Wally Bourke

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Posted on 8 November 2019

One of the young Australian Navy sailors on HMAS Sydney during the battle with the German cruiser, Emden, was Walter (Wally) Bourke. Just 17 years of age he was one of the young RAN servicemen who graduated from the RAN training ship HMAS Tingira who took part in this sea battle in November 1914. His rank was Boy First Class. After the battle Wally Bourke wrote a letter to his mother in Cowra, NSW, telling her about the battle against the Emden. In his letter to his mother he also mentioned that he wrote and sent a letter to his two brothers, John (Jack) and William (Willie), whilst they were in the convoy of ships at Albany that were carrying the AIF men overseas for war in November 1914. His letter was published in the Cowra Free Press newspaper on Wednesday 3 February 1915. Wally was narrowly missed by a shell from the Emden. 

Wally Bourke survived the war but his two brothers, Jack and Willie, were killed on the Western Front. William Alan Bourke was killed at Pozieres on 25 July 1916 and John James Bourke was killed at Strazeele on 14 April 1918. After the deaths of his brothers Wally Bourke enlisted in the AIF in June 1918.

During his time in the RAN Wally learnt to box and became a champion boxer in the navy. After he left the AIF Wally became a professional boxer based at Lithgow in NSW where he also worked in the mines. It was as a miner in the State Coal Mine at Lithgow in 1922  that Wally Bourke  narrowly escaped death when he was working in a shaft and the staging collapsed, killing the miner, John O'Toole, who was working beside him. There was an inquest into the death of John O'Toole in Sydney in July 1922.     

Wally Bourke had a short but quite successful boxing career as a lightweight boxer. He had a very heavy punch which resulted in a number of knock outs. He defeated Stan Love in October 1922 at Lithgow. At that time Stan Love was the lightweight boxing champion in NSW but as the boxers were fighting at catch up weights (not at the same weight) the title win was not recognised by Stan Love's team. Wally's life came to an end in 1925 when in Sydney for a boxing match he stepped off a tram and was killed by a motor vehicle. His death was reported in a number of newspapers.