Lieutenant Walter Frame

Lieutenant Walter Frame from Oamaru, was working in Melbourne when war broke out in August 1914. He immediately joined the Australian Army and served at Gallipoli and in France in the Artillery. Walter was awarded the Military Medal and shortly after a bar to this award for gallantry under heavy shell and small arms fire in mid-1916. In 1917 he transferred to the Royal Naval Reserve and volunteered for Q-Ships (submarine decoy ships) and in HMS Dunraven was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Walter Henry Frame was the son of Alexander and Mary Frame and was born in Oamaru on 3 April 1889. After completing school he went to sea in 1904, gaining his master’s certificate in 1913 and took up a position, initially as Mate and then Master on the Melbourne Harbour Board’s floating plant.

Following the outbreak of war, Walter enlisted in the Australian Army as a driver with the 2 Field Artillery Brigade Ammunition Column and departed on board the Australian troopship Shropshire on 20 October. After about five months service at Gallipoli he was invalided to England, returning as far as Lemnos when that campaign ended. He then went to France where he transferred to 23 Field Battery, being promoted to bombardier and then corporal in September 1916.

On 31 May 1916 Walter’s unit came under heavy artillery fire and the communication lines were continually broken. Disregarding the shell fire Walter continually repaired the lines and for his bravery was awarded the Military Medal.

On 31 May 1916 Walter’s unit came under heavy artillery fire and the communication lines were continually broken. Disregarding the shell fire Walter continually repaired the lines and for his bravery was awarded the Military Medal. Six weeks later, on 22/23 July heavy shell fire again continually severed the communication lines and Walter again continually repaired them and eventually had to resort to communicating by light, all the while under intense fire. His gallantry on this occasion saw him being awarded a bar to his Military Medal.

Walter was granted a commission as a Temporary Sub Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve on 17 April 1917 and after initial training undertook a gunnery course at Devonport, gaining a second class certificate on 19 June. He joined the Q-Ship HMS Dunraven on 16 July, under the command of Captain Gordon Campbell VC, DSO. The concept of Q-Ships was that they were designed to look like merchant ships, but had concealed guns. When a submarine was sighted the crew would appear to panic and abandon ship, leaving a small party on board. Once the submarine was close enough, usually approaching while firing on the ship, the guns would be un-masked and they would sink the submarine.

Hidden gun on an unnamed Q-ship
Hidden gun on an unnamed Q-ship. Image credit: Leander Project

On 8 August Dunraven was on patrol in the Bay of Biscay disguised as a collier, when UC 71 was sighted. At 11.45am the submarine surfaced and approached the ship from 2½ miles, firing as it did so and the ‘panic’ party abandoned ship as planned. A shell struck one of the ship’s depth charges which caused an explosion followed by a fire. Lieutenant Bonner’s gun crew on the poop deck were suffering from the smoke and had to keep moving the cordite from place to place on the deck, which was getting redhot beneath them.

Meanwhile the captain ordered the engineroom to send up clouds of steam to simulate boiler trouble, and stopped his ship. The submarine came steadily nearer, and passed at a short distance under the stern and was about to come within the line of fire of three concealed guns at a range at which there could have been no missing. At this time the raging fire exploded two more depth charges which hurled one of the fourinch guns into the air and simultaneously the gun concealed gun on the after bridge opened fire. The disguise was exposed, and the submarine immediately submerged. At 1.20pm UC 71 fired a torpedo which crippled the ship and it began to slowly sink.

On his service in Dunraven Captain Campbell noted that Walter was a very brave and zealous officer.

Nothing further could be done to master the fire under the poop and cordite and shells exploded every few minutes, the splinters flying all over the ship and penetrating the cabins in which the wounded lay. Still submerged the submarine circled the ship and Dunraven fired two torpedoes but both missed. UC 71 sighted the second torpedo and departed the scene.

Captain Campbell then signalled for assistance which was responded to by three destroyers that were in the area. The ship was taken in tow by HMS Christopher, but foundered in the approaches to the English Channel two days later. Amongst the officers decorated for their actions on this occasion were the Captain who was awarded a second bar to his Distinguished Service Order, Lieutenant Charles Bonner, DSC who received the Victoria Cross and Walter who received the Distinguished Service Cross. Petty Officer Ernest Pitcher also received the Victoria Cross, by ballot amongst the crew. On his service in Dunraven Captain Campbell noted that Walter was a very brave and zealous officer.

After he left Dunraven Walter was appointed to a new patrol vessel operating off the coast of Ireland until early 1918, when he was appointed in command of TB 33 (Torpedo Boat) from March until July, based at Leith. Walter spent the remainder of his service in the shore establishment HMS Vivid at Devonport, being demobilised on 8 February 1919. He then returned to Australia, re-joining the Melbourne Harbour Board and died in Heidelberg, Victoria in 1955.