Walter Parker V.C. – Courage Under Fire

Lance Corporal Walter Richard Parker, VC (1881-1936), Royal Marine Light Infantry. Used under Creative Commons Licence

In April 1915 the surviving troops of the 1st and 3rd Australian Brigades entrenched at the Gaba Tepe on the Galliopli peninsula were desperate for relief.

 

Three days of fighting had been intense and chaotic with heavy casualties.  If the news of the arrival of battalions from the Royal Marine Light Infantry brought with it the expectation of support from seasoned fighting men, the ANZAC troops were to be disappointed.
The majority of the troops who had landed on the 25th April were teenagers barely out of basic training. Amongst them however, was a 33 year old medic, who within just days of arrival would display the kind of heroic valour for which the regiment was famed.

 

Walter Parker was born on 20th September 1881 at 5, St Agnes Street, Grantham. The oldest child of Kate and Richard Parker. Educated in the town, Parker later moved to work at the Stanton Ironworks Foundry.  In 1902 he married Olive Orchard, and they settled in Stapleford, Nottinghamshire.

On 7th September 1914, just over a month after Britain entered the war, Walter joined the Portsmouth Battalion of the Royal Marine Light Infantry.  After initial training, and despite his poor eyesight, he sailed with his battalion – the majority of whom were new recruits –to join the Dardanelles campaign in February 1915.

The Marines landed at Gaba Tepe on the 25th April, and by the 28th were called upon to relieve the ANZAC troops at the front line.  Lance Corporal Parker was assigned to a medical team under Marine Surgeon Basil Payne.  Overnight they battled through darkness and torrential rain to the front. Such was the chaos of the fighting that Marines were not given details of the distribution of the allied troops, or the position of the enemy- all they knew was that they were close.

In the morning Walter and his brigade would learn just how close, their defences, prepared in a hurry were shallow and isolated, lying at most 50 yards from Turkish troops, in easy range of snipers and machine guns.

Within 24 hours, 18 year old Lt Richard Empson, along with Lt A.B.F Alcock had led a troop of 60 men to relieve the furthest outcrop of the ANZAC troops.  Running short of water, ammunition and medical supplies, they found themselves stranded, with nothing but 400 yards of perilously open ground between them and the closest allied troops.

Lieutenant R.W.H.M Empson (HU 121780) Copyright: © IWM.

At 5pm on the 30th April the Turkish troops attacked the Allied lines, overrunning a number of trenches, in the fierce fighting that followed, some were regained by ANZAC and British battalions, but there were heavy casualties, and no sign of respite from the Turkish offensive.

Under the cover of darkness a runner broke from Empson’s trench and made it back to the main lines, detailing their position, and relaying a request for support, supplies, and medical aid for the wounded.

Immediately a party of 10 men was detailed by Captain A.E. Syston to deliver supplies. Without hesitation, Walter responded to the call for medical volunteers.
It was daylight by the time the party, Led by Sgt M.W. Minter, ventured from their trenches. Within seconds they came under enemy fire. When the first man fell wounded Walter stayed with him, in plain sight of the Turkish gunners, treating his wounds until stretcher bearers could reach them.

 

Despite orders to return to the British trenches, and an Australian officer threatening to shoot him if he didn’t, Parker decided to turn away from relative safety and continue to Empson.
With the men of his battalion watching in disbelief, Parker began to run. Crossing the 400 yards of open ground in daylight was tantamount to suicide, he was running through an open graveyard, surrounded by the bodies of his allies and comrades.

By the time Walter had reached Empson, Alcock and the 60 stranded men, he had been shot twice. The rest of the relief party were either dead, injured or had turned back.
Despite his own injuries Walter immediately began to treat the wounded men in the trench.

Walter was well aware of the risk he was taking; writing in 1916 Lt Alcock would describe Walter’s actions that day:

 

‘There is no doubt whatsoever that Lance – Corporal Parker knew, as soon as he started, that he was taking the greatest of risks possible, and that his one idea was to succour the wounded in the isolated trench’[1]

 

While Walter’s arrival may well have given succour to the Empson and his troops, their ordeal was far from over.

At Dawn on the 1st May the isolated trench was attacked once more. The ferocity of the attack was such that of the 60 Marines, one third were wounded or killed. Amongst the dead was Lt Empson.

