Walter Allen GRACE
Eyes grey, Hair light brown, Complexion fresh
Enlisting in Brisbane in July 1915, English-born Walter Allen Grace began training with the 31st Battalion (1st reinforcements) in Brisbane but later joined other newly formed companies in the Broadmeadows Camp in Victoria. Together, the new recruits left Australia from Melbourne on board HMAT A62 Wandilla and arrived in Egypt four weeks later on 7th December 1915.
The next six months would have seen ongoing training in the desert with some opportunities to sample the wonders of Egypt as and when leave was allowed. The Battalion left Egypt for France at the end of June and entered the trenches on the Western Front on 16 July 1916. Three days later they fought their first major battle at Fromelles, suffering casualties totalling half of its strength. One of those casualties was 23-year-old Private Walter Grace, initially reported missing 20 July 1916.
The evidence given months later by survivors of the battle to Red Cross personnel gives us what little we know of how Walter met his fate:
` "man named Grace was in my Company and his name was the same. Had the top of his head cut off by Machine Gun Fire at Fleurbaix.“`
`"Informant states that on July 19 at Fleurbaix (?) we started to attack. I saw Grace killed almost at once by high explosive. I think he fell back into our own trench."`
`"I think he was killed by Machine Gun fire, though I am not sure, on No Man's Land. I saw him killed in an advance made on German trench (sic) on July 19th, 1916, he was in the same Company with me."`
`"Grace was a pal of mine. Someone, whose name I forget, told me that he saw him killed at Flower Bay (Fleurbaix), his head being blown off by shell."`
Source: AWM: Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files, Walter Allen GRACE, pages 2, 5, 7 and 8 []
The four young men who gave these reports were all under 25 years, all from the 31st Battalion and all were wounded at Fromelles. One, Private Roy Sheppard, died of his wounds in October 1916; another (James Lane) was invalided home to Australia in late 1916; while Newman and Serong both served out the remainder of the war.
Walter Grace’s name appeared on the German Death list and his identification disc was returned to military authorities. In July 1917, the disc was forwarded to his mother as next of kin.
A family’s loss
His mother, Mary, wrote to the Red Cross inquiring after her son and, after receiving reports from Walter’s friends of his death, the Red Cross informed the family of their findings.
A letter is on the Red Cross file (page 16) from Walter’s eldest sister, Jennie, thanking the Red Cross for their letter and advising that her mother was away from home nursing her other daughter. She says, “I am afraid it is not much use hoping that my brother W. A. Grace is still alive, though my mother says she does not seem to quite take it in that he is gone.” Jennie also asked if the family could get in touch with Walter’s chum who saw Walter cut down on the battlefield.
A promise of a donation for the trouble the Red Cross had taken to get information was followed by a letter enclosing 5/-. Such dignity and courage in a time of pain and loss.
So, who was Walter Grace?
Sadly, we don’t know a lot about Walter. He was born on 27 March 1893 in Derbyshire, the fifth of eight children born to Mary (nee Allen) and Alfred Grace. Alfred died in 1910 when their youngest child was just 5. Walter, then 17, took on work as a cowhand at a local farm but in about 1912 took the plunge and emigrated to Australia. By 1915 when he enlisted, he was working as a farm labourer at Smith’s Creek in the Tweed River area of Northern New South Wales.
Of the six Grace sons, only the two youngest were below enlistment age. Walter’s eldest brother, George, served with the Royal Navy; Charles joined the Royal Engineers; and his younger brother, William, was with the Middlesex Regiment. George and William survived the war but sadly Charles (235992) was killed in action on 7th November 1917. Mary had lost two sons in less than eighteen months. Charles, aged 27 and married with two young daughters, is buried in La Brique Military Cemetery No 2, France. Both Charles and Walter are remembered on their parents’ headstone in Derbyshire which includes the inscription:
They answered their country’s call
Walter’s place of burial is still unknown but we remain hopeful that he may be one of those buried but still unidentified in the Pheasant Wood cemetery. In time, we hope to locate family members whose DNA may assist with identification.
Late News: January 4, 2021
Following some great genealogical research, by our folk, one sample of Y and one of mt DNA are currently awaiting testing by the analytical laboratory in the UK. And, while we are uncertain what results may occur, as with all soldiers, knowledge of other potential donors is sought, and will be very much appreciated.
DNA is still being sought for family connections to
|Soldier||Walter Allen GRACE 1893-1916|
|Siblings||Jane 1885-19??||George 1886-1967||Charles 1889-1917|
|Lily 1891-1954||William 1895-1949||Frank 1902-73|
|Parents||Alfred GRACE 1861-1910 and|
|Mary ALLEN 1864-1946 - both of Derbyshire|
|Paternal||William GRACE 1826-72 and Ellen CRESSWELL 1828-1920 both of Derbyshire.|
|Maternal||Isaac ALLEN b. abt 1831 and Jane HAYWOOD b. abt 1836 both of Derbyshire|
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