Saturday, 25 April 2015

ANZAC Walter William James

Walter William James (at right)

The All-Australia Memorial

Captain Walter William James (1862-1931) was a Londoner, having migrated to  Australia in 1888 as an apprentice engineer  submariner. He was also an original  ANZAC.  

In the commemorative volume of Australia's Fighting Families, The All-Australia Memorial, there is a poignantly captioned photograph:  
Where the Australians won deathless fame - ANZAC Cove (looking south)

"This photograph of the historic beach where the Anzacs intrepidly won a foothold in the dawn of April 25, 1915, was taken shortly after landing. The beach is teeming with men and movement, and no time is being lost in getting stored ashore and arranging for the temporary accommodation of the wounded as they are brought down from the firing line; meanwhile roads are being cut in the cliffs to facilitate transportation of food, guns and ammunition to the trenches."
As orderly as a park - a well organised camp near ANZAC Cove
"It bears striking testimony to British love of order and routine."
The term ‘an original ANZAC’ (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) was applied to those Australian and New Zealander troops who landed at Ari Burnu, a steep shore on the western peninsula of Turkey known as Gallipoli. It was the first day on land of a dreadful five-year commitment made by young men from two southern hemisphere nations of the Commonwealth. But some members of the Army Corps were not young, nor were they Australian. This was the case for Walter William JAMES, born on 17th May 1867 at 3 Burford Terrace, Poplar [1], the first child of Valentine James and Emma MERRITT [2].

Walter migrated to Australia in April 1888, shortly after the death of his father [3], at the end of a seven year apprenticeship as a marine submariner with Kirkcaldie Bros. in London [4]. He joined the Military Force of the New South Wales Artillery two weeks after arrival in Sydney, as gunner number 7, and in December of the same year became a permanent submarine miner [5]. After the Federation of the Australian States on 1st January 1901, the State-based forces merged to become the Commonwealth’s Permanent Forces. Walter re-enlisted in the Royal Australian Engineers in 1908, 1911 and early 1914 [4]. During that year the Australian Infantry Force was created, and in August Walter joined the volunteers as a Warrant Officer in the 2nd Field Company of Engineers [5].

The year 1888 was also significant in Walter’s personal life, as on October 24th in Sydney, he married Eva MEDCALF [6], the daughter of an upholsterer and a granddaughter of Adam HOWITT, the first agricultural overseer for the Australian Agricultural Company [7]. Over the next 11 years, they established a family of five ‘little Australians’: Edward Oram (1889), Emily Clara (1891), John Valentine (1894), Dorothy May (1896) and Walter William (1900) [8]. This was the family that Walter left behind when he embarked on the “Orvieto” from Melbourne, Victoria, in October 1914. He was almost 48 years old.

The ship’s last port of call before leaving Australia was at Albany in Western Australia, which the Adjutant was happy to farewell: “I cannot say how glad I am to see the last of Albany. Mothers, deserted wives and God only knows chasing with urgent telegrams all day…” [9]. The “Orvieto” arrived in Egypt on 3 December 1914, and after several months of training, the soldiers prepared to travel to Turkey [10].

A week before landing on 25th April 1915, Walter was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. He is featured in an article of the 5th June 1915 issue of ‘The Sphere’ magazine showing the Australian lines consolidating their position at the now-named ANZAC Cove, one of nine men working unconcernedly as they moved supplies uphill. “Every round of ammunition, all water, and all supplies had to be landed on a narrow beach and then carried up pathless hills, valleys and bluffs, several hundred feet high, to the firing line.  The whole of this mass of troops, concentrated on a very small area and unable to reply, were exposed to a relentless and incessant shrapnel fire, which swept every yard of the ground, although fortunately a great deal of it was badly aimed or burst too high.” [11].

One of the Australians who survived said: “We were anxious before it began in my battalion. We knew some of the men were a bit raw. As we drew in to the beach the enemy opened on us with shrapnel, machine-guns, and rifle fire. It was worse as we got out of the boats, but we went through with it…I feel that to do what they did that day was possible only for veterans or raw troops. Only perfect discipline or perfect courage could have brought the men up the shore and the cliffs under that fire.”

“The enemy played every possible trick. They had machine-guns in the bush, the gunners with hands and faces stained green, and with boughs and whole bushes tied about them. Dug-outs everywhere with snipers, Turks and Germans, most of them with food for several days, and anything up to 2,000 rounds, and deadly straight their shooting was. We killed one in an Australian uniform with eight of our men’s identification badges around his neck.” [12].

Walter William James was commended twice for his actions in Turkey and France. His first commendation reads:

“Landed at Anzac with 2nd Field Company 1st Australian Division on 25th April and has done constant duty first with 2nd Field Company then with 1st Field Company. On the day of landing he took in hand that construction and maintenance of piers and also formation of the Royal Engineers Park at Brighton Beach under the most heavy shelling and trying conditions. On being transferred to the 1st Field Company he took over the supervision of a section of the defence near BARBED WIRE GULLY, by his strenuous efforts kept the trenches in a good state of repair, though heavily shelled at times, and straightened out the line by constructing new trenches…” [13]
With Regards & Best Wishes to all at Brightlingsea, Walter W. James (at left) 
France 5/7/16

Walter James was promoted to a Captaincy and transferred to France. His second commendation reads:

