Charles Edward Walters (1899-1979) – Sussex Brigader
According to Charles Walters’ son Max his father was born in 1899 having “told him on numerous occasions how he increased his age during his teenage years to make him more suitable for employment.” An endorsement by the British Consul in Madrid on Charles Walters’ Republican Army discharge papers says, “Holder has stated to me that he is a British Subject born at Lewes Sussex 5.10.1898.”
Family records show Charles Walters was the son of a “game warden” working on The Southover Estate near Burwash in East Sussex and he sang in the choir at St. Bartholomew’s Parish Church in the village. He was “adopted out” and migrated to Australia about 1916.
The Southover Estate, near Burwash, was sold in 1944 and broken up. Its main buildings are now the secluded residences of the well-heeled.
Charles lived in South Australia from 1923 to 1932 working as a rabbit trapper and a contemporary photo shows a 24 year old Charles lining up as a soccer player for Blyth, a small township on the northern Adelaide Plains. Charles then moved to Tasmania and was active in workers and socialist causes in Launceston and Hobert which made him a marked man. Hobart police issued him with a deportation order because of his activities supporting unemployed worker’s rights in an anti-eviction campaign. The order was rescinded after a campaign by local community leaders including members of the clergy.
When the Spanish Civil War erupted in July 1936 Charles collected press cuttings about the conflict, saying “they haunted me until I was compelled to go”. He worked his passage to London to join the International Brigade arriving in Spain on 16th August 1937 serving seventeen months on the Aragon and Ebro fronts.
Writing home from the front line Charles told his comrades back home “I felt it was my duty to come here …. A man thinks a lot out here I think I wouldn’t mind dying for democracy. Please send food and clothes. It is so cold.”
Charles was severely wounded in the Battle of Tereul which raged from December 1937 to February 1938, spending five months convalescing in Benecassim Hospital where he met Egon Kisch the Austrian writer and journalist.
Wounded men of the British Battalion in Spain before their return home. Charles Walters is bottom right in peaked cap.
In August 1938 he was certified as being unfit for active service arriving back in Newhaven on 25th October 1938. Charles then returned to Adelaide in South Australia becoming Assistant Secretary of the local Spanish Relief Committee.
Australian International Brigade Volunteers arrive back home holding flags. At the front three men hold a torn Spanish Republic banner including Charles Walters, bottom left.
In February 1939 soon after his return Charles addressed a meeting in Adelaide his words showing that despite the hardships he had suffered in Spain the idealism that inspired him to join the International Brigade had not diminished.
“We people of all nations must demand a new order of life founded on the principles of social justice, peace and international co-operation. We ask for deeds not words.”
He found work on farms and tried his hand at fur trapping and in 1941 married Charlotte Evelyn Shaw in Melbourne, their only child Maxwell Haldane was born on 11th June 1941. Max later wrote that his middle name was in honour of J.B.S. Haldane the Marxist author and scientist who raised money to support the Republic in its fight against fascism. Max’s parents separated when he was four and he was not reunited with his father until Charles tracked him down thirty-five years later.
Charles was proud of being a Volunteer for Liberty having his International Brigade lapel badge gold plated. His son Max wrote “…he was very proud and believed it to be definitely the only one in Australia and one of the few in the World. He was also under the impression that after the war that anyone found in Spain with this lapel badge was immediately executed, imprisoned or persecuted (even tourists) under Franco’s regime and he dared not wear it while in Europe in 1968!”
Charles Walters’ gold plated International Brigade lapel badge is now in the Australian War Memorial collection in Canberra.
In Sydney in 1954 Charles married again to Dorothy Kilmister and a photo shows Charles and Dorothy feeding pigeons in Trafalgar Square in 1968. The photo is too grainy to show if Charles was wearing his gold-plated badge. Charles and Dorothy remained together until his death in October 1979 in Dora Creek, New South Wales.
A memorial in the Canberra Nara Peace Park commemorates Australian International Brigaders.
Mike Anderson, with thanks to Katherine Zeigler, Archivist at the Australian National University Canberra for her invaluable help in accessing the Amirah Inglis Collection, and Australian War Memorial for permission for the use of photographs.