Walter John (Wally) FENNELL MM

FENNELL, Walter John

Service Number: SX6832
Enlisted: 29 June 1940, Wayville, South Australia
Last Rank: Lance Sergeant
Last Unit: 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion
Born: Gawler, South Australia, 19 September 1919
Home Town: Berri, Berri and Barmera, South Australia
Schooling: Winkie Public School, South Australia
Occupation: Labourer
Died: Natural causes, South Australia, 26 February 1990, aged 70 years
Cemetery: Centennial Park Cemetery, South Australia
West Rose Bed W4, 037A
Memorials: Berri Oval "Diver" Derrick VC Memorial Grandstand & Roll of Honour, Gawler Council WW2 Honour Roll
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World War 2 Service

29 Jun 1940: Enlisted 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN SX6832, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion, Wayville, South Australia
30 Jun 1940: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN SX6832, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion
21 Nov 1945: Discharged 2nd AIF WW 2, Lance Sergeant, SN SX6832, 2nd/48th Infantry Battalion

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Biography contributed by Kaye Lee

Walter John FENNELL

Aged 20, Walter enlisted to serve in WWII in June of 1940 and by November was heading overseas for Tobruk and then Syria as SX6832 in the newly formed 2/48th Battalion. He was the only son of Robert and Mary Fennell and brother to Jean, Phyllis, Natalie, Miffaury and Bertha. By 1942, the local Murray Pioneer newspaper reported that Walter had been wounded in action in Egypt, where he was in charge of a Bren Gun. This incident was also recorded in John G. Glenn’s ‘Tobruk to Tarakan’:

 “It was just after dusk when we heard the purr of one of our jeeps. This caused some speculation. It could be Jerry or one of our chaps who’d got lost. We were ordered to hold our fire until we were sure it was not one of our own. The jeep came in, followed our wire, ducked into the gap, and drove right up to our section and pulled up. All three men in the jeep were clearly silhouetted against the skyline. In the section nearby were Lieutenant McLellan, Scotty Paton, Mick Salter, Geoff Gardner, Johnny Ralla, Wally Fennell and Erin Starkey, all of whom, with the exception of one man, were to become casualties during the next three days fighting.” It transpired the jeep was German, containing officers who had previously been at Trig 29 and believed it was still in their hands! In the same book, Johnny Ralla describes his injuries to his leg: “My left leg was at right angles to my body and blood was gushing from a wound in the groin. Wally Fennell came back holding the side of his head. Sergeant Derrick had been hit…” Despite these injuries, Wally survived to become a Lance Sergeant.

However his close friend, Lance Chapman was killed at El Alamein but Wally continued to remember him in the Adelaide Advertiser. Monday 30 November 1942, CHAPMAN L. A.—ln loving memory of my pal, Lance. who was killed in action in Egypt on October 31. —Ever remembered by Comrade L/Cpl. W. J. Fennell abroad.  Monday 1 November 1943, CHAPMAN. Pte. L. J—ln loving memory of my pal Lance. late 2/48th. 9th Div. who paid the supreme sacrifice on Oct. 31 1942. at El Alamein. —Inserted by Cpl Walter Fennell. 9th Div. New Guinea.

Walter’s landing at Tarakan was also recorded in detail in the local Murray Pioneer newspaper:

“In the first wave to hit the Tarakan beach on the assault landing on May 1, was Pte. Walter Fennel, son of Mr. -R. W. Fennel, Lock 4, Berri. Since then, Wal. and his mates have been having a busy time, for the conquest of the island has been no easy task. The Japs encountered there were seasoned and well-trained troops frequently fighting tenaciously to hold strong positions, and displaying their familiar penchant for infiltration But, as ever, our boys proved too good for them.

After taking part in vigorous attacks in the early part of the campaign, Wal's platoon later found itself more occupied with patrolling. To realize what this means requires some picture of the country in which all but the initial fighting took place.

There are no high mountains on Tarakan, the tallest feature being only about three hundred feet above sea level. But the hills which cover much of the island are formed with devilish ingenuity. Sharp, razor-back spurs twist crazily to malformed ridged; sharply cut gullies perform bewildering intricacies; tracks wind apparently at random, branching off to dead ends or leading endlessly on into the unknown; and over all is a thick mat of tangled jungle. It is country which would test the talents of the most experienced bushman, and to add to ordinary difficulties, there is no piece of cover which may not conceal a lurking Jap.

Into this territory patrols go out every day, probing for the enemy, sometimes to find and kill him, more often to observe his movements as a prelude to bombardment or to larger-scale ground attacks. It is hard work; it is often tedious, for a thousand-yard patrol may take several hours; it is hazardous and nerve-wracking. - Such is warfare on Tarakan.”

It was here also that Tobruk to Tarakan describes that:

“It was in these attacks that Wally Fennell showed such outstanding bravery and coolness in the face of the enemy that he won for himself the immediate award of the Military Medal. Time and again he crawled ahead of the attacking troops, even to within five yards of the enemy, and had gained vital information. On one occasion when his section was forced to the ground, he had charged the Jap positions with his Owen Gun blazing and had silenced the enemy post, killing the occupants.”

Sadly, Walter was not to see his mother again as she died, aged 52 on July 22nd 1944 in the Berri Hospital while Wally was still serving overseas.  He was discharged on the 21st November 1945. Walter survived the war and married Kathleen Woolfitt from Milan in the Strathalbyn Methodist Church on January 27th 1951. 39 years later he died on the 26th February, 1990, aged 70. His funeral was reported in The Khamseen Kronicle, the Official Journal of the 2/48th Battalion in June 1990.

” The Rev. John Hughes officiated at Wally Fennell’s funeral at the Florey Chapel, Centennial Park on Wednesday the 28th of February 1990 following a service in St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church at Naracoorte, and in the words of the Padre: -

“This is the date, the time and the place where family members, friends and unit mates gather for our united feeling of thanksgiving and our admiration for this man. Highest esteem fort one who was the man we deeply loved and now, whose life fills a most special place in our hearts.

Wally was born at Gawler after which the family Fennell moved to the Upper Murray District where Wally’s Dad became Lock Master at Lock 4 – a few miles downstream from Berri.

Wally was a very conscientious scholar at the Winkle Public School, although he had great difficulties in attending regularly. He had to row across the river, tie up the dingy, hop on his bike and pedal the remaining miles to school and then after school, reverse the process back home.

At the outbreak of the war he enlisted at Glossop and served 5 years with distinction. It was in the attacks on knolls 1 and 2 at Tarakan that SX6832 Sgt W.J. Fennell showed such outstanding bravery and coolness in the face of the enemy that he was awarded the Military Medal.”

Written and researched by Kaye Lee, daughter of Bryan Holmes SX8133 2/48th

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