Seven members of Tenterfield’s Walker family put up their hand to serve in WWI. Of those, four brothers saw active service and their sister Alice (wife of Banjo Paterson) served with the Red Cross in France. One of the boys, however, was never to return.
Several descendents of the Walker family – the name so synonymous with Tenterfield – gathered at Tenterfield Cemetery on Sunday, September 9 to mark the centenary of the fall of Douglas Walker on the fields of France.
A special plaque in Douglas’s honour was unveiled on the grave of his father, William Henry Walker of Tenterfield Station fame. His mother Georgina had received a special award for her sacrifice in having so many sons enlist, but that number may have included a son-in-law, none other than Banjo Patterson.
The influence of William and his brother James went far beyond the boundaries of Tenterfield Station, and their push to make Tenterfield the capital of the soon-to-be-federated country held some sway and merit.
Coming from Scotland they found the mild climate somewhat familiar, and the town was well-placed midway between the family’s huge banking interests and pastoral holdings from Townsville to Melbourne.
WH’s great-grandson Scott Walker said William and his brother James had plenty of connections in politics and government. James was a president of the Bank of NSW, a senator in the Legislative Assembly and was responsible for drafting the Australian Constitution.
Their older cousin Thomas Walker, who started the Bank of NSW and financed Tenterfield Station, also provided the money to construct the former Maternity Wing at Tenterfield Hospital. In 1845 as the member for Port Melbourne, he petitioned his friend Queen Victoria for the separation of the district of Port Phillip from the remainder of NSW, requesting permission to name the new state Victoria in her honour.
The Walkers were cousins of the Bowes Lyon family back in Britain. When two of Douglas’s brothers were wounded in WWI they were repatriated to Glamis Castle, the home of their great-grandmother, which had been turned into a convalescent hospital. It was here that they received a visit from their cousin, Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, who later went on to marry King George VI and become Queen.
Sadly Douglas was killed in action. He was born in Tenterfield, going on to work as a telegraphist for the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company and joined the Singapore Volunteers during an overseas posting in 2014.
He arrived in Darwin in 1915 to take up a supervisory position with the company, but later resigned that position in order to enlist (to the dismay of the authorities who preferred telegraphists to remain at their posts). He was assigned to 14 Machine Gun Regiment, 6 Reinforcements, later transferring to 23rd Machine Gun Company, promoted to the rank of corporal on July 10, 1918.
In early September the company was going up the Inferno trench, to the left of Mont St. Quentin, to rescue a British contingent in trouble.
“Three weakened and tired Australian divisions took on five fresh German divisions over the three days, seven Victoria Crosses handed out,” it was reported in the Cable and Wireless monthly journal The Zodiac.
Douglas was killed just three hours before his unit was relieved, never to go into action again.
He died at Bouchavasnes on September 3, 1918 when the Germans dropped a shell into the trench, killing him and four others. The Red Cross reports one of his brothers was not far away but didn’t arrive in time to say his goodbyes.
“Blessed with the sweetest of dispositions and the capacity for making friends and keeping them, Mr Walker will be missed by a wide circle of friends,” the Northern Territory Times and Gazette reported later that month. He was 34.
He lies in Peronne Road Cemetery in Mericourt, France and his name appears on the Darwin Cenotaph memorial. A hundred years later, family members gathered to also commemorate him in his hometown, placing a plaque on his father’s grave.
The obituary of Douglas Walker, published in The Zodiac in December 1918…
It came as a severe blow to his old pals of the Extension, when the melancholy news was passed round that, on 3rd September 1918, Douglas Walker – known to all in the service as “Old Don” – had been killed in action.
It was the present writer’s good fortune to have been with him at several Extension Stations, and he was undoubtedly one of the finest characters that ever came out of La Perouse or graced a Cable Station.
Handsome, brown as a berry, hard as nails, with an air of elasticity about him that fascinated, he was splendid. Excelling at rugger, tennis, cricket, he was perhaps at his best on horseback, and he rode as he lived, straight as a die, scoffing at danger.
He came from good Scottish stock which, when planted in the generous clime of our Southern Queensland border, could not but produce the best.
The ideal Australian, setting a standard, which his pale would fain have reached. A spice of mischief, always near the surface, of his quiet nature, made us love him.