royal Field Artillery. This young officer lost his life on the 10th of August in the heavy fighting that took place near Ypres— and the following letter from the officer commanding his brigade has been received buy his parents.
” I am writing to offer you the sincerest sympathy of myself and every officer and man of tho RFA, at the death of your very gallant son, Ewen Macpherson. He was very badly hit about 4 p.m. on the 10th. inst. trying to get his men under cover; we were being heavily shelled at the time. He was carried to a trench nearby, but a heavy shell fell immediately after, killing him and the three officers who were assisting him. Although your son has only been with us three months he very easily made a name among us for fearlessness and throughout the rather heavy fighting in the Ypres salient, bore himself with great gallantry, and I had made a note of his name for recommondation for the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to. duty. We buried him the same evening in a cemetery in the valley, a chaplain of the Australian forces reading the burial service. Believe me, your sincerely,
J. D. SHERER, Lieut. Colonel, 5th Brigade, R.F.A., Lehore Artillery, B.E.F
The village of Pozières, is located in the Somme Valley, France. The main road running along the ridge, in the middle of the British sector of the Somme battlefields ran from the towns of Albert to Bapaume and close by stood the village of Pozieres, the highest point on the battlefield.
On the 19th July 1916 the men of the 1st Field company Engineers had bivouacked just outside of Albert, approximately 3 miles from the front lines. On the 21st July they marched into Albert and commenced helping to dig a communications trench that same night. The heavy bombardments from the Germans had already commenced and were relentless.
By Sunday the 23rd July the company had moved in closer to the front lines at Pozieres and commenced construction of a strong point for a machine gun placement.
Original 233 Cpl Thomas Arkinstall reported that the section was in front of Pozieres about 100 yards past the village , and were digging an advanced Machine Gun position overlooking two roads leading to Pozieres and Bapaume.
For four days, Pozieres would be pure hell for the men of the 1st Field Company Engineers.
Major Richard John Dyer
His Unit War Diary Entry
Major Richard John Dyer was the young officer in charge of the 1st Field Company Engineers during the Battle of Pozieres.
Major Richard Dyer remarkably not quite 23 years old was the very able and hardened Gallipoli veteran, famous for his single handed efforts at Gallipoli and his bravery at the German Officers Trench, creating his own landmark at what became known as “Dyers Crater”.
The young Major was no stranger to putting himself at great risk. However as Major and commanding officer, he was now placing his men at great risk and his diary entries show his hesitance in despatching the sections whilst under extremely heavy bombardment from the Germans.
Machine Gun Strong Point details – Unit Diaries July 1916Engineering Plan
Strong Point deatils Unit Diaries July 1916
The drawings above from the unit diaries showing the detailed plans for the construction of the “Strong Point” and machine gun placement.
Original 29 Bob Lundy recorded in his diary on the 23rd July the casualties and the devastation of the day, noting that there were dead laying all along the track and every inch of ground was just shell holes.
Within the first four days of the operations the return lists for the engineers prepared by original Lieut. Robert Osborne Earle for Major Richard Dyer outlined the devastation to the men of the 1st Field Company..
The casualties list recorded the men who were either killed, wounded, missing , gassed or suffering shell shock, between the 22nd and 26th July 1916.
Casualty List 1st FCE – July 1916 Part 1
Casualty List 1st FCE – July 1916 Part 2
Fourteen of the originals were included on this list of casualties…..58 Percy Hirst was listed as killed, 215 William Allan (Whelan) was listed as missing, 234 Archibald Bland and 50 Lionel Burton-Fuller were listed as wounded.
Also wounded was 88 George Casburn, a gun shot wound to the right hand and shoulder and 163 William Rice also a gunshot wound to the shoulder.
123 William Goodwin, 76 James Hamilton,184 Donald Clark, 237 Evelyn Lloyd.. all wounded.
336 Alfred Girdler and 157 Frederick Newson were gassed, and 242 Thomas Cook and 26 Roland King were both listed suffering from shell shock.
