John Francis WALSH


WALSH, John Francis

Service Number: 2897
Enlisted: 15 November 1916, Melbourne, Victoria
Last Rank: Sergeant
Last Unit: 38th Infantry Battalion
Born: Scarsdale, Victoria, Australia, February 1890
Home Town: Lancefield, Macedon Ranges, Victoria
Schooling: Lancefield State School, Victoria, Australia
Occupation: School Teacher
Died: Died of wounds, Mont St Quentin, France, 31 August 1918
Cemetery: Daours Communal Cemetery Extension, France
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour
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World War 1 Service

15 Nov 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 2897, Melbourne, Victoria
16 Dec 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 2897, 38th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
16 Dec 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 2897, 38th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Medic, Melbourne
31 Aug 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN 2897, 38th Infantry Battalion, Mont St Quentin / Peronne

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Biography contributed by Jack Coyne

John Francis Walsh was born in February 1890 at Scarsdale, a small town south west of Ballarat in Central Victoria. He was the third son of Daniel and Melvina Walsh (who were both deceased at the time of his enlistment). John had eight siblings with three older brothers and five younger sisters.

John was an unmarried schoolteacher in the town of Lancefield, 45 miles north east of Melbourne when he enlists on the 15th of November 1916. His enlistment paper states that he was a 2nd Lieutenant in the cadets and at age twenty-six & nine months, John would have been much older than his fellow recruits. No doubt, a contributing factor in his volunteering was the death of his youngest brother Thomas on the western front a few months earlier.

One month after enlisting on December 16, 1916, John and other new recruits in 88th Battalion headed off to war embarking on-board the HMAT A7 Medic from Princess Pier, Port Melbourne. The destination of the HMAT Medic was Plymouth on the west coast of England and they arrived two months later on February 18, 1917. Christmas and New Year was celebrated on board with the weather deteriorating as the convoy headed into the northern hemisphere. Arriving in wintry England would have come as quite a shock to the Victorian soldiers and they are transported to various training camps in the county of Wiltshire, Southern England. 

John’s battalion was certainly not alone in Wiltshire during this time, records indicate in July 1916 over 90,000 Australian troops were in training in Great Britain. John’s maturity and educational background obviously become evident early and in May he is made a temporary Corporal and 2 months later a full corporal. By mid August, John was promoted to Sergeant

After 7 months of training and waiting in England, John was transferred to the AIF 38th Battalion in mid September. The 38th Battalion was formed in March 1916 from recruits from the Bendigo district in Victoria. In late November 1916, the 38th Battalion had moved into the trenches of the Western Front and went on to suffer some terrible losses on the French / Belgium border in 1917. 

 One month after being assigned to the 38th Battalion and nearly ten months after arriving in Britain, John leaves the port city of Southampton for France in October 1917. The next day they are in France and the new recruits are ‘marched in’ to the AIF staging depot based in the town of Rouellee in Normandy, which is over 110 miles inland from their landing port of Le Havre.

 John and the other new recruits were “marched out’ to join their battle hardened comrades at the front on October 18. Fortunately for these new recruits to the 38th, they had just missed the disastrous battle of Passchendaele (Southern Belgium) on October 12 where the 38th suffered a staggering 62 per cent casualty rate. Passchendaele was a disaster, executed in haste amidst horrendous conditions brought on by torrential rain.

 Surviving another 3 months at the battle front, John is admitted to a field Hospital in the central French region of Bologne on February 18,1918 suffering Bronchitis and a reoccurrence of scabies (a condition he had previously suffered in England).

 His transfer back to England takes 3 weeks and on March 12, 1918 and he is shipped back to Eastbourne, Southern England and admitted suffering ‘Bronchitis’. A month later he is transferred to another military hospital at Dartford, then discharged back to one of the Wiltshire training camps, then hospitalised a number of times in England over the next three months. John does however get to see London, albeit from two different Military hospitals in Hammersmith and Fulham.

 On July 9, 1918 he is cleared to ‘Proceed Overseas’ and sent back to France via the ship the HMAT Longbridge Deveall. Back to Rouelle again in central France, he is back in the AIF Staging camp he had seen 9 months earlier. On July 13, John was ‘Marched Out’ to join his battalion in August 1918, a momentous month in the dreadful stalemate on the western front.

 The 38th along with battalions from every Australian state took part in the battle of Mont St Quentin a German stronghold on the Somme river and the nearby town of Péronne. Mont St Quentin stood out in the surrounding country, making it a perfect observation point and a vital strategic area to control. As it was such an important area, Lieutenant General Sir John Monash was keen to capture it and thus possess a valuable position. John Walsh would take part in this battle between 24 and 30 August, with the 38th Battalion losing over 1200 casualties. 

 “From the Battle of Amiens on 8 August 1918 until the Armistice on 11 November 1918 is the period known as the ‘Hundred Days’. This was a time of almost constant advance for the allied armies. The Australians, few in number, were unable to hold the summit of Mont St Quentin when German reserves counter-attacked but held on just below the summit until next morning when Australian reinforcements recaptured the summit. The same day, 1 September 1918, saw Australian forces break into Péronne and take most of the town. The next day it completely fell into Australian hands. On those three days, without tanks or protective barrage, the Australians, at a cost of 3000 casualties, dealt a stunning blow to five German divisions and caused a general German withdrawal eastwards to the Hindenburg Line. The taking of Mont St Quentin and Péronne is regarded as among the finest Australian feats on the Western Front and the intensity of the action is evident from the fact that eight Victoria Crosses were awarded to Australians between 31 August and 2 September 1918”. British Commander General Lord Rawlinson remarked that ‘this feat by the Australian troops under Monash's command was the greatest of the war.

Forced out of Péronne, the Germans had to retreat to their last line of defence- the Hindenburg Line’.

 Unfortunately John Walsh would not see the final breakthrough victory at Mont St Quentin. Red Cross records state Sergeant John Walsh was ‘wounded in action’ on August 29th, and died 2 days later on August 31 at the 41st Casualty Clearing Station, the day of the final assault on the fortress.   

 According to these Red Cross files on Wounded and Missing Soldiers (which collected testimony from the comrades of fallen soldiers), Corporal Herbert Donovan of Bendigo states “John died of general wounds to chest and back storming ‘Hill 115’ (left of Mont St Quentin) near Clery-sur-Somme. John was one of the most cheerful fellows under all circumstances I have ever met and was particular friend of mine and anybody he came in contact with”.

John Francis Walsh is buried in the beautiful Daocurs Communial Cemetery Extension, 2 and ¾ miles west of Corbie and a short drive from the historic city of Amiens.