South Shields Local History Group

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Williams, Walter Chantler (RAAF)

Sgt Walter Chantler Williams RAAF  50th Squadron – Section K Grave 4037

Walter was born in South Shields on the 29th November 1908 to parents John Henry and Lena Williams, who had married in the town in 1907. In 1911 Ronald H Williams was born but by then Lena aged only 26 was a widow living with her dead husband’s family in Saville St South Shields. Poor Lena was no stranger to family tragedy, when she was only 15 living at Westoe, her father Walter who worked as a foreman in Ald. Wardle’s timber merchants was drowned early on a Sunday morning in the middle of July 1900. An Inquest was held in the days following the incident. Witness James Green the Coastguardsman reported that at 8:15 am he had heard of a bather being in difficulties and he had ran along the sands to intervene. He saw a young man who was exhausted pointing to the sea saying there was another man still there. Mr Green couldn’t see anyone in the water but two gentlemen said they’d found a body floating in shallow water which they had pulled out. It was Walter Chantler, Lena’s Dad. Chief Officer Williams and others tried artificial respiration for an hour but failed to revive him and Dr Ord pronounced him dead. The deceased’s clothes were 100 yards to the north of where the body had been found. There had been a heavy swell to the sea with a strong current which is not uncommon off South Shields. Alfred Stephenson had swam to rescue Chantler and had managed to get hold of him by the hand and towed him towards the shore, but a big wave dragged the drowning exhausted man’s hand from Alfred’s and being too weak to speak sank out of sight beneath the water. Lena was also called to give evidence and said her father had left the house at twenty minutes to eight to bathe and at 8:30 she had been told he was drowned. A verdict of accidental drowning was given.

After the death of her husband, Lena must have set her mind on a new life overseas for her family of two boys and on the 31st March 1920 they embarked on the ship Euripides bound for Melbourne. Walter attended Norwood School from 1920-21 then Norwood High School in 1922 and finally Prince Alfred College from1923-24. He passed the following final exams English, French, Arithmetic, Maths I, Maths II, Physics and Latin but failed Chemistry ( a great surprise as he was to become a Pharmacist!). He played football, cricket and tennis. He passed the Pharmacy Board 1925-31 and was apprentice Chemist to Mr N.I. Gryst in Kent Town for 7 years and then owned his own Chemist shop in Tusmore before enlisting in the RAF on the outbreak of war. He had married Constance Bertha Poole in April 1933 and they were living on Beaumont Road, Linden Park Gardens in New South Wales. In 1938 their only child, a son Ronald John Chantler Williams was born. He was to become Bishop of the Southern Region, Diocese of Brisbane. He was presumably following the calling of his maternal Grandfather, George Harrison who was born in 1820 in Monkwearmouth and described his occupation as a retired missionary.

Walter, a devout Methodist was also a talented musician and was organist and choirmaster at the Norwood Baptist Church. He featured frequently in the local paper when recitals were performed. The Church was at the centre of his life.

He enlisted on the 12th October 1940 in Adelaide and was described in his service papers as being 5ft 6 inches tall and 126lbs with blue/grey eyes and brown hair. He had a birthmark on his left cheekbone and a mole on his right inner thigh, his chest and on the left of his neck. Two vaccination marks were reported on his left arm. After military training, where he was awarded his Air Observers Badge in May, he went by rail to Sydney on the 4th July 1941 and boarded a ship for Great Britain on the 17th and arrived with 13 other rookie Royal Australian Airforce personnel in Liverpool on the 2nd of September 1941.

On the 21st January 1942 Walter’s bomber, a Handley Page Hampden AE381 took off from their base at Skellingthorpe, near Lincoln on a training flight in bad weather. The weather worsened and Pilot Sgt Royal .J. Heron from Australia encountered blinding snow and high winds. The Wireless Operator Sgt William T Tromans made radio contact with the airfield at Ringway and was given instructions to land there. The pilot hampered by poor visibility brought the bomber south west of Ringway and their engines were heard in the clouds from the airfield prompting the base to advise them of their position and that they would overshoot the runway. Walter was given a location to plot the course back to Skellingthorpe only twenty minutes away. The plane was not heard of again. It had crashed at 20:38pm Cluther Rocks, Kinder Scout, Derbyshire, killing all on board.

Walter’s name is located on Panel 132 on the Australian War Memorial. There is also a Memorial Slate Plaque at the crash site with the names Sgt Sydney Albert Peters, Sgt William Thomas Tromains, Sgt Walter Chantler Williams and Sgt Royal G Heron etched upon it.

Shortly after the crash, the State Board of Australia approved grants of War Pensions to the widow and child of Walter, at the rate of £4. 4/- and £1 per fortnight from 8 March 1942. It seems a scant recompense for the loss of a Daddy.

Written and researched by Dorothy Ramser

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