Digger who did his duty, twice
William Booker, centre front row, fought in two wars.

William Booker answered the call to arms in two wars.

Tragically he did not return home from both.

His grandson, Alan Booker, of Belmont, told how William Booker was born in South Australia in 1885.

In April 1902, he volunteered to fight in the Boer War, and set sail for the conflict on May 20.

By the time the transport ship St Andrews docked in Durban, southern Africa, on June 19, peace had been declared, and after a short stay Booker re-embarked and returned to Adelaide.

In 1908, Booker married Alice Teakle and moved to WA to live at Wagin, where he worked as a grocer.

But it was not long before he was on his way to war once more.

When World War I broke out, Booker again volunteered to serve, and in September 1915 he was at Blackboy Hill training camp at Greenmount.

He set sail from Fremantle on January 18, 1916, aboard the Medic, as a reinforcement for the 28th Battalion, leaving behind his wife and sons Hartley, 7 (Alan Booker's father), and Lloyd, 5.

After a brief stay in Egypt, Booker sailed on to join the fighting on the Western Front in June.

The 28th Battalion took part in its first major battle at Pozieres, France, between July and August, and Booker was wounded in action and sent to hospital with fractured ribs.

He rejoined the battalion on August 24, but was back in hospital with flu in October.

He again rejoined his battalion late in the same month and went into action at Flers, in the Somme Valley in France.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs website about the Western Front records how fighting in the area was conducted in the most appalling conditions.

"So bad was the going across the devastated landscape between Longueval and Flers that the first Australian units to make their way in late October 1916 up to the front from rear camps, a distance of about 8km, took between nine and 12 hours," it says.

Further torrential rain made the situation so bad that "to get along with full equipment over a distance of just 3km could take up to six hours" battling through mud.

According to the Australian War Memorial, "attacks were made in atrocious conditions".

"The attacking waves of troops were sucked down by the cloying mud and thus, unable to keep up with their creeping artillery barrage, became easy targets for German machine-gunners and riflemen."

Sadly, among the casualties was Booker.

A fellow soldier, Pte R. Fleming, later gave the Red Cross a witness account of his death.

"I saw him killed near Flers about two miles from Bapaume," Fleming said.

"He was caught by a machinegun bullet, and death was instantaneous.

"I do not know the place of burial as we lost the ground temporarily and I cannot refer to anyone for further information.

"I knew him well, he was a Lewis machinegunner, and he was the only man of that name in the coy (company)."

The records held by the Australian War Memorial show William Booker was killed in action between November 3 and 6, 1916.

He is remembered at the Wagin war memorial, Kings Park, Villers-Bretonneux memorial and the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

He was caught by a machinegun bullet, and death was instantaneous."

The West Australian

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