Lt Alcock took command of the trench, and managed to repel the attack, holding the position for one more day.
The loss of the relief party had meant that the only supplies to reach the trench had been those that Walter had carried, supplies were now desperately low, with only 15 rounds remaining between them. The only remaining option was to retreat.

On the night of the 2nd May, after having held the trench for three days and four nights, the evacuation began. Walter showed great courage in assisting the wounded men to safety, despite further serious injury. Walter was shot twice more, receiving injuries to groin, chest, and right thigh, knee and shin.

He was evacuated to a medical transport ship, and once more faced disaster when the vessel collided with an Italian ship on a fog bound night in the Mediterranean Sea. He returned back to England to begin what would be a slow and ultimately incomplete recovery.

In April 1916, Walter Parker briefly returned to duty, this time at Marine Command HQ in Ireland, however within weeks it became apparent that he was not well enough to serve, and he was invalided from the forces, returning home to civilian life in Stapleford in May with a war gratuity of £10.

Although senior officers recommended Parker for a V.C. immediately, it took two years for the award to be finally granted. Amongst the loudest voices campaigning for Walter was Lt. Alcock, who had himself been awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his part in the battle.

Walter was awarded the Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace on the 21st July 1917, the citation in the Gazette records his ‘most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in the course of the Dardanelles operation’  including ‘conspicuous bravery and energy under fire whilst in the charge of the Battalion stretcher bearers’[2] in the days before his heroic action.
Although his actions were the first of the campaign to be considered worthy of the Victoria Cross, his would be the last V.C. to be awarded as a result of service at Gallipoli.

In recognition and thanks he was also presented with a clock by the men of his former division, who held a special parade in his honour.

After his discharge from the Marines, Walter Parker returned to life with his wife and children, working for the remainder of the war in a munitions factory.  He suffered from ill health for the rest of his life.

Water Parker died aged 55 on the 27th November 1936.
At the time of his death his wife was refused a military pension, the authorities claiming that he had lived too long for his death to have been caused by his wounds, and so began a second campaign for recognition of his service and sacrifice.

At his funeral, crowds lined the streets to pay their respects, and his pall bearers were eight Royal Marines from the Portsmouth Division.

In 2000 a memorial square was opened in his honour in Stapleford, and in Grantham he is commemorated with a blue plaque.

 

 

 

References

[1] Snelling, S. (1995) ‘VCs of the First World War: Gallipoli’  Sutton Publishing

[2] London Gazette, June 22nd 1917,  Issue 30147 pg 6253  as viewed https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/30147/data.pdf  1/11/18

 

Coleman, E.C. (2014), ‘Khaki Jack: The Royal Naval Division in the First World War’ Amberly Publishing

Hutchinson, G. (2007) ‘Gallipoli, The Pilgrimage Guide’  Black Inc.

Australian Government DVA ANZAC Portal  ‘Lance Corperal Walter Parker’
https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/history/conflicts/gallipoli-and-anzacs/events/bravery-awards-gallipoli/lance-corporal-walter-parker
as accessed 1/11/18

Grantham Journal ‘Centenary Service for Grantham soldier, a Victoria Cross recipient’ published 17th April 2015,
as viewed:  https://www.granthamjournal.co.uk/news/centenary-service-for-grantham-soldier-a-victoria-cross-recipient-1-6695445/
Accessed 1/11/18

Welcome to Stapleford ‘Walter Parker VC’
http://www.stapleford-notts.co.uk/walterparker.htm
accessed 1/11/18

Nottinghamshire Local History Association ‘Lance Corporal Walter Richard Parker, Stapleford’s World War One V.C. hero’
https://nlha.org.uk/news/lance-corporal-walter-richard-parker-staplefords-world-war-one-v-c-hero/
as accessed 1/11/18

Memorials to Valour ‘VC610 Walter Richard Parker’
http://www.memorialstovalour.co.uk/vc610.html
accessed 1/11/18

Grantham Civic Society ‘L/C Walter Parker VC’
http://www.granthamcivicsociety.co.uk/public/palque_parker.php
as accessed 1/11/18

Image of Lt Empson  Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205294351