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.
Sapper 204 Patrick Finn Walshe died from wounds on the 5th March 1917. Today he is honoured and remembered and his story is available to read….
A portrait of Patrick Finn Walshe does exist, however he is only named in a group photo.
Which one is Patrick, or the identity of the others is not known at this stage, however they are all Engineers from the 1st Field Company.
This photo can be viewed and is AWM copyright protected. The photo is from the Thuillier Collection of glass plate negatives taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in Vignacourt, France during the period 1916 to 1918.
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
The Australian Engineers Training Depot (AETD) was established in Brightlingsea, Essex England in 1916 and during the second half of World War I, thousands of Australian’s and many of the New Zealand troops spent time in Brightlingsea, many learning the skills of the ‘sapper’ in conditions made to mimic those on the western front.
A few of the ‘originals’ from the 1st Field Company Engineers had spent time both training and teaching new reinforcements in order to attain their commission whilst stationed at Brightlingsea.
For 100 years Brightlingsea has maintained this connection to the ANZAC’S and particularly its interest in the Engineering Corp.
2016 is the year that the Brightlingsea Museum has organised a centenary remembrance of the ANZAC and particularly its interest in the Engineers and tracing serviceman who married while stationed in Brightlingsea and later whisked their wives off to Australia.
Three “originals” did in fact get married whilst in England and transfered to the AETD.
Sappers 103 Archie Leslie Ogilvy , 140 Ernest Charles Tubbenhauer and 153 Philip James Charmichael, each of them married while in England. Although their wives were not native to Brightlingsea, the war records indicate a connection with Brightlingsea, each of them living there while their new husbands were at the AETD.
All three men would return home to Australia after the war, with their brides.
The Museum is conducting a wonderful event “Brightlingsea ANZAC Centenary weekend 17th, 18th & 19th June 2016.”
Links to the Museum and the centenary events and the BBC story are below….
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.
158 James Johnston – Photo Courtesy Johnston Family Collection
The ‘Johnston’ Shower, made by the 1st Field Company, Australian Engineers, July 1918. AWM4 14/20/43.
In the final year of the great war in France, a significant piece of engineering was designed for the welfare of the troops. It was designed and constructed by an ‘original’ from the 1st Field Company Engineers, a Scotsman who became an ANZAC legend.
He has been forever digitised in the war history books and made famous for all historians and followers of the 1st FCE to discover.
The Australian War Museum website has recognised the “Johnston” Shower invented by “original” 158 James Johnstonand today we celebrate his distinguished service and his story.