No.5895 – Private William Henry Walter
Private William Henry Walter was born in Beverley on 29 November 1886. He was six years old when his family moved to live in North Fremantle. William Henry was the eldest son of William Daniel and Jane Walter. He had eight younger siblings, two of which, Arthur (2056) and George (2057) enlisted for active service in the early days of WW1.
William completed all his schooling in North Fremantle and on leaving school gained a plumbing apprenticeship. He married Ethel May Russell on 6 January 1912 and they moved into their new home which he built with his father’s assistance in Bailey St, North Fremantle. His parents and siblings were their next door neighbours. Their first child Evelyn Alice was born on 7 October 1912. In 1915 they welcomed Myrtle Rose into their happy family. William was a proud family man and worked hard to provide for them. He was also very civic minded and joined the North Fremantle Star of the West, Lodge No. 14, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which his father was a founding member of, in 1907. He was a very active member and held various leadership positions within this organisation. The primary purpose of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows was to provide aid to those in need and pursue projects for the benefit of all mankind. William also ran a gym with his good friend Jim Burtenshaw in Cottesloe for the youth in the district. He was also a member of the Fremantle Rifle Club.
At the outbreak of WWI, William’s two younger unmarried brothers, Arthur 21 years old and George 19 years old heeded the call and enlisted for active service. Both brothers were wounded in action at Gallipoli, Arthur sustaining a serious chest wound on 28 August 1915 and George a bayonet to the thigh on 14 November 1915. These two events along with the continued ‘WE NEED YOU’ recruitment campaign convinced William that he needed to enlist and do his bit for ‘King and Country’. With the support of his wife Ethel (known as Mollie) he enlisted on 19 April 1916 in Fremantle at the age of 29 years.
William, Mollie and their two daughters Evelyn and Myrtle
After six months of training in armed and unarmed combat, rifle and bayonet warfare at the Blackboy Hill Camp, William embarked from Fremantle on 30 October 1916 on the troopship Port Melbourne with the 16th reinforcement of the 27th Infantry Battalion. He disembarked in Devonport England on 28 December 1916 and marched into Rollestone Barracks on 29 December 1916 to undertake further training in trench warfare with the 7th Training Battalion.
A letter home to Mollie that William wrote while in Rollestone Barracks
William left from South Hampton, England on 22 May 2017 for the Western Front in France with the 27th Battalion. On 12 June 1917, William was one of sixty six men transferred from the 27th to 28th Battalion to bolster manpower in this heavily depleted brigade. After further training at Senlis, the 28th Battalion marched to Varrennes and entrained to Bapaume Camp where further training in small drill ordinance and trench warfare was undertaken between 1 – 27 July 1917. On 28 July the Battalion marched to Miraumont. The 28th Battalion went on to attack as part of the third phase of the battle of Menin Road, capturing its objectives in seven minutes, and was in reserve during the capture of Broodseinde Ridge. The battalion was also in reserve for the battle of Poelcappelle on 9 October, but with the attack floundering in the mud, it soon became embroiled in heavy fighting. The battalion then wintered in Belgium.
In December 1917, William wrote lovingly and reassuringly to his wife:
In early 1918, William was part of the 28th Battalion which transferred to the Somme in response to the German spring offensive. In late March and into April, they fought to defend the line around Villers-Bretonneax as the Allies fought to defend the vital railhead of Amiens, before providing support to the 6th Brigade’s attack on Ville-sur-Ancre. During this time of intense fighting William was wounded in action sustaining a severe gunshot wound to the left upper leg. He was repatriated to England on 5 June 1918 and admitted to the War Hospital in Exeter on 6 June 2018. William was an excellent correspondent and regularly wrote postcards home to his wife, daughters and extended family reassuring them that he was in good health and telling them how much he loved them and was missing them. Whenever possible he would include a souvenir coin in the beautiful postcards he would send to his daughters, Evelyn and Myrtle. Here are some examples, sweetly signed "From her loving Dad" and followed by numerous kisses.
William was also on the receiving end of correspondence and luckily some of these postcards are still preserved today. See below letter from his sisters Rose, Dot and Alice.
After several operations and a long convalescence William left England for Fremantle on 2 January 1919 with a large part of his left upper leg missing. He arrived in Fremantle on 10 February 1919 on the transport ship Berrima and continued to receive needed medical attention. William was granted an invalid discharge from the Australian Imperial Force on 30 April 1919 as the Australian Military Forces Medical Board deemed him permanently unfit for general service.
His family were overjoyed on his return and despite ongoing war related health issues William built up a successful plumbing business in John St, Cottesloe. His third daughter Shirley Ethel was born on 18 July 1928 much to the delight of her two older sisters. The later years of his working life were spent as Head Plumber for the Fremantle Port Authority.
As well as being devoted to his own family and extended family William returned to being an active member of the North Fremantle Star of the West, Lodge No. 14, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, again undertaking many leadership positions. He also pursued his strong interest in Local Government and was a Councillor of the North Fremantle Municipality from 1940 – 1952, Mayor of North Fremantle 1952 – 1961 and Deputy Mayor of Fremantle from 1961 – 1962 when the Town of North Fremantle amalgamated into the City of Fremantle on the 1 November 1961.
North Fremantle Municipality, Mayor and Councillors
Mayor W.H. Walter, Esq., J.P., 1955
North Fremantle Municipal Council, Jubilee Year, 1951
William and his wife Ethel were presented with the Keys to the Municipality of North Fremantle on 21 July 1956 and the Keys to the City of Fremantle on 25 September 1962 in recognition and appreciation of the service they gave to the State and its people. The deterioration of William’s eyesight due to glaucoma and the worsening of his hearing problems as a result of his war service lead to him reluctantly retiring from local government in 1962 at the age of 75 years. As a further acknowledgement of his civic contributions the roadway of ‘Walter Place’ in North Fremantle was named after him.
William lived in the home that he had built with his father for 50 years and the extended family remember fondly Sunday afternoons playing cards, staying over for Sunday night tea and admiring his garden full of gladioli, carnations and camellias which he tendered with ‘green thumbs’ and would enter into flower shows and competitions. When his wife Ethel died in 1962 William went to live with his daughter Evelyn and her husband Jim in Palmyra, taking cuttings of his beloved flowers with him to nurture and continue to care for. In 1973 William moved to the Braille Hostel in Victoria Park. It was his wish to make this move at this time so he had the opportunity to know the area he was going to live in prior to losing all his vision. He died in 1977 at the age of 91 years.
Although he rarely spoke of his war time experiences he proudly marched on ANZAC day in memory of his brother George who was killed in action at Monquet Farm on the Western Front on 31 August 1916, aged 20 years. Even when walking in the march was beyond him he would arrange to go in one of the veteran cars so he could still be part of honouring the fallen.
William Henry Walter will always be remembered by his surviving daughter Shirley and her husband Harry, grand children, great grandchildren and extended family as a very honest man, who was always willing to give someone a helping hand if they needed it. They are so proud of his selflessness and desire to make things better through his tireless service to his family, local community, state and country in times of both war and peace.
This story has been written by Judith Cunnington and her sister Bernadette Cross, great granddaughters of William Henry Walter. They would like to thank their great aunt Lyn McGowan, great aunt Shirley Simpson and her husband Harry, and mother Veronica Cross for providing Walter family history and ephemera that were used in the writing of William Henry Walter’s story.