Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Walker, Theodore Gordon (1900–1971)

by Michael O'Brien

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Theodore Gordon Walker (1900-1971), army officer and businessman, was born on 14 October 1900 at Richmond, Melbourne, eldest of five children of Victorian-born parents Arthur Walker, commercial traveller, and his wife Elizabeth Georgiana, née Gordon. After attending Surrey Hills State School and Wesley College, Theo passed the examination of the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants and studied at the University of Melbourne (B.Com., 1935). He worked for the State Savings Bank of Victoria until the outbreak of World War II. At St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, on 27 January 1931 he had married with Anglican rites Ida Fairfax Richardson, a kindergarten mistress.

In 1914 Walker had joined the 48th Battalion, Militia, as a junior cadet. Commissioned lieutenant in 1921, he rose to lieutenant colonel and commanding officer of the battalion (which had become the 24th) in 1935, taking over from his friend (Sir) Stanley Savige. He briefly commanded the combined 24th/39th Battalion in 1939 before being chosen to lead the 2nd/7th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, on 13 October. The 2nd/7th sailed for the Middle East in April 1940 and was sent to Libya in December. Savige believed that Walker's sound planning, leadership under fire and execution of orders were 'the chief contributing factors in the success' of the 17th Brigade in the battle of Bardia (3-5 January 1941). He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. The 2nd/7th also took part in the capture of Tobruk (21-22 January). Walker was selected to attend the Senior Officers' Tactical Course that might have led to his promotion, but he deferred his nomination so that he could continue his command in the Greek campaign.

The 2nd/7th Battalion embarked in April 1941 and deployed via Athens to Lárisa. Under considerable pressure, it withdrew until it was evacuated from the port of Kalámai (Kalamáta). Arriving in Crete on 27 April, the battalion became involved in the ultimately unsuccessful defence of the island. It gained the battle honour '42nd Street' for a bayonet charge on 27 May that forced the Germans back more than a mile (1.6 km). Almost all the survivors of the 2nd/7th were taken prisoner on 1 June. Walker is said to have stepped off an evacuation vessel at the last moment when he realized that most of his men would be left behind. He was captured but escaped for several days until retaken and transferred to a series of prisoner-of-war camps in Greece and Germany. Released in April 1945, he returned to Australia where his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 24 August. He had been mentioned in dispatches (1941).

Walker was a short, quiet and self-assured man who was considered fearless by his soldiers. After the war he joined Richardson Gears Pty Ltd, a family company, as its sales manager and advanced to become managing director of Sonnerdale Richardson David Brown (Vic.) Pty Ltd. In 1955 he purchased a dairy farm at Coldstream, Victoria, and later grazing properties near Kyneton. He was active in the Australian Red Cross Society, Legacy and the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia. A vestryman at Christ Church, Hawthorn, and a Freemason, he was also a member of the Melbourne Cricket, Naval and Military, Sandringham Yacht and Banks Rowing clubs. In his youth he had been a strong middle-distance swimmer for the Surrey Park Swimming Club. Survived by his wife, and their two daughters and son, he died on 25 October 1971 at Kyneton and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Long, To Benghazi (Canb, 1952)
  • G. Long, Greece, Crete and Syria (Canb, 1953)
  • W. P. Bolger and J. G. Littlewood, The Fiery Phoenix (Melb, 1983)
  • J. G. Littlewood, The 2/7th Australian Infantry Battalion, 1939-1946 (manuscript, Australian War Memorial)
  • T. G. Walker, Diary, AWM 67, item 3/410 (Australian War Memorial)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Michael O'Brien, 'Walker, Theodore Gordon (1900–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/walker-theodore-gordon-11938/text21393, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 17 September 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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