So far in our study of Australian soldiers buried in Portsmouth we have come across a fairly even spread of men who either died of illness or wounds received in battle. Yet one man was drowned at sea, whilst being transported from France to England on a Hospital Ship, having been wounded on two separate occasions and suffering from three serious illneses.
George Savoury Lipscombe Wall was born in Thorpdale, Balu Balu in Victoria. The son of Francis and Blanche Wall, when he enlisted in the Australian Forces on 17 April 1916 the Wall family were living at Koncwak, South Gippsland in Victoria. George Wall was a 22 year old farmer, and was unmarried. Interestingly, it seems that he had served in the Australian Light Horse previously for 2 years, but his attestation form records ‘no discharge – removed from training centre (I would be interested to hear if anyone can suggest what this means). Wall actually attested at Leongathra. Wall was quite tall at 6 foot 1 3/4 inches, 168lbs, and had a chest measurement of 38 inches. He had a dark complexion, blue eyes – of which both had perfect sight – and brown hair. He was a member of the Church of England, and had 2 vaccination marks on his right arm, and a scar on his left shin. He was allocated to the 37th Battalion of the Australian Infantry.
Wall embarked from Melbourne on 28 July 1916, onboard the HMAT Themistocles (A32). The Themistocles docked at Plymouth on 11 September, and from there Wall joined the 2nd Training Battalion on Salisbury Plain. After twelve days training he joined the 37th Battalion. The Battalion was evidently in England at this point, as Wall did not embark for France until 23 November 1916. On 16 January 1917 George Wall was admitted to the 9th Field Ambulance and then the 9th General Hospital, suffering with Mumps. After being discharded from Hospital on 6 February, he finally rejoined the Battalion on 22 February. On 5 April he was promoted to Lance Corporal.
On 7 June 1917, during the Third Battle of Ypres, Lance Corporal Wall was wounded in action. Admitted to the 9th Field Ambulance and then the Casualty Clearing Station, by the next day he was in Hospital at Le Touquet, where his wounds were described as a gunshot wound to the left forearm. Four days later on 12 June he was shipped to England on the Hospital Ship Stad Antwerpen. Admitted to the 3rd General Hospital the next day, and spent several months recovering. A medical report states that no bones were broken, that the wound was healing well, and there was no discharge. He finally went back to France on 6 August 1917, after spending time at the Training Depot near the Brighton Downs. He finally rejoined his Battalion on 18 August 1917, where despite his absence, he was promoted to Temporary Corporal four days later – perhaps losses at Passchendaele brought about his promotion.
Several months later Corporal Wall was wounded a second time, on 19 November. This time he received a gunshot wound to his right leg and bruised his back. He was admitted to the 9th Field Ambulance and then the 53rd Casualty Clearing Station, and as he was only a Temporary Corporal, reverted to his substantive rank of Lance-Corporal upon leaving the front line. The next day he was admitted to the 55th General Hospital in Boulogne. His wounds were obviously slight, as only five days later he was discharged to the 12th Convalescence Depot at Aubenque. On 7 December he reported to the 3rd Base Details Depot at Rouelles, and rejoined his unit on 18 December.
Only two days later, however, George Wall was again admitted to Hospital, this time suffering with Trench Fever. He was processed swiftly through the 11th Field Ambulance, the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station to the 1st Canadian General Hospital. After reaching the Hospital on 23 December he spent Christmas there, before once again being shipped to England on 13 January, onboard the Hospital Ship Pieter de Connick. He was admitted to the Military Hospital in Edmonton, suffering from slight Trench Fever. Twelve days later he was transferred to the 3rd Auxiliary Hospital, at Dartford in Kent. On the same day he was admitted to the 3rd Australian General Hospital. On 4 February he was discharged to the 4th Convalescence Depot at Hurdcott, as he was still feeling very week and feeling pain in his back – possibly a recurrence of his earlier back inbjury. Six weeks later he reported to the Training Battalion at Longbridge Deverill. The long time that Wall was out of action shows just how debilitating Trench Fever could be.
After a months re-training, George Wall re-embarked for France on 17 April 1918, via Southampton. The next day he reported the the 3rd Base Depot at Rouelles, which we are told was a New Zealander-run depot. Five days later he moved out to the front, and on 24 April he rejoined his Battalion after an absence of almost four months. From then on Wall actually managed to spend three months at the front relatively unveventfully, before being sent to Hospital sick on 21 July 1918. The next day he was admitted to the 10th Field Ambulance with Enteric Collitis, and the next day found him in the 12th Casualty Clearing Station, where his diagnosis was changed to ‘dysentery’. On 26 July he was admitted to the 16th General Hospital at Le Treport.
On 1 August he was shipped to England, onboard the Hospital ship Warilda. Earlier in the war the Warilda had served as a troopship, but by 1918 had been converted to a hospital ship (Private Clarence Jones, buried in Portsmouth, had left Australia on the Warilda). In the English Channel the Warilda was torpedoed by the German submarine UC-49, 35 miles off Littlehampton, en route to Southampton. The ship sank in two hours, and of the 801 people on board, 123 were killed. Of the 471 patients onboard, 115 perished.
George Wall was reported missing presumed drowned. his body was one of the few recovered at sea, and taken to Southampton, and then to the 5th Southern General Hospital in Portsmouth. He was buried in Milton Cemetery on 7 August 1918. At some time between his enlistment and his death Wall must have converted to Catholicism, as although his attestation papers state that he was a member of the Church of England, by the time of his funeral he was recorded as a Roman Catholic. His funeral was conducted by Reverend Timothy A. Toomey, of Bishops House in Edinburgh Road, the residence of Portsmouth’s RC Bishop. The undertaker was Alfred G. Stapleford of Crasswell Street. Unlike most Australians buried in Portsmouth Wall had a number of relatives present at his funeral – his uncle Mr. Charles A. Wall, of the Hollies, Harcourt Road, Wallington in Surrey; and aunts Misses Ethel and Dorothy Wall, of 21 Maldon Road, also in Wallington. Wreaths were sent by George Wall’s mother and father, his uncle and aunts, staff at the hospital and australian patients. 30 Australian patients followed Wall’s coffin from the hospital to Milton Cemetery.
As he was lost at sea, very few of his possessions were returned to his family – only items held in storage either in France or in Britain. His family received 1 book (knots untied), 1 belt, 2 prayer books, pair boots, 1 khaki shirt and 1 strop. George Wall was insured with the National Mutual Life Insurance, and his will was handled by Messrs Corr and Corr of Melbourne. His will bequeathed his entire estate to his father.