Bomb thrower's bravery in death
WHEN the Anzacs landed at Anzac Cove on April 25, 1915, they fought their way up the rugged slopes of the Peninsula in an effort to establish a foothold to launch an attack on the heights under heavy Turkish machine gun fire. The aim was to gain the high ground and control the forts and gun batteries of the Dardanelles.
After three months of continual fighting with great loss of life from both sides, the battle of Lone Pine took place in early August when the 2nd Light Horse stormed the Turkish Machine Gun entrenchments.
Leading a charge and throwing bombs into the enemy trenches was a young 19-year-old soldier from Freestone, Warwick, who died heroically at Gaba Tepe. He was Trooper Walter Edward Smale, who has a remarkable story to be told as one of the heroes of Quinn's Post.
Walter Smale was born at Freestone in 1895, the youngest son of Alfred and Emily Smale of Upper Freestone Creek. Alfred married Emily, an Aboriginal woman of the Yuggera people, who was born at Ipswich. Emily was an exceptional woman who at a time when it was rare for women to own property, owned and managed her own property. She was well respected and apart from raising five children with Alfred, she also acted as a midwife in the district for many years where her dedication was legendary. It was once reported she swam across the flooded Gladfield River to deliver a baby.
Walter attended the Freestone Public School for his education, and as he grew into a strapping young man he worked on farms around the district until the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, which was to change his life forever.
Caught up in the patriotic fervour sweeping the country at this time, and attracted by the thoughts of adventure and the six sillings a day pay offered to recruits, Walter decided to enlist in the Light Horse. However, as he was of Aboriginal blood he was facing the prospect of not being able to enlist owing to the policy at the time that only those of European descent could enlist. Not to be deterred, Walter did not reveal his indigenous background and was enlisted at Warwick on December 12, 1914.
Now enlisted in the 2nd Light Horse Regiment, 1st Brigade, 3rd Reinforcements, Walter was sent to Fraser's Paddock in Brisbane for training before embarking from Brisbane to Alexandria, Egypt, on board HMAT "Itria" on February 9, 1915. A period of training at Cairo followed before the regiment was sent to the Gallipoli Peninsula as the Third Reinforcements on the 9th July. They were to attack the Turkish Forts on the Dardanelles in an effort to open and protect the sea lanes and establish a footing on the Turkish mainland.
Walter and the regiment fought their way up the steep, unfriendly slopes of Gallipoli, until early August. Such was the savage fighting, the casualties were high on both sides, as the Anzacs found the Turks to be a fierce and formidable foe. Hand-to-hand fighting was not uncommon, and hand-thrown bombs were used to inflict maximum damage on the trenches and battlements.
It was on August 8, 1915 when young Walter, who had become a very accurate and expert bomb thrower, showed exceptional courage storming the Turkish lines until he was cut down by Turkish machine gunfire at Quinn's Post and killed instantly.
One of Walter's mates on that day, Private C Stanley, sent a letter to Walter's parents to let them know how bravely he died. He wrote:
"Your son Walter was killed at Quinn's Post, at Gaba Tepe, and he was in the very forefront of the line. The reason for this was that he was a bomb thrower, whose job was to throw bombs into the enemy's trenches, to give the men with bayonets a chance to get a footing. He was picked for this because of his good throwing powers. He could hurl a bomb 50 yards and hit the trench every time. He had to do this on the day of the charge. With others, he had to climb out of our trenches and run towards the enemy, carrying 10 or 12 bombs in the face of very heavy fire. He died on the parapet of the enemy's trench, a very brave man to the last... I hope you will accept my sympathy for the loss of one who was always a good soldier and comrade, always cheerful and bright, even under the most trying circumstances, and whose loss is felt by all who came into contact with him".
Walter Smale became the first Freestone man and first indigenous soldier to die in the First World War, and became a genuine Anzac hero as did many on that day at Quinn's Post.
The sad thing was Walter laid where he fell for many months before burial squads could access the area, to give him and many of his comrades a decent burial. He now lies at rest in the Quinn's Post Anzac Cemetery, with the simple epitaph on his headstone which says:
794 Trooper Edward Smale
2nd Light Horse Regiment.
Of the dearly beloved son
Of Mr and Mrs Smale
The story of Walter Smale is among many that highlight the bravery, mateship and dedication of those young Anzacs that is enshrined in every ethos that could be determined as Australian.
The legend grows stronger with every generation and each Anzac Day the swelling attendances show an appreciation of what men like Walter sacrificed that day, when he showed great courage to storm the Turkish trenches and die bravely as the hero of Quinn's Post.
Lest we forget.