Indigenous Australian, Wallie (Walter) Johnson, 49th & 47th Infantry Battalions.
Wallie (Walter) Johnson was born on Whyenbah Station, near St George in 1894. His mother died when he was very young and Wallie was taken in by the local police sergeant Phillip Cowley and his wife Harriet (Hetty).
He was raised along with their own son Phillip, attending the Hebel State School before gaining work as a Jackeroo, and in 1916 aged just 22, he volunteered to serve with the first AIF to fight for his country.
A striking man almost 6ft tall, he was allotted to the infantry and trained at Bells Paddock Camp, Enoggera, just outside Brisbane. He sailed on board the troopship ‘Seang Choon’ in September 1916 with the 5th Reinforcements for the 49th Battalion, and arrived in England six weeks later, fortunate to miss the harshest winter conditions experienced in Europe for decades.
After 3 months further training at Codford Camp, they embarked for France arriving at Etaples on 23 March 1917, where Wallie was mustered to the 47th Infantry Battalion.
Wallie joined the 47th while they were in reserve at Baizieux, north east of Amiens, but was soon engaged in the front lines, as the battalion moved forward to Albert.
On 11 April when the battalion was engaged in and advance at Noreuil, Wallie Johnson was reported missing, and his next-of-kin – the Cowley’s were advised of situation. Sergeant Cowley wrote to the Red Cross Wounded and Missing Inquiry Bureau, and secretary Vera Deakin in London started enquiries on his behalf.
Several of Wallie’s comrades were able to confirm that he had been killed in action on or about the 11th April – that under terrible machine gun and rifle fire, while attempting to withdraw from a trench, Johnson had been hit.
They were also able to confirm his appearance – athletic build, height 5’11” weight between 11 & 12 stone, very dark, dark curly hair, dark eyes, broad flat nose & prominent cheek bones.
Corporal John Ryan #2490 from Childers who relayed this information, had been in the same unit as Wallie, they had embarked together on the same ship. Ryan was himself thought to have been killed in action, but had been taken Prisoner of War by the Germans, and was later awarded the Military medal and Bar for his ‘devotion to duty and gallantry under heavy fire’. Ryan was later repatriated to England and returned to his wife and three young sons in May 1919.
Wallie Johnson’s service medals, memorial scroll and plaque were allotted to Phillip Cowley – as his named next of kin – on the basis that they would be relinquished if any member of Wallie’s family came forward to claim them.
With no know place of burial, Private Wallie Johnson is remembered at the Australian memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, east of Amiens, erected to commemorate all Australian soldiers who fought in France and Belgium during the First World War, whose graves are unknown.
Read more …
- SERVICE RECORD: JOHNSON, Wallie
- EMBARKATION ROLL: 5th Reinf. 49th Infantry Battalion
- Roll of Honour & Roll of Honour circular
- Killed in Action. Queensland Times 30 November 1917 p6
- Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files: Johnson, Wallie
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission, cemetery details
[Incorrectly named Willie Johnson]
- Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files: Ryan, John Michael
- 49th Battalion (Australia). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
- AIF Unit War Diaries, 1914-1918 – 47th Infantry Battalion
- One of the soldiers featured in SLQ’s HistoryPin Collection
- View the whole Collection: Indigenous enlistment
- Queensland’s Indigenous Servicemen Digital Story and Oral History
- Image: David Huggonson, Too Dark for the Light Horse Collection.
Marg Powell & Des Crump | QANZAC100, State Library of Queensland