Interestingly the brothers of fellow originals 14 Edmund Banks and 139 James Pasfield were also on the same casualty list.
Pozieres Main street 1914
Pozieres Main street 1916
Pozieres Main street 1914 Pozieres Main street 1916
Still searching for a portrait of 215 William Whelan
During what became known as the “Somme Offensive”, between the 23 July and early September 1916, the 1st, 2nd and 4th Divisions of the Australian Imperial Forces were involved in 19 attacks on German positions in and around the ruins of Pozieres.
Although the British and Australian artillery were no match for the German artillery and machine guns, despite that, they held their positions and subsequently held Pozieres at great cost. The Australians suffered 23,000 casualties while advancing only two kilometres.
Australian official historian Charles Bean declared that the Pozières Ridge ..” is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth”- Charles Bean
Scott Wilson, fellow writer, and researcher has kindly shared his story written about “original” 139 James Albert Pasfield.
Scott details the circumstance of how he came to write about James Pasfield and brings his story back to life.
“In late 2014 I had a story published that I had written about 160 Driver Percy Thompson’s experiences around the Ypres Salient in late 1917. Shortly afterwards I was contacted by Greg Pasfield, a grandson of 139 Sergeant James Albert Pasfield. Greg told me of his grandfather and two uncles who had all served with the 1st field Company Engineers during the course of the war.
Later Greg supplied many photos of the brothers and other details and I agreed to write about their experiences during the war. The stories that follow are a record of their service during the war and I would like to thank Greg for the use of photographs and other information.” – Scott Wilson
150 Leslie Richard Cridland was a 22 years old carpenter and a well known St. Stephens Club footballer from Lidcombe, Sydney.
Prior to the Gallipoli landing Leslie or Richard as he was also known, was one of twenty original sappers selected and trained in demolition work. On board a troopship with a number of naval marines, these sappers were involved in the historic mission to “Force the Narrows” of the Dardanelles on March 18th 1915.
The Allied naval fleet had an ambitious plan to force their way through the Turkish straits known as the Dardanelles and onward to conquer Constantinople. This campaign was hampered by the Turkish artillery defences and the 2 kilometre wide section of the Dardanelles channel known as the”The Narrows” which was riddled with mines.
After the fleet had destroyed the forts guarding the outer entrance to the Dardanelles, Sedd el Bahr and Kum Kale, the next phase was the bombardment of the Turkish forts guarding “The Narrows”. Unsuccessful attempts to clear Turkish minefields which were also guarded by well concealed forts and mobile artillery batteries led to fierce artillery duels between the Turks and the Allies culminating in an unsuccessful attack and the failure of the Allied Fleet to “Force The Narrows”.
The mission was abandoned when the two British battleships HMS “Ocean” and “Irresistible” and the French battleship Bouvet were lost . Leslie gives a rare and personal account of this historic attempt which was later published in the ‘Evening News’ Sydney.
Twenty Australian sappers were taken on board the troopship at Lemnos Island, and in company with a number of marines received special training in demolition work. The object was to land the men at the entrance of the Dardanelles, after the naval guns had wrecked the forts of Chanak and Seddal Bahr to complete the work of destruction.
Sapper R Cridland of Lidcombe was one of the men picked and was a witness of the historic attempt to force the narrows which resulted in the loss of HMS Irresistible and Ocean, and the subsequent abandonment of the idea that the Dardanelles could be forced by naval units alone.
Writing from Manchester Hospital, he said:
“We left for the Dardanelles on March 8 and arrived off Tenedos island at 10.30 am. The island had now been transformed into a naval base for the allied fleet. Here we witnessed a wonderful sight. The fleet of warships – sit ready for action, was a grim picture. Between them dashed destroyers of all size, and nearby was a fleet of trawlers that had been engaged in this risky work of clearing the straits of floating mines. The aeroplane ship Ark Royal with its hydroplanes on deck was an interesting sight.
