Skip to main content

Private Arthur Thomas Walker

Thursday 2 April, 2015

Premier’s Anzac Spirit School Prize

By Lily Habel, St Peters Girls School

An ANZAC with Spirit

This essay could not have been written without the contribution of

John and Anzac Lochowiak, direct descendants of Arthur Thomas Walker.


Arthur Thomas WalkerArthur Thomas Walker was the oldest Ngarrindjeri[1] man to enlist in the Australian Imperial Forces and fight at Gallipoli.[2] He was born in the northern South Australian town of Wallaroo to Reuben and Charlotte Walker in 1883. Reuben was a Ngarrindjeri man known for his intellect and generosity.[3] Charlotte grew up in Western Australia and was taken to South Australia by European authorities. Like many of the stolen generation her family history is lost.[4] Arthur had a sister, Evelyn, and brother, George. At enlistment Arthur was working as a labourer[5] in the southern seaside town of Goolwa[6] with his wife, Mabel, and their children. Goolwa is part of the spiritual home of the Ngarrindjeri people know as “Raukkan”. Twenty-one Ngarrindjeri men enlisted for the Great War. Four of them never returned.[7] Arthur was one of those unlucky men.

The ANZACs nearly missed the Gallipoli campaign! They were stationed in Egypt and training for battle on the Western Front. A British and French naval push on 18th March 1915 was expected to easily capture the Dardanelles strait and the Turkish capital, Constantinople; a victory which would have secured their supply route to their ally, Russia. However, the campaign failed largely due to bad weather and inadequate ships, so a plan was hatched to capture the Dardanelles by land.

The ANZACs were re-deployed to Gallipoli in a multi-national army.[8] Landings began before dawn on 25th April 1915 at various points on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The ANZACs arrived at a small beach near Gaba Tepe that later became known as Anzac Cove[9]. The enemy guessed that a land invasion was coming and prepared defences such as trenches and gun emplacements on the high ground. At a terrible disadvantage, approximately 650 Australians died during the landing.[10]

An Australian submarine made it through the straits on the night of the landing and this news buoyed the embattled ANAZACs. They made some advances in May but the Turks launched a devastating counter-offensive. It resulted in a truce where each side buried their dead in no man’s land. The Allies attacked again in August including a new British landing at Suvla Bay but, with both sides failing to advance, the conflict stalled.

It was at this point that Arthur arrived in Gallipoli. He enlisted on 29th March 1915 and sailed on the HMAT A61 Kanowna on 24th June.[11] He was a Private in the 10th Battalion and landed at Gallipoli on 18th September.

Arthur arrived at Gallipoli just as the Allies were giving up any hope of victory. On 25th September three Allied divisions were pulled out to fight in Greece. Yet, the enemy was strengthening thanks to the entry of Bulgaria on their side, opening up a supply route from Germany to Gallipoli. Conditions in the trenches had gone from sweltering and diseased to frostbitten and flooded. Arthur experienced all of this as he was there until the evacuation.[12] Whilst in Gallipoli he was admitted to hospital twice, once in Gallipoli and once in Moudros on the island of Lemnos, due to abdominal pain and colic. [13]

There is no surviving diary or letters from Arthur’s time at Gallipoli but Aboriginal men who fought alongside Arthur reported back to family that, in their opinion, he deserved a Victoria Cross. They said Arthur regularly crept into no man’s land at night to retrieve the wounded. He was reprimanded by his superiors but remained undeterred.[14]

Troops were gradually and stealthily evacuated from Gallipoli from December 1915. After eight months and approximately 11,450 ANZAC deaths[15] the Campaign was a military failure but, in the words of war correspondent Ashmead Bartlett the ANZACs “…knew they had been tried for the first time, and had not been found wanting.”[16]

After the evacuation, Arthur spent the first 5 months of 1916 training in Egypt.[17] He was moved to the 50th Battalion and sent to France for the battle of Mouquet Farm, near Pozieres. Arthur went missing and, although his body was never found, was declared dead on 16th August.

