Rank: Sapper
Number: 395
Unit: 2nd Division Signal Company AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL FORCE
Date of Death: 8 October 1917
Age: 27
Cemetery: Poperinghe Military Cemetery, Belgium

Wally Brookes was born in Chinley, about 1890, but the family had moved to Romiley by the time of the 1901 Census. George Brookes, then 34, worked as a carter for a local hatworks and was married to Betsy (29). They had five children - Walter (10), George (8), John (5), Joseph (2) and Emily (10 months). The family worshiped at Hatherlow Congregational Church and Wally had attended the Church's Sunday School and, later, was its Secretary.

Sometime after this, George and Betsy decided to look for a better life and the family emigrated to Australia, where they lived at Gloucester Road, Hurstville, New South Wales. In 1915, Wally was working as a railway cleaner.

He enlisted into the army on 8 March 1915, originally joining "A" Company of the 17th Battalion. His enlistment papers show he was 5 feet 7.5 inches tall and had a 30.5 inch chest (which he could expand a further 3.5 inches). He had a fair complexion, brown hair and blue eyes.

After initial training, he left Sydney aboard the transport ship "A32 Themistocles", bound for Egypt. On 16 August, he embarked again to go into action at Gallipoli. He was fortunate to have missed all the major attacks in that campaign and the dangers he faced were from shellfire and the sniper's bullet. The ill-fated campaign stagnated for several more months before the Allied troops withdrew at the end of December and beginning of January. After several months, reorganising in Egypt, Wally and his mates arrived in France on 25 May and would have been involved in the Battle of the Somme over the summer and early autumn.

On 16 October, he was transferred  to the Signal Company and was also given a period of leave. He returned to the UK where, on the 26th, he married Alice Louisa Slater at Hatherlow Congregational  Church. Louie (as she was known) was the daughter of David Slater, then the Honorary Secretary of the Bredbury & Romiley Soldiers & Sailors Recognition Club. The marriage service was conducted by the Reverend Powicke, father of Gertrude Powicke.

The Signal Company's main duties would be the maintenance of telephone communications between the Divisional Headquarters and the forward areas. Wires were often cut by shellfire and it was dangerous work trying to locate and repair the break. On 8 October, the Company was based at the ramparts at Ypres. Its War Diary records "Inter communication with Divisional area. Lt Fraser wounded. One sapper killed."

Wally was the man who had been killed. His pal, Jack Leneyon (? perhaps Lenehan) wrote to Louie "It is with the deepest sympathy that I have to inform you of the death of your husband, Wally. He was killed instantly by an enemy shell yesterday morning, while attending to his officer, Mr Fraser. He was a great chap and we shall all miss him very much. Mr Fraser was lucky enough to escape with a slight scratch over his eye. He was very ill at the time and seeing Wally made him much worse. I think he will go to England and he told me he was going to see you at the first opportunity. Hoping you will bear your irreparable loss with fortitude."

The family tried to find out exactly what had happened to Wally and made enquiries through the Australian Red Cross. Several statements were taken which contradict each other about how and where Wally was killed.

A Sergeant Don, of the Signal Company, noted on 19 February 1918 "He was batman to Lt W Fraser and Fraser was knocked and taken to the Dressing Station. Brooks also went with him. A shell got into the Dressing Station, killing Brookes and Lt Fraser's leg was blown off. I was there at the time but did not see him hit. Lt Russell saw Brooks knocked and can give further information." On the 28th, he added "They were both at a Dressing Station on Menin Road, probably 5th Division, when a shell or bomb from an aeroplane exploded and killed Brookes outright and wounded the Lieutenant."

Lt Russell, however, recounted that the incident had taken place at the Divisional Rest Camp at Poperinghe which certainly accords with Wally's nearby burial. Another account (the informant's name is illegible in the faded record) notes "Brookes had both his legs broken by a shell whilst in the rest camp at Poperinghe. I was told he died more from shock than from the wounds." Russell had been present at Wally's burial and had arranged for a cross to put over the grave. He had also had a drawing made of the grave which he had sent to Louie.

Wally had left a will leaving "all monies accruing due to me from October 21 1916" to go to Louie and all his property in Australia and any monies prior to his wedding to go to his mother. His effects were sent to Louie. They included 4 badges, 2 wrist watches, curios, 2 handkerchiefs, 2 brushes, a knife and 2 books.

In the early 1920's, headstones were erected in the military cemeteries and families were invited to add a small inscription. Both Louie and Wally's mother submitted requests. His mother asked for "May his reward be as great as his sacrifice". Louie requested "Until the day dawns and the shadows flee away - MIZPAH". Only one was permitted by the War Graves Commission and it is Louie's, as next of kin, that is now inscribed.

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