Name: Walter James Stafford
Service Number: 1310
Units: 19th Battalion 1st AIF, 5th Machine Gun Company.
Personal Life: Walter was born in Gunnedah, NSW in early 1893.
Enlistment Details: Walter was 22 years when he enlisted at Liverpool NSW on the 1st of March 1915. He was 5 foot 6 ¾ inches tall and weighed 138 lbs. He had a medium complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. He was a member of the Methodist Church. He was a blacksmith by trade. He listed his brother, Edward, as his next of kin. He was assigned as an original member to the 19th Battalion. He is known to be of First Nations background.
Service: Walter left Sydney aboard the “Ceramic” on the 25th of June 1915. The battalion arrived in Alexandria n the 25th July and were based at Camp Heliopolis. The battalion then left Egypt for Lemnos on the 16th of August and landed on Anzac on the 21st. Some of the battalion were posted to Hill 60 during August but on the 18th of September the whole battalion were posted to Pope’s Post. They remained there for the whole of October and November. The battalion started to evacuate from Anzac on the 18th December and all had left by dawn of the morning on the 20th and were back at Lemnos. They remained in camp there until the 4th January 1916 when they embarked for Egypt. They were sent to camp at Tel-el-Kebir where they continued to train until the 23rd when they marched to Ismaili to help defend the Suez Canal. While battalion remained there throughout February, Walter was sent to Machine Gun School at “Katoomba”. He spent over 3 weeks there training in the use of the machine gun. He was transferred from the 19th Battalion to the 5th Machine Gun Company on the 8th March.
He left Egypt again from Alexandria on the 17th March and arrived in Marseilles on the 23rd. He would then have made his way north through France via train. Many soldiers who made that journey remarked on how beautiful the country was.
When the Australians first arrived on the Western Front, they were sent to an area at the very north of France around the city of Armentieres which was considered a “nursery area” where the “inexperienced” soldiers could be gently introduced to the warfare of the trenches.
While it was relatively quiet, there was action occurring on a regular basis and both sides conducted raids to disrupt the enemy’s preparations and to gather intelligence about their movements and dispositions.
On the 5th of May 1916, the Germans were being very active in the area facing Walter’s unit and there was considerable shelling to support this activity. It was a shell that hit Walter while he was at his gun which killed him instantly, according to his Commanding Officer, who wrote to Walter’s brother to tell him the bad news and to convey how proud he should be of his brother’s bravery.
While two witnesses who wrote to Walter’s brother state that he was killed on the 5th May, his death date is officially the 6th May. Either way, at this stage, he is first soldier of indigenous background to have been killed on the Western Front. He was buried in the Brewery Orchard Cemetery in Bois-Grenier in the north of France.