Veteran’s sacrifice finally honoured

In April 1900, 22-year-old Walter Richardson enlisted in the NSW Imperial Bushmen and served in the Boer War. After a year in South Africa, he returned to Australia, settling in the NSW town of Cootamundra, before moving to Sydney after his wife died.

12 December 2019

When the First World War broke out, Walter, now 37 and a widower who had recently remarried, enlisted in the 3rd Australian Naval and Military Expedition Force. He spent the duration of the war serving in Rabaul and New Britain in what is now Papua New Guinea, before being medically discharged in November 1919 as a sergeant.

Fifteen years later, Walter died and was buried at Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney. Walter’s widow Emma applied to the Repatriation Commission for his death to be recognised as attributable to war service, but it turned her down. As a result, Walter was not given an official war grave; in fact, his grave was completely unmarked and there was no funeral service.

But that unfortunate situation has finally been remedied.

It came about when earlier this year, Walter’s eldest surviving son Norm discussed his father’s death with Peter Ryan, an Advocacy Training and Development Program advocate and fellow member of the Lowood RSL Sub Branch in Queensland. 

Peter then contacted the Office of Australian War Graves (OAWG), which is part of DVA. On the eve of Anzac Day, the OAWG told the family that Walter’s death had resulted from his war service and that he would be provided with an official commemoration at the site of his resting place. Work began on the gravesite and on 28 September a War Grave Dedication and Service took place, 85 years after Walter died.

Queensland-based Norm, a 99-year-old veteran of the Second World War, was unable to make the journey. Fortunately, his brother, Ossie, an 89-year-old Korean War veteran and his wife Val were able to attend. About 40 other people were present, including David Martin OAM from RSL Victoria and Major Brett Gallagher, Chief Commissioner, Salvation Army Red Shield Defence Services. The service was video-recorded for Norm’s benefit.

Both brothers are delighted that their father has finally been given the recognition he deserved.

‘They did a wonderful job,’ said Norm when Vetaffairs spoke to him about his father’s official commemoration. ‘I really appreciate it.’

‘It was very emotional,’ said Ossie. ‘I couldn’t have been happier or more proud that he is finally being recognised for his service.’ 

Walter’s sons have done him proud. Norm and Ossie’s late brothers Frank and Clarey served in the Second World War, and another brother Cecil served in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan.

Norm and Ossie are grateful to the many people and organisations who helped make the event special. These include the OAWG, the Veterans’ Advocacy Community of Practice Brisbane West, Lowood RSL Sub Branch, Bravery Trust, One Minute Media, Burbank Central Coast Car Hire, the Salvation Army and David Martin OAM of RSL Victoria. Special mention goes to Peter and Tracey Ryan for playing such a pivotal role.

If you believe that a veteran’s death may be related to their war service, you can apply to have the death accepted as such by writing to The Deputy Commissioner, Department of Veterans' Affairs, GPO Box 9998, Brisbane, QLD 4001, requesting that the death be investigated and a determination made. If accepted, the veteran would then become eligible for official commemoration by the OAWG. A copy of the veteran’s death certificate and service record should accompany your written application. 

An older man and a younger man lift a red shroud from a white headstone.

Peter Ryan at the microphone, with David Martin OAM and Jake Anderson, great-great-grandson of Walter Richardson, lifting the shroud from Walter’s new headstone.

A smiling middle-aged man with his arm around a smiling elderly man.

Peter Ryan and Ossie Richardson after the service.