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.
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.
John Thurlby was an honest hard working man. A young man who left his remaining family in England in 1910 to explore new opportunities in Australia and like so many young men of the time would later join the Australian Imperial Forces to fight in the great war.
A clean military record as a Driver with the 1st Field Company Engineers and later duly promoted. His life was cut short not by his engagement in the theatre of war, but by misfortune.
On this day we remember original 169 John Thurlby who tragically died on the 20th October 1916.
On the 4th of October1917 the 1st FCE helped to capture Passchendaele Ridge. They followed the second wave of the Infantry and when the ridge was captured the company proceeded to consolidate the position by forming a strong point.
At 1.30 in the afternoon a German aeroplane came over at a low altitude and had spied their position and turned back to inform the German batteries. The German batteries then opened fire and sent a salve into the company’s position on the ridge, a barrage of heavy shelling that lasted for the remainder of the day, ultimately at great cost to the “original” sappers and many others.
“……. I was wounded and buried alive as a shell exploded and the trench was blown upon us,…. but I was rescued before I was smothered”…. 167 Albert Currie
Albert’s good mates 66 Norman Masters and 99 John Jackson were by his side at the Ypres stunt and helped dig him out. Due to the quick actions of Masters and Jackson, Albert Currie was lucky enough not to be killed.
The 4th October 1917 was a day the “originals” would suffer their greatest losses since Gallipoli.
Three “original” sappers were killed on this day , 32 James Claude Nicholls, 119 William “Billy” Pitt, and 190 Jack Raymond Hollingworth.
It would also be a day remembered for their “Bravery In The Field” and six “originals” received the Military Medal,….. Albert was one of them.
While camped in Egypt during the early months of 1915, the men of the 1st FCE were tourists as well as soldiers, most of them having left the shores of Australia for the first time and very likely, none of them having ever seen the likes of ancient Egypt.
Cpl 132 Alexander McDonald was very excited about touring the sights and wrote a letter to his brother Michael and in detail described the splendid Pyramids, temples and of course the Sphinx of Cheops.
His letter was one of the earliest letters from the 1st FCE published.
“We (1st Engineers) got photoed today at the Sphinx, horses and all. I am the highest one in the picture. Pathe Freres moving picture man was busy taking our camp all day a few days ago, and I suppose the pictures will be out with you soon.” – 132 Alexander J McDonald
Alexander Joseph McDonald -This photo is owned by the descendents of Alexander Joseph McDonald, Mr Ian McDonald, descendant of Michael McDonald, Alexander’s brother and is published with their kind permission – Photo presented courtesy of Mr Ian McDonald and Diane Hewson
Ex-Woodburnite at the Front.
LETTER FROM EGYPT.
Published Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser, Friday 5 February 1915
Sergeant A. J. McDonald, 1st Engineers, writing from Egypt to his brother,: Mr. M. McDonald, of South Woodburn,
” on 18th’ December, Sergeant McDonald says: — We went on a route march today, around the Pyramids, just at dawn, and the fog was very thick. We proceeded to the Sphinx, and I can tell you its a great piece of work. Cut out of a great, rock, the head is about 15 feet square, so it must have taken some time to carve. We next went to the Temple. This is a wonderful piece of work, and was covered in sand for about 2000 years. It was excavated a great while ago. You get into it by a tunnel. It is built of a greenish pink granite, and of great size. I suppose every piece is 50 tons weight, and all beautifully polished 4000 years B.C., still the polish is just splendid yet. You can see it is very old and all the top is of alabaster, with some granite tiles. Some of the tiles in the roof are 26 feet, long, and 10 feet, wide, by 3ft. thick. We then went about 5 miles across the Desert to another place excavated by an American syndicate two years ago. You go down a steep incline to a great depth, and find yourself in a big chamber. The floor is of greenish pink granite paves. We measured them— 10ft. x 10ft. x 10ft, 100 tons each, and all perfectly square and polished. But the best I ever saw is the tomb of the King who reined 4000 B.C named Clieesir (or something like that.) It is just beautiful, and I don’t think could be made in this age.
We took all the measurements and they were exact, The tomb was made out of one stone (granite), and brought 500 miles down the Nile. These objects are miles away from the Nile, so how did they get them here? And how did they lower the immense blocks down to this depth? It beats all present day science. The Pyramids are about 350 yards each angle, and about 1500 yards in circumference. There are two large ones, and some smaller ones. They are 451 feet high, and coming to a point at an angle of about 45 degrees. Some of the stones are 100 feet from the ground, are 76 feet long, and 10ft x 10ft, so how did they get them there? It beats creation. I have not yet been inside them, but I will tell you at a later date what it is like there.
Its proclamation day today, and the ceremonial part takes place on Sunday, when Cairo will have 50,000 troops participating in the function. Egypt is going to be a British protectorate after this. We might go to France in two months, if things are quiet here, and I hope we do, as it is nothing but sand here — hills and dales and everything, barring the Nile valley. It’s just starting to get hot, and the sand makes it ten times worse.
We (1st Engineers) got photoed today at the Sphinx, horses and all. I am the highest, one in the picture. Pathe Freres moving picture man was busy taking our camp all day a few days ago, and I suppose the pictures will be out with you soon.”– Source: nla.news-article125934877 -Published Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser, Friday 5 February 1915
We remain uncertain if Alexander McDonald is on the left or right at the highest point on the Sphinx, either way he is certainly among his mates from the 1st Field Company Engineers and the sphinx photo will always remain a historic and lasting memory of this unique company of men.
Alexander may never have seen this photo, sadly he died from wounds he sustained on landing day at Gallipoli, his own story linked here.
Clearly identified in the sphinx photo are the officers of the company in front standing aside their horses and the local guide seated.
Original photo – Courtesy Jack Moore Private collection
A special thank you to Jack Moore for providing a digitised photo of the 1st FCE. This is owned by Jack Moore son of 101 John Hoey Moore DCM who has kindly granted permission to use this photo.
Photo of 132 Alexander Joseph McDonald -This photo is owned by the descendants of Alexander Joseph McDonald, Mr Ian McDonald, descendant of Michael McDonald, Alexander’s brother and is published with their kind permission – Photo presented courtesy of Mr Ian McDonald and Diane Hewson
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.