Our ship then proceeded to Rabbit island and from here we could see into the Dardanelles and with the aid of glasses watch events up as far as the narrows. We had arrived just in time to see the first division commence the bombardment. Led by the battleship it steamed towards the entrance and fired a couple of well-directed shells against the ruined forts of Sedd el Bahr and Kum Kale This precaution was taken in case the Turks had brought up new guns during the night. The firing of these shells was the signal for the bombardment to commencement. Receiving no reply from the forts the division dashed into the straights keeping up a heavy fire and was met by a torrent of missiles from the enemy’s concealed batteries. But practically no damage was done by the guns. It was the floating mines that caused trouble. Even though the trawlers had cleared the straights, the Turks directed by German officers floated a number of mines down the Narrows and about 20 minutes before the bombardment commenced.
The Queen Elizabeth standing well out to sea, kept firing her huge 15” guns. And when she spoke it was always directed against some big object of the enemy’s. I witnessed the explosion of two magazines- one at Chanak and the other at Kilid Bahr. The magazines when exploded caused huge columns of smoke to rise hundreds of feet in the air. During the day the British Ships, ‘OCEAN’ and ‘IRRESISTIBLE’ and the French ‘BOUVET’ were sunk ,though the ‘GAULOIS’ was badly hit she was beached on a small island about 60 yards from where were stationed.
“This day proved the most disastrous to the allied fleet since the attempt to force the Dardanelles began and at 8 o’clock the same night our troopship left Tenedos and made back to Lemnos Island. The proposed demolition work was abandoned which as it turned out subsequently was a very good thing for us sappers” – Leslie Cridland
19 year old driver 16 Marcus Clarkalso gave a brief account of the sappers first foray into battle in his letter home in May 1915, he reported how88 Bill Casburn was also one of the sappers selected for the mission.
“Two French and one English cruiser went down in the Dardanelles on the 18th March. Twenty one of our boys were up there that day, W. Casburn among them. They went up there to blow up a fort that was supposed to be silenced, but when they got there, it was one of the most active and they could not land.”– Marcus Clark
Sapper 88 Bill Casburn, writing from the trenches at Gallipoli described his experience as one of the engineers selected for the mission. The following extract from one of Bill’s letter home was published in the Sydney ‘Sun Newspaper’ on Tuesday 21st September 1915.
“After leaving Lemnos Island 20 men, including myself, were picked from the 1st Field Company Engineers as a demolition party to assist the Royal Marines in demolishing the forts at the entrance to the Dardanelles. We saw the combined British and French fleets bombard the outer and inner forts. It was a magnificent sight to see the big battleships In action. When the Queen Elizabeth fired her 151n. guns everything shook for miles around— even the ship we were on shook like a rowing boat.
Soon villages and forts were on fire as far as the eye could see.”- Bill Casburn
249 Alan Alexander Wilson- Walker was born in 1893 in Woolhara Sydney, to parents Alexander Wilson and Edith Gertrude Wilson nee Cater. Alan had a younger brother William Douglas and two sisters Sylvia and Dora.
His father Alexander died in tragic circumstances in 1897 when Alan was just four years old.
Widowed and with four young children Edith later remarried in 1901 marrying prominent Sydney Chartered accountant and businessman Charles Alfred Le Maistre Walker. The children then adopted the extended family name of Wilson – Walker.
Edith and Charles would later also have two son’s from their marriage Charles and Theobald.
The Wilson-Walker family were at this time a very prominant family due largely to their father Charles who was a very successful man. He was senior partner of his own accounting firm C.A Le Mastrie Walker Son & Co. He was also a Director of John Shaw Aust Ltd, Director of Universal Land and Deposit Bank Ltd, a member of The Farmers Relief Board and the Government representative on the Egg Marketing Board of NSW.
Alan Wilson-Walker grew up in the family home “Coolagalla”, a grand home which still stands today on the corner of Station and Grandview street Pymble New South Wales.
