Remembering 208 Walter Gilchrist M.C MID – 3rd May 1917

Capt Walter Gilchrist MC

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.Fairley  another 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.

He will always be remembered.

Read More…………..

 

 

 

21st September 1916 Remembering Sapper James D. Page

 

164 James Delahunty PAGE

 

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.

Signatures of originals hmats-afric.jpg enhanced
Original photo – Courtesy Jack Moore Private collection

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”

ypres-trench-sept-1916-awm008684
Trench diagram from 1st FCE Unit War Diary September 1916

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.

red-cross-report

 

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.

1280px-railway_dugouts_commonwealth_war_graves_commission_cemetery_1_redvers

 

Grave 164 Sapper James.D Page
Grave 164 Sapper James.D Page (nzwargraves.org.nz)

 

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.

Story © VanceKelly2016

 Family Notes:

Son Neville John Page ( born 1912 Marrickville , married Margaret Larkin in 1935, he died in Sandgate Newcastle 02/10/1981.

Neville John Page served in WW2 – NX71875 enlisted Paddington  Army 2nd AIF – next of kin Margaret – his war record is not digitized.

Hope Merea Page married Lindsay W Sanders in 1929 in North Sydney.

Sources:

“A Short Account of the formation of the 1st Field Engineers” – 2199 Cpl Frank Slee MM

Original photo – Courtesy Jack Moore Private collection

AWM, NAA, NLA, nzwargraves.org.nz

The Battle of Pozieres 1916

awm-ez0097

The Battle of Pozieres

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 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.

Link to the full  1st FCE Unit diary July 1916 –July 1916 RCDIG1008590-1

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.

 

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

 On the 23rd July 234 Archie Bland died from his wounds, two days later on the 25th July both  58 Percy Hirst and 50 Lionel Fuller Burton also died from their wounds.

 

 Above Left to Right – 234 Archie Bland, 50 Lionel Fuller Burton, 58 Percy Hirst

215 William Patrick Allan Whelan  was originally reported missing on the 23rd, all later enquiries confirmed that he was killed in action on the 25th .

Searching for a Portrait
Searching for a Portrait

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

 

Story ©Vance Kelly 2016

Sources: AWM, NLA, NAA, Manly Library

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buried alive and saved by his mates

 

 

167 - Albert James Currie - MM (Photo courtesy of Beverly Prior Collection)
167 – Albert James Currie – MM (Photo courtesy of Beverly Prior Collection)
1st Battle Passchendaele  AWM E01200
Passchendaele  – 1st Battle 1917

 

On the 4th of October 1917 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.

167 Albert James CURRIE – MM

WW1 - Military Medal - For Bravery In the Field
WW1 – Military Medal – “For Bravery In the Field”

 

His personal story is available to read …….More about Albert  Currie – MM  –  Link to his page .

 

The Sphinx Photo

 

SPHINX Sappers Photo
The men of the 1st Field Company Engineers – Original photo – Courtesy Jack Moore Private collection

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

 

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.

 

The Officers SPHINX Sappers Photo enhanced
Front row L – R – 1st FCE Officers – Biden, Dyer, Mather, Corlette, McCall, Huntley

Original photo – Courtesy Jack Moore Private collection

 

 

Acknowledgements:

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

“Forcing the Narrows”

 

HMS 'Irresistible' abandoned 18th March 1915 -Photo published in The War Illustrated, 1 May 1915.
HMS ‘Irresistible’ abandoned 18th March 1915 -Photo published in The War Illustrated, 1 May 1915.

 

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.

 

150-Leslie Cridland.
150 Spr Leslie Richard Cridland.

ATTEMPT TO FORCE THE NARROWS

LIDCOMBE SAPPER’S STORY

Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), Monday 11 October 1915, page 6

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 Clark   also gave a brief account of the sappers first foray into battle in his letter home in May 1915, he reported how 88 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

 

 

Image  Courtesy of http://www.naval-history.net/WW1Book-RN2-123.JPG

Image courtesy  – www. naval-history.net/WW1Book-RN2-230.JPG

 

View across the narrows to Chanak from above Kilid-Bahr an old Turkish fort is on the shoreline in the foreground.
View across the narrows to Chanak from above Kilid-Bahr an old Turkish fort is on the shoreline in the foreground.

 

.


HMS Ark Royal

HMS Ark Royal  “was an interesting sight” – Leslie Cridland

.

151 Ernest Murray recorded in his diary, how everyone envied the sappers leaving on their mission……7th March 1915 ….”We came ashore today bringing 7 days supply & had a lot of work getting things ashore & to our Camping ground. It was quite dark before we had our Camp fixed up & by the time we had our tea we were quite tired enough to turn in.
No. 3 Section left at short notice for the Dardanelles to do some Demolition work We all envy them getting away first but our turn will soon come”

Story © Vance Kelly2016

Sources:

AWM, NLA, NAA,

naval-history.net

249 Sapper Alan Alexander Wilson-Walker

Remembered on this day 20th March 1916.

Searching for a Portrait
Searching for a Portrait

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.


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.

Farman Shorthorn MF11
Farman Shorthorn MF11

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.

St James Cemetery Dover Kent England
St James Cemetery Dover Kent England

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

William Wilson Walker Red Cross Files RCDIG1054629–1

 

 

Headstone - photo source - Angus882 Great War Forum
Headstone – photo source – Angus882 Great War Forum

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

of

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 its May 1921 edition that the chapel had laid tablets in memory of Alan Alexander Wilson Walker, and William Douglas Wilson Walker.

 

Letter from Edith 1920
Letter from Edith 1920

 

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.

Mrs Edith Gertrude Le Maistre Walker
Mrs Edith Gertrude Le Maistre Walker

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.

 

Story © Vance Kelly 2016

 

Sources:

AWM, NAA, NLA, sussexhistoryforum.co.uk, nationalarchives.gov.uk, The Torch Bearer – The magazine of – The Sydney Church of England Grammar School, Angus882 Great War Forum.