The Veteran Advocate

Lieutenant Colonel W.K. Walker, D.S.O., M.C.
1st Motor Machine Gun Brigade

I am not opposed to the Vimy Ridge Memorial and plan to be present at the unveiling in July … I am, however, opposed to extravagant war memorials. Particularly when so many of our fine men, who gave their all in the war, are still in need. Anyway, these war memorials will probably only be destroyed in the next war.

(Lt. Col. W.K. Walker, Ottawa Citizen, 11 April 1936, 16)

Born in Cleator Moor, England on 12 July 1888, William Keating Walker was a Church of England missionary living in British Columbia. On the outbreak of the war, despite having no  active military service, he first joined Elliott’s Horse, a small privately raised unit of veteran soldiers. Although many volunteers intended to join their old British regiments on arrival to England, Walker vowed, “I was a Canadian by adoption; a Canadian I would remain, and as a Canadian I would fight.” He was commissioned with the Royal Canadian Dragoons in November 1914. 

Having already earned the Military Cross and Distinguished Service Order, he replaced Lieutenant Colonel Francis Alfred Wilkin in command of the 1st Motor Machine Gun Brigade in March 1918. Nicknamed “Tiny,” the six-foot-two Walker was a highly decorated leader, further earning the Croix de Guerre and a D.S.O. Bar. The latter citation read:

He commanded a mixed force composed of motor machine guns, a company of cyclists and a trench motor detachment which he handled with boldness and ability, destroying several machine gun nests and capturing strong points. He inspired his men by his example of personal courage and daring, and contributed to the success of the advance.

After the war, Walker attempted to stay involved in military matters with a particular interest on training machine gunners as commandant of the Small Arms School in the 1920s. He was president of the Ottawa branch of the Canadian Legion and his views became more political during the Great Depression.

In 1935, he announced his candidacy for the federal riding of Ottawa West, running on an independent platform of the abolishment of national armed forces, absolute free speech, appointment of a Canadian governor general, amending the Pension Act for veterans, and establishing a grant to allow veterans and families to visit the soon to be unveiled Vimy Memorial in France.

He was, however, very critical of expensive and extravagant war memorials in general. Such commemorative projects took away money and attention from needy veterans of the present, as he elaborated in a Legion speech:

The veterans in need today are the front-liners. The back-liners those who served in Canada and England only, are already getting a square deal because their regimental medical history sheets are in good shape and proof of their service ailments and treatments are clearly shown on departmental files. But the front-liners, those who floundered in the mud and blood, and who actually closed with the enemy, have in many instances no record on their documents showing ailments or treatments. Everyone thought of only one thing—taking the objective and hanging on to it.

Walker considered joining H.H. Stevens’s Reconstruction Party, but soon soured on the upstart movement of the former Conservative MP. He charged Stevens with stealing his platform for veterans and then cynically exploiting their legitimate grievances. After gaining assurances from the Liberals on their veteran policy, Walker dropped out a month before the October 1935 federal election and endorsed the sitting Ottawa West MP, T. Franklin Ahearn.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, the now fifty-one year old retired colonel offered to take up the machine gun again, either for training or fighting. After his letters to the defence department went unanswered, Walker protested, “Were I useless my services would not be offered. But I am of some real value to Canada’s war effort.”

Walker died in Victoria, British Columbia on 21 July 1961.


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