Alan and his younger brother William both attended The Sydney Church of England Grammar School – today known as Shore school for boys in North Sydney and together they enjoyed golf with their stepfather as members of the Killara Golf club. The Killara golf club later becoming well known for replacing golf competitions with rifle shooting competitions in the spirit of encouraging recruitment rather than leisurely sporting pursuits during wartime.
Alan also had three years in the Scottish Rifles while also working as an electrical engineer for Warburton & Franki Ltd. prior to enlistment.
When war broke out in 1914, the war became a family affair for the Wilson- Walker’s in a very unique way. They were a family that together would make the ultimate personal sacrifice abroad and suffer great loss, but with unswerving dedication to the war effort at home, they made huge personal contributions to establish war funds, comfort funds and organisations in support of families and soldiers. They played a significant part in the Australian war time history at home, details that have been overlooked and never before been highlighted.
Alan was 21 when he enlisted as a sapper with the Imperial Expeditionary Forces. He was temporarily discharged possibly due to illness for a short time and was reinstated and placed with the 1st Reinforcements Field Coy. Engineers under Lieut. Bachtold on the 19th October 1914 and later embarked on the A35 Berrima and joined up with original members of the 1st FCE in Egypt.
His brother William Douglas Wilson-Walker, attended the University of Sydney, and became an Economics graduate perhaps planning on joining the family firm of C. A. Le Maistre Walker, Chartered Accountants, but the war interrupted any plans he may have had and he also enlisted in June 1915.
Meanwhile his parents Edith and Charles were also doing their bit for the war effort. Through his private firm of chartered accountants, Charles already connected to the most eminent citizens of New South Wales, put his position to extaordinary use.
Charles founded the Citizens War Chest Fund of NSW in 1914 and was Hon. Secretary for the duration of the War, he was also Hon. General Secretary of the Australian Comforts Fund 1916, he also organised the formation of the French Australian League of Help and organised the NSW Returned Soldiers Association in 1916.
Then in April of 1915 it was sapper Alan Alexander Wilson-Walker who would take the next step’s towards the making of Australian history.
Alan took part in the first landing at Gallipoli on the morning of 25th April and served up to 23rd July when suffering from Otitis, an acute middle ear infection, he was transferred to St Patricks military hospital in Malta.
Still unwell in September, he was eventually transferred to England and admitted to the 1st General hospital Birmingham.
During his time in recovery he took the opportunity to apply for an appointment in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) the air arm of the British Army during the First World War.
On December 6th 1915 he was discharged from the Australian forces and appointed to a commission in the Imperial Army Royal Flying Corp.
Original letter from Alan from Dover
Original letter from Alan from Dover
By January 20th 1916, Alan had qualified as an airman, flying a Maurice Farman Biplane and graduated from Brooklands with his Aeronautics certificate and was now Second Lieutenant No 13 Reserve Squadron Royal Flying Corps.
On March the 20th exactly two months after graduating, Alan was killed.
On the 24th the coroners findings confirmed “accidental death” and his funeral took place on the same day with full military honours.
The Dover Express reported the findings of the coroner and also reported on his funeral.
AUSTRALIAN FLYING OFFICER KILLED.
“The inquest on Lieut. A. Wilson Walker, who was killed near Dover in an aeroplane accident on Monday at 11.30 a.m., was held on Wednesday afternoon by the County Coroner (Mr. R. Mowll). The evidence was that the deceased officer was returning from a cross-country flight, and was seen near the Dover end of the Guston tunnel to be flying at a dangerously slow speed and then to turn. The machine sideslipped and nose-dived 1,500 feet, striking the ground and smashing to pieces. The deceased was found strapped in the machine dead, his spine being fractured, skull fractured, and both legs and one arm broken.
It was stated that he was an Australian, 22 years of age, and had served all through the Gallipoli affair, taking his ticket January 10th, and had done sixteen hours’ flying. The elevator, which was the only way of getting a machine out of a nose-dive, was in good order after the accident.
