My dear one

Private William Walsh, 9th Infantry Battalion

What motivated Bill Walsh to be one of the first to enlist, to serve in the Great War? Patriotic enthusiasm - adventure and glory - five meals a day - employment - social circumstances ?

Bill came from Brisbane, where he lived with his wife Lillian and their baby son Jack, and at age 33 would have been considered quite old an old recruit to go forth to war.

The State Library of Queensland has a photograph of William John Walsh, having a meal with his mates, at the training camp, Enoggera Barracks, before embarking for service overseas, on the back is inscribed "My dear one".

Assigned to A Company, of the 9th Infantry Battalion, he departed from Brisbane on the troopship Omrah in September 1914 for Egypt. There they were trained to become battle fit, and in April 1915, they were ordered to proceed to the ‘surprise’ landing at Gaba Tepe, later known as Anzac Beach, to take on the highly underestimated Turkish forces.

AWM H02223, Troopship Omrah, 1914

Private William Walsh was among the first to enlist, and one of the first to die, on the day of the landing, 25th April 1915.

Lillian Walsh wrote to the Commonwealth Base Records Office in Melbourne seeking, like many other families, information on whether her husband was still listed as ‘missing or a prisoner of war’ or assumed dead, ‘killed in action’, and where his belongings were located.

Through the Red Cross Wounded and Missing records we can see that a Battalion Court of Enquiry was held, to determine his fate, as was the practice for any soldier who could not be accounted for.

Witness statements describe the day:

“Walsh was in the charge up from the beach … he was missing on the first roll-call. About a week later a Turkish prisoner was captured and Walsh’s disc was found on him. “

Major A.G.  (Sally) Salisbury, the officer in charge of A Company on that day, reported to the enquiry that the Turks took no prisoners on the day of the landing. 

In the first few hours of the operation many officers of the 9th Battalion also became casualties. Salisbury was given temporary command, he directed the Company and although wounded, remained on duty until their position was stabilized.

Lillian Walsh's letter prompted the office to investigate, and finally it was confirmed, that the Court of Enquiry found he had been ‘Killed in Action’. As for his personal effects, the office supplied the following curt reply

as it is more than likely he had them on his person, they will never be available”.

Shortly after her enquiry, Lillian and their son Jack were granted a small pension.

Bill Walsh had worked as a Tinsmith before he joined the fight overseas, he left behind a family that, after his death, had to fend for itself. Lillian, a nurse, brought up four children, she lived until she was 94.

The group photograph was located in the State Library of Queensland's collection late last year, and is currently being digitised as part of the QANZAC 100 project.

Further Reading

Marg Powell
QANZAC 100 Content Technician
State Library of Queensland

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