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Service commemorates highly decorated padre

Posted on: December 10, 2015 11:25 AM
Padre Walter Ernest Dexter leads a service for troops on the Western Front
Photo Credit: Australia War Memorial
Related Categories: Australia, chaplaincy, England, History, service, war

[ACNS] A military chaplain who became Australia’s most highly decorated padre during World War I, is to be honoured tomorrow (Friday) at a special commemoration service led by the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier.

Archbishop Freier will plant a tree and bless a framed certificate during the service at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Lara, Victoria. The service is being held to mark the centenary of the Revd Walter Ernest Dexter leaving Gallipoli.

Dexter was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in the Boer War as a trooper. For his services as a chaplain he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross.

The National Anzac Centre (NAC) records that Walter Ernest Dexter was born in Birkenhead, England, in August 1873; and was indentured on the barque Buckingham at the age of 14. He became a master mariner and for a time was master of Afghan, which carried Muslim pilgrims to Mecca.

The death of his first wife, Frances, a year after their marriage in Mauritius, is said to have “greatly affected him, and he dedicated himself to becoming an Anglican Minister,” the NAC reports. “After studying at sea, he enrolled at Durham University in 1906. Two years later, he was ordained and appointed Curate at Walbone, Newcastle upon Tyne.

“He migrated to Australia in 1910, and worked from a tent in the small coal-mining town of Wonthaggi, Victoria, before transferring to South Melbourne in 1912.”

In September 1914, Dexter enlisted with the Australian army – the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) – as a chaplain and was shipped to Gallipoli via Egypt. He also served on the Western Front.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Melbourne said that “Mr Dexter served at Gallipoli throughout the campaign, being one of the first men ashore and one of the last to leave. He was the only Australian Army chaplain of any denomination to serve continually throughout the entire course of the First World War.

“Mr Dexter became involved shortly after the war began, serving at the Broadmeadows training camp from September 1914, as the first volunteers began to arrive. It is said up to a thousand men a night sought his counsel.

“Six times wounded in the First World War, Mr Dexter was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his actions at Gallipoli, and the Military Medal for his gallantry under fire on the Western Front.

“The measure of his bravery, and dedication to ministry among the wounded and dying, is clearly evident in the citation that accompanied his Military Cross, which reads in part: ‘for zeal and devotion to duty . . . regardless of personal risk he visited the front line troops, ministered to the wounded, attended burial parties and helped to collect wounded.’”

Mr Dexter’s five sons served with distinction in the Second World War. One of them, Mick, now aged 90, and his daughter, Lady Geraldine Currie, aged 86, will attend the service alongside other members of the family.