The ANZACs successfully showed the world that their newly federated nation was different but equal to any other. The English Poet John Masefield said “…the English suddenly became aware of a new kind of man… they had been “difficult” in Egypt,… They did not always salute; they did not see the use of it;… But in battle they were superb… No such body of free men has given so heroically since our history began.”[18]

“…the English suddenly became aware of a new kind of man… they had been “difficult” in Egypt,… They did not always salute; they did not see the use of it;… But in battle they were superb… No such body of free men has given so heroically since our history began.”

The ANZAC spirit was a unique code of honour embodying mateship, courage, ingenuity, irreverence and humour. Yet, most impressive was its sense of equality or inclusiveness. In Australia Aboriginals were not counted citizens but family reports that Arthur was treated as an equal by the white ANZACs.[19]

Critics say the ANZAC spirit was a white male dominated ethos and this was true in as much as it reflected society at the time. For example, returned nurses received no financial recognition[20] and Aboriginal returnees were excluded from RSLs[21], Soldier Settlement Schemes and other benefits.[22]

However, the ANZAC spirit of inclusiveness slowly invited more into its fold. A white returned private from the 15th Battalion defended the inclusion of Aboriginal children in schools, arguing; “I have stood shoulder to shoulder with half castes in Hell’s pit [Hell’s Spit], on Quinn’s Post, and seen them die like the grandest of white men.”[23]

Arthur embodied the ANZAC spirit in every way. He displayed courage when he rescued the wounded from no man’s land and irreverence when he was absent without leave in Egypt for 24 hours on 4th April 1916 and was docked a day’s pay.[24] It is believed he had been “blowing off a little too much steam with mates”.[25]

The Defence Act 1903 prohibited Aboriginals from enlisting but Arthur’s disdain for rules and passion for the war effort drove him to give false information. A white mate referred him to a sympathetic medical examiner[26] who registered Arthur as a man of “dark complexion” and, knowing enlisters favoured young unmarried volunteers, Arthur also lied about his marital status and enlisted himself as “single”. [27]

Aboriginal men circumvented the Act for many reasons; not least to gain a steady income equal to white Australians. However, it appears that joining up meant much more to Arthur and Mabel. Two months before departure a son was born to them on 25th April 1915 and they named him Anzac. They could not have known of the Gallipoli landing and the legend of the ANZACs. It appears simply belonging to this corps meant a great deal to the couple.

Arthur’s service had a profound impact on the family he left behind and the generations that followed.[28] Since Mabel did not officially exist at the War Office, Arthur arranged for 2 shillings per day of his wages to be sent to his brother, George.[29] Similarly, Arthur’s will nominated his mother, Charlotte, as beneficiary.[30] Presumably, the wages and death payment[31] were forwarded to Mabel but Arthur’s medals went missing amongst family members. George’s application for a war pension after Arthur’s death was denied.[32] Therefore, Mabel also missed out on the pension she deserved.

In Aboriginal tradition a person should be buried where they are born. So, the fact that Arthur’s body was never found troubled his family for generations. Arthur’s medals were lost for two generations and were only recently returned to his eldest great-grandson, John Lochowiak.[33] When John opened the box he felt that “Arthur’s spirit had returned home and was in the room with me.”[34]

Arthur’s son, Anzac, enlisted for World War II in 1942[35] and also honoured his father’s service by naming his own son Anzac. It is incredible to note that Anzac Walker’s next son was born on 25th April! His name was John Walker and he would tease his older brother, Anzac Walker the second, that he was more worthy of the name!

Subsequently, Anzac (the second) named his son Anzac (the third). The second Anzac’s sister also named her son Anzac (the fourth). Arthur’s eldest great-grandson, John Lochowiak, felt compelled to name his second son Anzac (the fifth) when he was born with a single grey hair among all the dark hair on his head. John was convinced the child had an old soul. The fifth Anzac says “it’s an honour to have this name but grandma tells me I have to live up to it.” He says he too plans to name his son Anzac.[36]
The Anzac spirit has many constants but because of its inclusiveness it does more than survive; it grows! Today all uniformed service men and women and the families of those that have served can march on Anzac Day. When a person displays the traits of mateship, courage, ingenuity, irreverence, humour and equality they honour the ANZAC spirit. Arthur Thomas Walker didn’t survive the war but, like all ANZACs, he has remained a hero to his family and this nation.

For references please view this PDF

WordPress Lightbox Plugin