Captain Walter Gilchrist was an original sapper with the 1st FCE. On this day, in 1917, he was an officer in the 6th Field Coy. Engineers, and known to be a popular officer among his men.
Several witness accounts on this day state that he was in command of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd sections of the company at Noreuil. It was recorded that on the morning of the 3rd of May he volunteered to lead an infantry battalion across to the Hindenburg Line, Bullecourt, as all the battalion’s officers had been killed or wounded.
The official war historian Charles Bean tells us what happened next…………
“None … knew who their leader was, but for half an hour or more he would be seen, bareheaded, tunicless, in grey woollen cardigan, his curly hair ruffled with exertion, continually climbing out of the trench to throw bombs or to call to the men in the shell-holes, begging them to charge.” – Charles Bean
Major William Henry Ellwood M.C 24th Infantry Battalion wrote ” Capt. Gilchrist was the bravest man I have ever known”
Sapper 14540 Palmer…. stated he saw Walter fighting with his revolver without his hat or tunic out in the open, “All the odds were against him. Then I saw him hit by a shell and killed outright.”
Sapper 14945 W.Fairleyanother witness to the events stated “he was a specially fine soldier who did not know what fear was. I have heard that if he had lived he probably have got the V.C.”
Captain Walter Gilchrist was killed in action in France on 3rd May 1917.
Over 100 years ago this young man from Gladesville in Sydney, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces. He came from a large family with two older brothers and four sisters. His mother had passed away just 7 months prior to his enlistment.
Sidney felt it was his duty to respond to the call to war and he didn’t hesitate.
Sidney was a gallant first day lander and a member of the sapper team that heroically rowed ashore dodging heavy shrapnel fire all the way and constructed the barrel piers on landing day at Gallipoli.
Sidney Matthew Garrett died from his wounds on the 6th March 1917 , today he is honoured and remembered and his story is available to read…. click here
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.
164 James Page was born in Springston, New Zealand in 1886 to William Thomas Page and Margaret nee Delahunty. James had served 1 ½ years in the Canterbury mounted rifles before arriving in Australia in January 1910 and started working for the NSW Railways, his war record showing he was a union member.
Shortly after arriving James had met and married Gertrude Alice Ryan in Sydney in 1911 . Gertrude was born in 1882 in Forbes, New South Wales and in 1907 gave birth to a daughter Hope Merea Ryan and the father was declared unknown. When she married James, he adopted Hope.
James and Gertrude later also had a son together, Neville John was born on 12th July 1914 . Five weeks later his father enlisted on the 19th August 1914.
Jim as he became known by his fellow engineers enlisted as a driver and embarked on the Afric on the 18th October 1914, his signature appears ( 2nd top left) on the John Hoey Moore postcard recording many other originals in the company that shared the journey.
As a driver Jim was stationed off shore during the Gallipoli landing. “The Short Account” of the formation of the 1st FCE explains how the “drivers of the company could not land their horses on the Peninsular they returned to Egypt and were encamped at mex near Alexandria during the whole of the occupation of Gallipoli”.
James during his time in Egypt had one minor indiscretion and was found in Alexandria on leave without a pass and was fined 3 days pay.
On the 16th December 1915 the Drivers arrived at Zeitoun Camp near Heliopolis, Cairo. On the 21st the drivers together with 9th and 11th reinforcements entrained for Tel-el-Kebir.
On the 28th March 1916 James and the 1st FCE embarked for France and the western front and later in June 1916 James was remustered as a sapper.
In September 1916 the 1st FCE were stationed at Ypres and relieved the Canadians on this sector. Major Richard Dyer reported that the “trenches were in a shocking condition, no work appears to have been done for some time, the mud in some places being two feet deep”
It wasn’t long before the men of the 1st FCE were busy revetting, duck-boarding and reclaiming many of the trenches despite continued poor weather and enemy bombardments.
The poor weather continued and on the 20th September work was delayed by rain and enemy snipers who were particularly active, forced the working party that James Page was attached, to “seek cover on many occasions”.
The following day the men pushed on determined to reclaim the trenches before the winter set in. On this day the 21st September 1916 James Page was fatally wounded by a sniper.
The company war diary confirmed that James had been sniped through a sandbag and killed by a gun shot wound to the forehead .
“A careful reliable witness” Sapper Willock also gave his account of Jim’s death, however his mention of James having seven children was doubtful.
There had been some confusion over the final resting place of James and in 1921 it was finally confirmed that his burial was actually at the Railway dugout burial ground. ( grave 27 Row N Plot 6) Zillebeke , Belgium approx 1 ½ miles south, south east of Ypres.
In July 1917 a plea to obtain his wallet containing photos was made to base war records. This wallet must have been of considerable sentimental value and Gertrude perhaps still too grief stricken to write herself, had a good friend Mr R Bowmaker write to the war office on her behalf . He also made inquiries regarding a gunners certificate stating that James had written to his wife and told her he had successfully passed the examination for 1st class gunnery instructor
A month later in August 1917, James Page personal effects were returned home to his wife Gertrude. A machine gunners certificate was included in his effects, a testament and a copy of the Gospel showed that he was a god fairing man and a small collection of personal items such as his hair brush, razor, photos, letters, a note book and what was described as a linen case….. perhaps this linen case was the wallet so treasured by his loving wife.
Hopefully his memory lives on with the possibility of his son and daughter both having married and perhaps having children of their own.
William Patrick Allan (Whelan) was the mischievous type , perhaps a well liked trouble maker, a bit of a modern day larrikin.
His trouble making behaviour was probably always expected by his officers but was never overlooked or went unpunished, however persistent. None the less his superiors must have always seen the soldier in William.
In his final moments as an original with the 1st FCE he demonstrated the bravery and courage that proved his true soldiering spirit.
William made the ultimate sacrifice at the “Battle of Pozieres” attempting to save a mate.
“everyone said he ought to get the V.C . he went out in the very thick of the firing”
William Whelan served as William Allan and will always be remembered for his bravery, and courage. Missing from the 23rd of July, officially it was recorded he was killed in action on this day 25th July 1915.