The war had been over for almost 20 years before former Gunner Walter Wharton was moved to claim his two campaign medals, according to a letter he wrote to Army records in April, 1938.
Dated April 26, the day after ANZAC Day, it reads: “Will you please send me my war medals? Up to date I have not bothered about them but seeing the others with theirs I would appreciate mine.”
Canungra-born Walter was a son of Henry and Alice Wharton and had enlisted for overseas service on December 6, 1915, aged 21.
Allotted to the 1st reinforcements of the 9th Field Artillery Brigade, Walter embarked for England from Sydney in May, 1916, three months after his brother, James Wharton had enlisted in the AIF.
Walter arrived at Devonport on July 10, 1916, but it was not until January 16, 1917, after months of training, that he finally proceeded to France, leaving Folkestone on the Princess Clementine.
On March 24 he joined the Second Division Ammunition Column but within weeks was transferred to the 4th Field Artillery Brigade and posted to the 104th Howitzer Battery.
Walter spent four days in hospital sick from May 1 before rejoining the brigade, which was moved to Flanders in June.
For the next five months, the brigade was in action constantly, providing support for the Allied attacks at Messines, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinse and then Passchendaele during the Third Battle of Ypres.
Somehow, Walter managed to avoid becoming a casualty as the brigade suffered its heaviest losses of the war during October and November – a total of 296 killed, wounded or taken ill.
He was sick in hospital for four days from February 18, 1918, but back with the brigade when the German Army launched its Spring Offensive in March.
The artillery helped to blunt the enemy push but was moved to the Somme the next month after the Germans broke through Villers-Bretonneux.
The brigade supported the Australian infantry as it began its own offensive in August and moved through Peronne, Mont St Quentin, Bellicourt, and the Hindenburg Line until, exhausted by battle and illness, the artillerymen were relieved in October.
Walter was with the brigade, moving through Peronne on November 11, when the men received word of the Armistice. There was no spontaneous celebration, instead the “news was taken quietly by the troops” according to a brigade war diary.
On May 29, 1919, Walter left England on the Rio Negro for Australia, arriving in Sydney on July 25.
Walter established a new life for himself after the war in North Queensland.
He married Lilian Finch, of Hay, in Cairns on August 9, 1924. The couple had three children, Kathleen, born the following year, Iris, born in 1927 and James, born in 1932.
In 1928 Walter was working as a teamster, driving bullocks, in Milla Milla. He returned to Canungra for three years, working as a storekeeper until 1932, before returning to North Queensland where he was variously a farmer, butcher and timbergetter.
Less than a month after receiving Walter’s letter requesting his medals, the Army dispatched his British War Medal and Victory Medal by registered post on May 17, 1938.
Walter passed away on April 6, 1971 in Atherton, some 16 months after his wife, Lilian. Both were buried in the Atherton Cemetery.