Sapper William Walls

Sapper William Walls


725 – 2nd Tunnelling Company

Born on 23 July 1861 at Kapunda (Moonta in some records), South Australia, William was the son of Matthew and Emma (nee Thomas) Walls.

William, known in the family as ‘Billy’, married Susan Beatty in 1886. Susan was born on 17 October 1863 at Port Fairy (formerly known as Belfast), Victoria, the daughter of Irwin Beatty and Ellen, nee Parker.

The 1903 thru 1916 Electoral Rolls record William Walls, miner, living at Green Street, Eaglehawk with Susan Walls performing home duties.

William signed the ‘Attestation Paper of Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad’, and the Oath to ‘well and truly serve’, at Bendigo on 21 October 1915.

He stated he was a Miner by trade aged 45 years and 11 months.

He named as his Next-of-Kin his wife Mrs Susan Walls of Oak Street, Eaglehawk, Victoria and allotted three-fifths of his pay for the support of his wife and children.

A medical examination the day before his enlistment recorded that William was 5ft 5½ins tall and weighed 9 stone 5 pounds. He had a dark complexion, brown eyes and iron grey hair. He was of the Methodist faith.

He was found to be fit for active service and his training began on 28 October 1915 with the Miners Corps in Melbourne.

He was appointed to the Miners Corps on 11 December 1915. On arrival at the Mining Corps formation camp at Casula, NSW, he was appointed to No.2 Company of the Corps.

William embarked at Sydney on HMAT Ulysseson 20 February1916.

At a civic parade in the Domain, Sydney on Saturday February 19, 1916, a large crowd of relations and friends of the departing Miners lined the four sides of the parade ground. Sixty police and 100 Garrison Military Police were on hand to keep the crowds within bounds. The scene was an inspiriting one. On the extreme right flank, facing the saluting base, were companies of the Rifle Club School; next came a detachment of the 4th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, then the bands of the Light Horse, Liverpool Depot, and the Miners’ on the left, rank upon rank, the Miners’ Battalion.

Following the farewell parade in the Domain, Sydney, the Australian Mining Corps embarked from Sydney, New South Wales on 20 February 1916 on board HMAT A38 Ulysses.

The Mining Corps comprised 1303 members at the time they embarked with a Headquarters of 40; No.1 Company – 390; No.2 Company – 380; No.3 Company – 392, and 101 members of the 1st Reinforcements.

Ulysses arrived in Melbourne, Victoria on 22 February and the Miners were camped at Broadmeadows while additional stores and equipment were loaded onto Ulysses. Another parade was held at the Broadmeadows camp on March 1, the Miners’ Corps being inspected by the Governor-General, as Commander-in-Chief of the Commonwealth military forces. Departing Melbourne on 1 March, Ulysses sailed to Fremantle, Western Australia where a further 53 members of the Corps were embarked.

The ship hit a reef when leaving Fremantle harbour, stripping the plates for 40 feet and, although there was a gap in the outside plate, the inner bilge plates were notpunctured. The men on board nicknamed her ‘Useless’. The Miners were off-loaded and sent to the Blackboy Hill Camp where further training was conducted. After a delay of about a month for repairs, The Mining Corps sailed for the European Theatre on 1 April 1916.

The ship arrived at Suez, Egypt on 22 April, departing for Port Said the next day; then on to Alexandria.

The Captain of the shipwas reluctantto take Ulysses out of the Suez Canal because he felt the weight of the ship made it impossible to manoeuvre in the situation of a submarine attack. The Mining Corps was transhipped to B1 Ansonia for the final legs to Marseilles, France via Valetta, Malta. Arriving at Marseilles on 5 May, most of the men entrained for Hazebrouck where they arrived to set up their first camp on 8 May 1916.

A ‘Mining Corps’ did not fit in the British Expeditionary Force, and the Corps was disbanded and three Australian Tunnelling Companies were formed. The Technical Staff of the Corps Headquarters, plus some technically qualified men from the individual companies, was formed into the entirely new Australian Electrical and Mechanical Mining and Boring Company (AEMMBC), better known as the ‘Alphabetical Company’.

William’s No.2 Company became the 2nd Australian Tunnelling Company (2ATC). He was officially transferred to 2ATC on 29 December 1916.

2ATC relieved the 172nd Tunnelling Company, R.E. in May 1916 in the Neuville/St Vaast/Vimy area. They supported the Australian 5th Division at Fromelles and relieved the Canadians at the Bluff in January 1917. The Company moved to Nieuport in the same month, to construct subways for Operation Hush. Involved in enemy attack - Operation Strandfest - in this coastal sector in July 1917, recorded in the official histories as ‘The Affair at Nieuport Bains’.

