Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Walker, Sir Harold Bridgwood (1862–1934)

by A. J. Sweeting

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Harold Bridgwood Walker (1862-1934), by James Quinn, 1918

Harold Bridgwood Walker (1862-1934), by James Quinn, 1918

Australian War Memorial, ART03349

Sir Harold Bridgwood Walker (1862-1934), army officer, was born on 26 April 1862 at Dilhorne, Staffordshire, England, son of James Harold Walker, Church of England clergyman, and his wife Mary, née Bridgwood. Educated at Shrewsbury School and for a year at Jesus College, Cambridge, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry in May 1884 and served in the Sudan until 1886. While on leave, Walker married Harriett Edith Coulthard at Plymstock parish church, Devon, on 15 December 1887. After a career in which he saw service in India, the South African War and Ireland, in November 1914 he was appointed brigadier general on the General Staff in India. On 12 December he became chief of staff to Lieutenant-General Sir William Birdwood in the Anzac Corps. According to Charles Bean, in his looks and likings 'Walker was an English country gentleman'. From the first, his wish was 'to throw himself into the fighting'.

A man of strong opinions, Walker opposed the landing on Gallipoli, maintaining that the operation had no chance of success. His distaste for staff work also led him to delegate the task of drawing up detailed plans for the operation to Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Skeen, an outstanding staff officer. While Walker concentrated on supervising the tactical training of the troops, Skeen 'dominated the conferences of various staffs in the Minnewaska's saloon'. The first officer of Birdwood's staff to land on Gallipoli, shortly before 8 a.m. on 25 April 1915, Walker went ashore to keep personal touch with the fighting; by 11 a.m. he took over the New Zealand Infantry Brigade whose commander had fallen ill during the sea voyage.

On the left flank of the Anzac position, Walker's Ridge was of vital tactical importance. With the Turks making a determined effort to gain the ridge, Walker completed a personal reconnaissance on the morning of the 28th. Ernest Herrod, who overheard Walker's appreciation of the situation, later wrote that 'had he been reading from a carefully-prepared text book, I doubt whether it could have been stated better. The wealth of information conveyed in proper sequence, the positive and negative made clear, the topography of the front, the enemy and our own troops, their numbers, disposition and condition etc — all this was rounded off by a few, but decisive words of appeal for water and food for our men. My heart warmed to him'.

A few days later the New Zealand brigade commander returned to duty and Walker was placed in command of the 1st Infantry Brigade, Australian Imperial Force. On 15 May General (Sir) William Bridges was mortally wounded and Walker replaced him as commander of the 1st Division until General James Legge took charge. On 24 June Walker returned to the 1st Brigade. Although some Australian brigadier generals objected to Legge's appointment because he was junior to them, Walker raised no objection: he considered it 'natural and proper for the Commonwealth to desire its command to be in the hands of an Australian'. On 26 July Legge left Anzac and Walker resumed command with the temporary rank of major general. Thereafter, the jaunty figure of 'Hooky' (with his cap tilted over one eye) and other divisional staff officers were 'too often seen nipping around insecure trenches or making their way over the top … for any man to have any doubts about their willingness to share the dangers'. Walker commanded the division at Lone Pine, although he had strongly objected to the plan of attack. In September he was half-buried by a shell which burst in his dug-out; a fortnight later, while inspecting a post on Silt Spur, he was severely wounded by machine-gun fire: characteristically, he refused attention until another wounded soldier had received treatment.

Walker saw no more of the fighting on Gallipoli and did not return to the division until March 1916. His rank of major general had been confirmed on 1 January. He led his Australians against Pozières and in the spring of 1917 through the outpost zone of the Hindenburg line. That summer he organized three attacks in the battle of Passchendaele. His last major engagement was at Hazebrouck from April to July 1918. In the three years that he commanded the division Walker welded it into a fighting force probably unsurpassed in the British armies. He was an astute and trusted leader as well as a humane operational commander who made no secret of his affection for his troops; the affection was reciprocated to an uncommon degree. At all times scrupulous in his care of the division, he was reluctant to commit it to an attack unless convinced that the results would more than warrant the losses; he even threatened to resign his command rather than sacrifice his men unjustifiably.

In accordance with Birdwood's wishes, Walker was among the last British officers to leave the A.I.F. On 3 July 1918—'to the deep regret of his officers and men'—he relinquished command of the 1st Division. General (Sir) Thomas Glasgow replaced him. The influence of a small quota of British officers, of whom Birdwood and Walker were outstanding, 'was beyond computation', according to Bean, 'especially in the standards set by them for personal conduct'. Awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1902, and appointed C.B. in 1915, K.C.B. in 1918 and K.C.M.G. in 1919, Walker won several foreign decorations and was nine times mentioned in dispatches in World War I.

From July 1918 Sir Harold commanded the 48th British Division in Italy and from March to July 1919 all British forces in that country. Returning to a territorial command in England, he was promoted lieutenant-general in 1923 and was commander-in-chief, Southern Command, India, from 1924 until 1928 when he retired from the army. He died at Crediton, Devon, on 5 November 1934, survived by his wife and two sons, one of whom became an admiral in the Royal Navy.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1936, 1942)
  • Reveille (Sydney), July 1933, Apr, Dec 1934, Jan 1935
  • records (Australian War Memorial).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

A. J. Sweeting, 'Walker, Sir Harold Bridgwood (1862–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/walker-sir-harold-bridgwood-8954/text15749, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 17 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Harold Bridgwood Walker (1862-1934), by James Quinn, 1918

Harold Bridgwood Walker (1862-1934), by James Quinn, 1918

Australian War Memorial, ART03349