163. F P Booker

BOOKER Frederick Peter 3126

51 B  KIA 24/4/18

Frederick Booker was one of 11 children of William and Emma (nee Bullett) Booker who were resident in the Shire of Alberton from the late 1870s. He was born at Yarram and attended the state school at Devon North. There were 2 other brothers – Robert James and Herbert Francis – who also served in the AIF. Both these brothers survived the War, although Robert was seriously wounded and repatriated to Australia for a medical discharge at the end of 1917. It is not clear when the father died but he was dead at the time the first son enlisted – Robert, in July 1915. Possibly the mother had remarried because on his enlistment papers Robert gave his mother as Mrs E Paterson of North Devon. However this was subsequently amended to to Mrs E Booker and her address then became Port Melbourne. When the second son enlisted — Herbert in June 1916 – the mother was given as Mrs E Booker at the same Port Melbourne address. Each of these brothers, on enlistment, gave his own address as in the Shire of Alberton, Robert at Devon North and Herbert at Alberton West and both appear to have been farm labourers.

Frederick was the last of the brothers to enlist and when he did it was in Western Australia and he was married. There is no indication of when he moved to WA. He was 25 yo and he gave his occupation as ‘motor-driver’. His wife – Gertrude Magdalene Booker – was living at Subiaco. All three brothers gave their religion as Roman Catholic.

He enlisted on 18/9/16 and joined as reinforcements for 51 Battalion. He left Perth just 3 months later on 23/12/16. He spent 1917 in the UK training. There was a brief period of hospitalisation with mumps in April 1917. It appears that during his training in the UK he transferred for a short time to 17 Field Ambulance but then he returned to his original unit and was finally taken on strength with 51 Battalion in France in early March 1918. He was killed in action in the assault on Villers-Bretonneux on 24/4/18, just over one month after joining the battalion.

The war diary for 51 Battalion records how the ‘counter attack to recover Villers Bretonneux and restore the line as held up to this morning’ was to commence at 10 pm on 24/4/18. Prior to the attack the village of Villers Bretonneuex was to be bombarded by artillery and, as well, the Royal Air Force was to bomb it. Events moved quickly, and the orders for the counter attack did not reach 51 Battalion until 7.30 pm on the day. The war diary describes the casualities caused by the enemy machine guns in the action and also describes the value of the British tanks in the assault. The tanks was by now a formidable and effective weapon.

At 7 a.m. on 25/4/18 3 tanks were sent into the Bois De Aquenne to clear enemy M.G. Posts there and also from valley on West of Villers Bretonneux. These tanks did splendid work and it was mainly due to their excellent work that the wood was finally cleared of the enemy. Enemy M.G. Posts in sunken road O.34.d. were mopped up by some of the tanks.

Casualty figures for 51 Battalion over the period of the attack and its subsequent time in the line (24-27 April) were very high: a total of 389 with 76 killed, 253 wounded and 60 missing.

The Red Cross report for Private Booker makes it clear that he was one of the many killed by machine gun fire in the first few hours of the action:

He was in C. Company. 10th Platoon. 5ft 11. medium to dark , and over 30 [He was 27 yo at the time]. At Villers Bretonneux on April 24th 1918 at about midnight we were attacking near a Sunken Road when Booker was killed instantly by machine gun fire. I saw him dead in the road way. I know nothing of his burial. The Headquarters Pioneers did that work. H. E. Link 7744. 51st Battn. 11/1/19

Came from Subiaco, Perth. W. Australia. At Villers Bretonneux on April 24/18 in the hop over just before midnight, Booker who was close beside me was killed instantly by machine gun fire. I saw him fall & later went to him but he was dead. I know nothing of his burial. [name and regimental number unclear] 21/2/19

The body was never recovered and Private Booker’s name appears on the memorial at Villers Bretonneux.

The cable advising Private Booker’s wife in Perth of his death was dated 9/5/18. When she completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour she gave Perth as the location with which her husband had been ‘chiefly connected’. She received his few personal belongings – 2 Discs, Metal Chain, Religious Medallions, Wallet, Photos, 2 Certificates, Cards, Gold ring. – in February 1919. At this stage she was still Mrs Booker but by 1923 she had remarried (Ritchie).

His name appeared on The Roll of Honor published in the (Perth) Sunday Times on 2/6/18 – F. P. Booker (Canning Bridge).

Back in the Shire of Alberton, the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative published news on his death on 29/5/18:

The information has reached us of another former resident of the district having made the supreme sacrifice for King and Country. We refer to Sergeant Frederick Peter Booker, whose name appears on the North Devon honor roll. The sad and regrettable feature of the brave young hero’s end is that he leaves a widow and three children, who are at present residing in Western Australia. He was a son of Mrs Booker, of Port Melbourne, and has been on active service for a very long time, and had attained the age of 28 years. The name of a brother, Pte. R. J. Booker, appears on the Yarram honor roll, and [sic] who recently returned from active service abroad. He intends visiting Yarram within the next fortnight.

In the same edition of the paper there was a death notice:

Booker. – On 26th April, 1918. Sergeant Frederick Peter Booker, aged 28 years, dearly loved son of Mrs. E. Booker, of Port Melbourne.
Oh, could I have raised his dying head,
Or heard his last farewell,
The blow would have not been so hard
To his wife and children he loved so well.
His resting place, a hero’s grave,
To know and to love, and then to part,
Is the saddest part of a human heart.
– Inserted by his loving mother and brother Bob.

The date of death is incorrect in the death notice and there does not appear to be any record of Private Frederick Booker ever having held the rank of sergeant. The brother – Robert James Booker – did not return to the district until mid September 1918 when he was given a welcome home at North Devon. This brother settled back in the local district after the War.

Private Frederick Booker’s name is recorded on both the honor roll for the state school at Devon North and also the equivalent roll for the Devon North district. His name is not recorded on either the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor or the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. As for the 2 other brothers, only Robert is listed on the Shire of Alberton Roll of Honor, although both are listed on local schools’ honor rolls – Robert for Devon North and Herbert for Yarram.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

National Archives file for BOOKER Frederick Peter
Roll of Honour: Frederick Peter Booker
First World War Embarkation Roll: Frederick Peter Booker
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Frederick Peter Booker

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