On 6 February 1917, Susan changed her address as Next-of-Kin to Butts Street, Eaglehawk.

William was enjoying some leave in England in September 1917 when he reported sick and was instructed to report to the 2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Southall for a Medical Board which recommended that he be returned to Australia due to deafness and overage.

On 29 September he was discharged from hospital to furlough, to report to No.2 Command Depot, Weymouth on 1 October 1917.

William left England on 30 January 1918 on board Euripides. He disembarked at Melbourne on 21 March 1918 and was discharged from the A.I.F. as permanently unfit on 4 May 1918.

William Walls was entitled to wear the British War Medal and the Victoria Medal, but when these medals were not collected they were returned to Depot in May 1923.

William Walls died on 14 December 1918 at the Bendigo Hospital, aged 57 years.

He was buried at Eaglehawk Cemetery.

[other Tunnellers at Eaglehawk Cemetery: 3946 John Francis Hoey Buckie; 637 John McClure; 7914 Alexander John Sundin]

In August 1921 Susan wrote to Base Records from her Denham Street, Eaglehawk address requesting that the Government provide a headstone for her husband’s grave as he had died of shell shock. Her letter was referred to Headquarters, 3rd District Base, Victoria Barracks, Melbourne for attention.

Susan Walls died at Eaglehawk on 20 April 1943 and was buried with her husband William.

William and Susan’s son Frank also served in WW1:

Private Frank Reginald Walls

3634 - 1st Infantry Battalion

Born at Eaglehawk on 10 September 1896, Frank, a Miner by trade, enlisted with his parents’ signed consent on 24 July 1915 at the stated age of 18 years 10 months, naming his father as his Next-of-Kin.

Frank had served in the Senior Cadets which he left to join the 67th Infantry Brigade, probably ‘C’ Company based at Eaglehawk/Long Gully. He left the Brigade to join the Expeditionary Force.

Training began at 16 Depot Battalion on 27 July 1915. On 2 December he was transferred to the 21st Battalion, 8th Reinforcements.

He embarked at Melbourne 29 December 1915 on board HMAT A64 Demosthenes.

In March 1916 he was transferred to the Field Bakery and in April to the 13th Company, Australian Army Service Corps, Field Bakery. In September he was transferred to the 2nd Division Bakery at Etaples.

On 18 November 1916 Frank was transferred to the Reinforcements of the 1st Infantry Battalion. He attended the 1st Australian Division Intelligence School in May 1917, re-joining his unit in June. In September 1917 he was Batman to Lt. A. J. Cruise.

Frank was wounded in action on 13 April 1918 receiving a gunshot wound to his right thigh and was treated at the 94th Field Ambulance.

He was transferred and admitted to the New Zealand Stationary Hospital on 14 April. On 20 April he was transferred by Ambulance Train 35 to the 2nd Australian General Hospital.

Invalided to England on 21 April he was admitted to the Horton (County of London) War Hospital at Epsom on 22 April. He was transferred to No.3 Auxiliary Hospital, Dartford on 22 May and granted furlough until 6 June 1918.

Returning from furlough, he marched in to No.4 Command Depot on 7 Juneand was transferred to the Overseas Training Brigade on 18 July 1918. He proceeded overseas to France on 15 August 1918 and marched in to the Australian General Base Depot at Havre on 17 August, re-joining his unit in the field on 20 August 1918.

Frank left France on 24 January 1919 for return to Australia and demobilisation. He left England on 12 April 1919 as an invalid on board Suffolk, disembarking at Melbourne on 5 June 1919.

Discharged from the A.I.F. on 28 July 1919, he was entitled to wear the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. The medals were not collected and were returned to Depot in May 1923.

Frank also enlisted in WW2, serving with the 17th Garrison Battalion as V17241 Private Frank Reginald Walls.

He had enlisted on 8 July 1941 while living at Grong Grong (near Andlethan, NSW) and was discharged on 9 June 1944.

His WW1 service and medical records were provided to the Repatriation Commission, Sydney in May 1944.

Frank Reginald Walls diedin Victoria on 27 February 1959,his funeral conducted at the Fawkner Crematorium. His death was recognised as war related and he was afforded Commonwealth War Graves entitlements.

© Donna Baldey 2017

with the assistance of Stephen Walls, great grandson of William Walls.