“At POZIERES between 15th and 22nd August 1916 he commanded the 2nd Field Company and was continuously on the front line work during that period. He showed great courage and ability under very severe conditions and fearlessly carried out reconnaisance in the front line under very heavy shell fire.” [14]

The Military Cross was conferred on 1st January 1917 by General Birdwood [15], and later that year Walter became an instructor/Camp Commandant at the Engineers Training Depot in Brightlingsea, England.  He was 50 years old. Three years further on, in December 1920, he arrived back in Sydney Australia aboard the “Bahia Castillo” after taking on the role of adjutant for the journey [16].
His children had not seen their father for six years. Walter William James was discharged from the Army in January 1922, due to illness, and as an original ANZAC he died on 8th August 1931 [17].
Church of England Cemetery, Smithfield, Sydney
 Entry for the James family from the 1881 British Census
Dwelling: 37 Sabbaston St
Census Place: Poplar, London, Middlesex, England
Source: FHL Film, 1341113   PRO Ref RG11  Piece 0506  Folio 113  Page 34

                                                              Marr    Age      Sex      Birthplace

Rel: Head
Occ: Brass Finisher



Stepney, Middlesex,
Rel: Wife



Stepney, Middlesex,
Walter JAMES
Rel: Son
Occ: Scholar



Stepney, Middlesex,
Rel: Son
Occ: Scholar



Stepney, Middlesex,
Rel: Daur
Occ: Scholar



Bromley, Middlesex,
Thomas JAMES
Rel: Son
Occ: Scholar



Poplar, Middlesex,

Rel: Daur



Poplar, Middlesex,
Rel: Lodger
Occ: Painter




New Yorkshire


This article was informed by a thesis written for a Graduate Diploma in Family Historical Studies under the auspices of the Society of Australian Genealogists, June 1998.

Brief Family Tree:

                                                                                    Father: Walter JAMES

                                                Valentine JAMES        

                                                b. 14 Feb. 1843             Mother: Ann CULVERHOUSE

                                                33 Turner St.

                                                Mile End Old Town


                                                d. 16 Feb. 1887

                                                London Hospital



Walter William JAMES

b. 1867

3 Burford Terrace

Robin Hood Lane                       married 5 Aug. 1866,

Poplar, London.                         St John, Limehouse

d. 1931

Sydney, Australia

                                                                                    Father: William MERRITT

                                                Emma MERRITT          

                                                b. 21 Jul. 1847              Mother: Mary Ann LATHBURY

22 Nelson St.

Mile End Old Town


Still at 146 Bow Common Lane in 1930 as Mrs. E. TURNER                              


[1] General Register Office, London, Birth Certificate for Walter William JAMES, Poplar, #143/1867. 

[2] 1881 British Census. 

[3] General Register Office, London, Death Certificate for Valentine JAMES, Whitechapel, #78/1887.

[4] National Archives of Australia, Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) B4717/1. Army Militia Records and Dossiers of Permanent Military Forces and Militia Personnel. Alphabetical Series: 1901 to 1940-FILE Name: JAMES Walter William.
The Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts located an entry for the Kirkcaldie and London Steamship Company in Kelly’s 1901 Post Office Directory at 4 Trump Street, Cheapside, London EC.  However, company records are held at the National Archives of Scotland. They contain no apprenticeship records (advice from Archivist, July 2001).

[5] National Archives of Australia, Personnel dossiers for first Australian Imperial Forces ex-service members, lexicographical series, 1914-1920, CRS B2455, FILE Name: JAMES Walter William, No.199.

[6] Registrar-General of NSW, Marriage Certificate for Walter William JAMES and Eva Jane Gertrude MEDCALF, Canterbury (Sydney), #2199/1888.

[7] Adam HOWITT, Census of New South Wales, November 1828.

[8] Edwin Oram JAMES, born 30 April 1889, #8500/1889, Redfern (Sydney) NSW

      Emily Clara JAMES, born 23 May 1891, #32445/1891, North Sydney, NSW

      John Valentine JAMES, born 27 November 1893, #20181/1893, Mosman NSW

      Dorothy May JAMES, born 22 March 1896, #14373/1986, Mosman, NSW

      Walter William JAMES, born 21 April 1900, #14478/1900, Mosman, NSW

[9] Australian War Memorial (AWM) 7: Troopship War Diaries, 27th October 1914.

[10] The most recent publication which described the AIF landing at what is now known as ANZAC Cove is Gallipoli Diaries: The ANZACS’ Own Story Day by Day, Jonathon King, 2003 ISBN 0 7318 1205 0.

[11] ‘With the Australians at Gaba Tepe: How they landed beneath the scrub-covered cliffs’, The Sphere, An Illustrated Newspaper for the Home, #60, Volume LXI, No. 802, London, 5 June 1915, p. 231.

[12] loc.cit.

[13] Australian War Memorial: AWM 28 Recommendation files for honours and awards, AIF [1914-1918], Collection 2, Box 13 (15).

[14] Australian War Memorial: AWM 28 Recommendation files for honours and awards, AIF [1914-1918], Box 1 (8).

[15] British-Australasian Publishing Service, The All-Australia Memorial (New South Wales edition) History, Heroes and Helpers, Melbourne, 1919, cardboard insert.

[16] National Archives of Australia, Canberra: CRS B4717/1.

[17] Registrar-General of NSW, Death Certificate for Walter William JAMES, Fairfield (Sydney) #12946/1931.

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