Frederic John Walker was born 3 June 1896 in Plymouth, Devon. He joined the Royal Navy at the young age of 13; and it’s fair to say that the sea was his life till the day he died. His early career saw mixed fortunes: he chose anti-submarine warfare as his specialist field, which was no longer regarded as cutting-edge in the interwar period. It was not until the Second World War that he really came into his own.
Hero of the Battle of the Atlantic
The Battle of the Atlantic lasted for the entire duration of WWII, beginning in the early hours of the war on 3rd September 1939 when the SS Athenia became the first British ship to be sunk by Nazi Germany. It only ended with the defeat of Germany on 8th May 1945. During that time, the struggle to keep the supply lines from North America and the West Indies open was constant, in order to ensure that Britain received the vital imported goods essential to keep the war effort going.
Captain Johnnie Walker received his first command in October 1941, controlling the 36th Escort Group based in Liverpool. It was during this time that he began using the innovative methods which would prove so successful in subsequent encounters, detecting and attacking the U-boats by air and sea while continuing to protect the convoys they escorted.
DSO*** and Companion of the Order of Bath – “Outstanding leadership, skill and determination…”
In all, he sunk more U-boats than any other Allied commander and it was in no small part down to his tactics and actions that the Battle of the Atlantic was finally won. But the strains and exertions of this role had its toll. Captain Johnnie Walker died on 9th July 1944 in the Naval Hospital, Seaforth in Liverpool two days after a cerebral thrombosis, thought to be brought on by overwork and exhaustion. His funeral was held at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and he was buried at sea from the destroyer Hesperus.
Captain Johnnie Walker was commemorated with a statue in 1998 by Liverpool sculptor Tom Murphy. The figure, unveiled by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, stands proud at the Pierhead in Liverpool. Sarsfield Memorials Liverpool was honoured to be commissioned to supply the plinth which records his magnificent achievements.
Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.