The Coroner expressed their sorrow at this gallant young officer’s death, and the jury returned a verdict of accidental death.” – Source: – ‘ Dover Express ‘
Dover Express – Friday 24 March 1916
“FUNERAL OF LIEUT. A. A. WILSON-WALKER.The funeral took place, with full military honours, at St. James’s Cemetery, of Second Lieut. A. A. Wilson-Walker, Royal Flying Corps, who died on March 20th, at the age of 22 years. The officiating clergyman was the Rev. C. Haines, C.F.; and the band attendance was that of the 6th Royal Fusiliers. The mourners present were Mr. and Mrs. Muggleton, Mr. and Mrs. Theobald, and Mr. Keigwin. There were floral tributes from the officers of the R.F.C. (consisting of a large cross of white lillies 4ft. in length); warrant officers and sergeants, and from the corporals and air mechanics, R.F.C. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Messrs. Flashman and Co., of Dover and Folkestone.”Source –Dover Express – Friday 24 March 1916.
During his time in England while preparing to be an aviator, Alan was having his correspondence sent to a C .Theobald Esq. at 11 Egerton Place London, possibly a relative of the Walkers in the UK. They were more than likely the same Mr.and Mrs Theobald who attended his funeral.
Four months later his brother 7162 William Douglas Wilson-Walker, also died from severe shrapnel wounds to his abdomen at Armentieres, France, on the 18th July 1916, aged 20 years. He had been a Gunner with the 110 Howitzer battery. The Rev. P Baker provided details to the Red Cross enquiry on the death of William.
William Wilson Walker Red Cross Files RCDIG1054629–1
A headstone had been placed in memory of both Alan and William in St.James cemetery, perhaps arranged by the Theobald family connection……it is showing some wear from 100 years of standing quietly, however it still reads well enough………….
Honoured and Loving Memory
Alan Alexander Wilson Walker 2nd Lieutenant RFC of Sydney, Australia, accidentally killed whilst flying at Dover 20th March 1916, aged 22 years. Listed in the Australian Imperial Force August 1914, took part in the first landing at Gallipoli 25th April 1915 and subsequently joined the RFC
per ardua ad astra
Also of William Douglas Wilson-Walker, Gunner, Australian Imperial Froce, brother of the above, who died of wounds at Armentieres, France, 18th July 1916, aged 20 years
“When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrow these gave their today”
per ardua ad astra is latin for “Through adversity to the stars” or “Through struggle to the stars” and is the motto of the Royal Air Force and other Commonwealth air forces such as the RAAF, dating back to 1912 and used by the newly formed Royal Flying Corps.
The brothers were later memorialised back home in Australia, The Torch Bearer the magazine of The Sydney Church of England Grammar School reported in itsMay 1921 edition that the chapel had laid tablets in memory of Alan Alexander Wilson Walker, and William Douglas Wilson Walker.
Edith and her family would be shattered by the news, their hearts broken on two separate occasions within a four month period.
However Edith was quite a remarkable woman, and having been actively involved with the war effort at home, she was not going to let the tragic loss of both her son’s account for nothing or let the pain engulf her, she remained brave and stoic and in spite of the devastating setbacks to her family, she somehow found the strength to continue her extensive community work.
Husband Charles must have been a great support and was no doubt also a very influential partner. Edith and Charles together were a force that knew no bounds and after the war both continued there efforts in serving the community.
Edith was a remarkable woman and her sons although having died in the great war would have been as equally proud of her, as she was of them.
When Edith died in December 1935 her obituary and the list of mourners who attended her funeral reads like the who’s who of 1935. Family members of the retailer David Jones, distinguished members from the Arnotts family of Arnotts biscuits fame, Judges, lawyers, politicians, high profile property developers and prominent businessman of the time, all attended her funeral.
There was no doubt as to her popularity and the high esteem in which she was remembered.
Charles Alfred Le Maistre Walker for all his extraordinary charitable and humanitarian work was awarded an MBE in 1916, a CBE in 1920 and the Medaille de Roi Albert from Belgium.