Military History

The Highest Honour #37 | Samuel Pearse | Walter Peeler

By The Cove September 27, 2021


Sergeant Samuel James Pearse VC, MM (1897 - 1919, 22yo)

Samuel Pearse was born on 16 July 1897 in Wales. He migrated to Australia in 1911 where he worked as a fruit picker, labourer, trapper and as a deck-hand on a paddle-steamer. He enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force on 10 September 1915.

Pearse joined the 9th Reinforcements for the 7th Battalion and served briefly in Gallipoli in December before moving to France the following March. It was here he was transferred to the 2nd Machine-Gun Company in August where he remained when it became part of the 1st Machine-Gun Battalion. He was wounded on 24 August 1916.

On the night of 18 September 1917, whilst on outpost duty on the Western edge of Glencorse Wood, East of Ypres, he saw a light shine momentarily in a German post some distance in front and, after warning his comrades crept forward alone and dropped bombs into the position causing casualties to the enemy who later evacuated the post. Although he was normally a runner he was in the trenches from 16 - 22 September 1917 taking part in the advance. Throughout this time he showed an utter disregard for danger in carrying messages, guiding parties and in bringing wounded men. On every return run from forward positions he helped to bring back the wounded and undoubtedly saved many lives. For his actions he was awarded the Military Medal.

Pearse was promoted to LCPL in November 1917 and Corporal in April 1918. On 19 May 1918 he was wounded again and invalided to England where he did not rejoin his unit until the end of the war.

On 18 July 1919 he was discharged from the AIF and joined the 45th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers for service with the North Russia Relief Force. On one occasion during this service, Pearse cut his way through the enemy barbed wire under very heavy machine-gun and rifle fire and cleared a way for the troops to enter the battery position. Seeing that a blockhouse was harassing the advance and causing casualties, he charged the blockhouse single-handed, killing the occupants with bombs. This gallant non-commissioned officer met his death a minute later, and it was due to him that the position was carried with so few casualties. His magnificent bravery and utter disregard for personal danger won for him the admiration of all troops. For most conspicuous bravery, devotion to duty and self sacrifice during the operation against the enemy battery position north of Emtsa (North Russia) on the 29 August 1919 he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. He was buried in North Russia. 

Lance Corporal Walter Peeler VC, BEM (1887 - 1968, 80yo)

Walter Peeler was born on 09 August 1887 at Barker's Creek, Victoria. There is no recorded education for Peeler but records state he worked on his parents' orchard. He enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force on 17 February 1916 and embarked with the 3rd Pioneer Battalion in June 1916.

Whilst serving in France he was wounded during the battle of Messines on 07 June 1917. On 04 October 1917, along with twenty four other gunners from his unit, he was attached for anti-aircraft duties to the 37th Battalion for the assault on Broodseinde Ridge in Belgium. He joined in the first wave, leading an attack against three enemy posts which were sniping the advancing Australians, and then turned his attention to a machine-gun post. He accounted for thirty of the enemy and for 'his fearlessness and fine example' was awarded the Victoria Cross. During the second battle of Passchendaele he was wounded and sent to London where he received his Victoria Cross from King George V at Buckingham Palace. He returned to his unit on 17 May 1918 and promoted to Corporal and not two weeks later was promoted to Sergeant. Peeler returned to Australia on 11 October 1918 and was discharged on 10 December 1918.

During World War II, Peeler understated his age by fourteen years and enlisted in the 2nd A.I.F. In 1940 and saw service in the Syrian campaign as Company Quartermaster Sergeant of D Company, 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion. His battalion was part of a small Australian force that landed in Java in February 1942 to assist the Dutch against the rapid Japanese advance. After the island's surrender to the Japanese he survived a long period on the Burma Railway. He was one of only three World War I VC winners then serving overseas. He returned to Australia in October 1945 to learn that his son had been killed on Bougainville in December 1944 while serving with the 15th Battalion.

Survived by two of his children from his first marriage and by Kathleen (d.1969) and three of their children, he died at South Caulfield on 23 May 1968 and was buried in Brighton cemetery. His medals are on display in the Hall of Valour at the Australian War Memorial.


Portrait

Biography

The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



Add new comment

Cove App

COVE App

Fast access to The Cove anywhere, anytime. Additional feature of receiving notifications for new content.

Reflective Journal

REFLECTIVE JOURNAL

Record your reflections in a structured way to improve your performance.