66 men from Australia received the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry, during the First World War. As part of the Centenary Commemorations the people of the United Kingdom marked their gratitude to those courageous men by presenting a bronze memorial plaque to their home country engraved with their names. The plaque is now displayed at the Australian War Memorial. This archive tells their stories.
Name: Walter Peeler
DOB: 9 August 1887
Place of Birth: Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia
Date of Action: 4 October 1917
Place of Action: Broodseinde, Ypres, Belgium
Rank: Lance Corporal
Regiment: 3rd Pioneer Battalion, Australian Imperial Force
Walter (Wally) Peeler was born on 9 August 1887 in Victoria, Australia. He held a variety of jobs, was married and had a family before enlisting in the 3rd Pioneer Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force in February 1916.
Lance Corporal Peeler was awarded his Victoria Cross for bravery on 4 October 1917 during the Battle of Broodseinde. This was part of the Passchendaele offensive. Here he destroyed 4 machine gun posts and accounted for more than 30 enemy soldiers. His citation in the London Gazette gives more detail:
For most conspicuous bravery when with a Lewis gun accompanying the first wave of the assault he encountered an enemy party sniping the advancing troops from a shell-hole. L./Cpl. Peeler immediately rushed the position and accounted for nine of the enemy, and cleared the way for the advance. On two subsequent occasions he performed similar acts of valour, and each time accounted for a number of the enemy. During operations he was directed to a position from which an enemy machine gun was being fired on our troops. He located and killed the gunner, and the remainder of the enemy party ran into a dugout close by. From this shelter they were dislodged by a bomb, and ten of the enemy ran out. These he disposed of. This non-commissioned officer actually accounted for over thirty of the enemy. He displayed an absolute fearlessness in making his way ahead of the first wave of the assault, and the fine example which he set ensured the success of the attack against most determined opposition.
A few days later, Peeler was badly wounded in the arm and spent the next seven months recuperating in the United Kingdom. He was discharged after the war with the rank of Sergeant, and in 1934 he was appointed the inaugural custodian of Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance.
During the Second World War, Peeler re-enlisted but understated his age to avoid the upper age limit. He was captured by the Japanese in Java in 1942 and was eventually freed in August 1945. Peeler died, aged 80, in 1968.