John Edward (aka John COURTNEY) WALKER


WALKER, John Edward (aka John COURTNEY)

Service Number: 45
Enlisted: Not yet discovered
Last Rank: Able Seaman
Last Unit: Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force
Born: Townsville, Queensland, 17 December 1884
Home Town: North Sydney, North Sydney, New South Wales
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Not yet discovered
Died: Killed in Action, Rabaul, 11 September 1914, aged 29 years
Cemetery: Rabaul (Bita Paka) War Cemetery, Papua New Guinea
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour
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World War 1 Service

11 Sep 1914: Involvement Royal Australian Naval Reserve, Able Seaman, SN 45, Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, German New Guinea

Help us honour John Edward (aka John COURTNEY) Walker's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by John Edwards


The able seaman, John Courtney, who was killed, was sailing under an assumed name as many of the naval men do. He was born at Townsville, Queensland, and was 29 years of age. His correct name was John Edward Walker, and he lived with his parents and a young wife at Bank-street, North Sydney. The reason for the change of name was that he once obtained a billet on a vessel by that name, and getting his discharges made out to "John Courtney" he kept that name whenever applying for a billet on a vessel. He joined the naval forces in 1903 and was in the naval reserve. He was working on a station near Walgett when war broke out and he was called to the colours. He was one of the men who left Sydney by the troopship Berrima." - from the Brisbane Courier 14 Sep 1914 (

"Able Seaman John Edward Walker RANR killed – John joined the Reserve as John Courtney, was a member of No 3 company. His wife and child lived at Bank St Nth Sydney. After making contact with a member of the Moffatt family it has turned out the Moffatt and Walker families were connected before the boys joined the Navy. John came to Sydney to live with Mrs. Courtney who was the girlfriend of John’s mother. Both ladies came to Australia from Scotland on the same ship. Mrs. Walker was a nurse in Townsville. When her son left to live with the Courtney family, Mrs. Courtney told him to call himself John Courtney, as there were 6 Courtney boys he would fit in and no one would know he wasn’t part of the family." - SOURCE (

"The day was still, hot and steamy as Able Seaman John Courtney landed on the northern tip of New Britain island in the early days of World War I.It was September 11, 1914, and Courtney was part of an Australian mission to the New Guinea island to destroy a German wireless station which was passing intelligence to the German East Asia Cruiser squadron in the Pacific. As Courtney made his way inland just before 11am with a scouting party, the men reached a bend in the road. Shots rang out and Courtney was hit and killed. And so, according to Australian War Memorial historian Michael Kelly, young Able Seaman Courtney (also known as John Edward Walker) became the first Australian serving in an Australian force killed in World War I.

Five other Australians died in or as a result of that fighting and today the little-known but historically significant action which marked Australian forces entering the war will be commemorated in a service at the Bita Paka War Cemetery, near Rabaul, on East New Britain. On Sunday there will be services in Rabaul and Australia to commemorate the loss of Australia’s first submarine AEI on September 14, 1914, during the same operation. The submarine disappeared without a trace, taking with it 32 sailors and three officers. A number of searches have been mounted since its loss, with the latest this week by HMAS Yarra. The mission to New Britain in 1914 was launched after a request by the British government, which had declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, bringing Australia into the conflict alongside the mother country.

On August 6 the Australian government formed the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force. It was made up of 1500 militia infantry and 500 naval reservists and former sailors and was raised separately from the Australian Imperial Force, which would soon leave to see action at Gallipoli. The ANMEF shore parties landed unopposed on New Britain, but as they pushed inland towards the wireless station at Bita Pika, they encountered a force of German reservists and local New Guineans. By 7pm the fighting was over and the Australians occupied the radio station. The action left one German dead and one wounded and 30 New Guineans were killed and 11 wounded. Other German forces on the island held out until September 17 before formally surrendering.

AE1’s last known position was near Duke of York Island, near New Britain. The fate of the submarine has been the subject of much research and debate. The most probable explanation is that AE1 hit a reef somewhere around Duke of York Island and sank nearby. HMAS Yarra has been searching for the submarine this week using sonar in an area of about five square nautical miles." - SOURCE (