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A German Tommy (Hardback)

The Secret of a War Hero

Military WWI

By Ken Anderson
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 198
ISBN: 9781783462742
Published: 11th February 2014



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It was a time of misguided loyalties. The First World War British Army, in a shameful act of patriotism, was withdrawing from the front line veterans who had a German name and posting them to a non-combatants regiment. At home, anti-German feeling was reaching fever pitch. However, one young man, the son of a German father, conspired to have the Army send him into battle. In doing so he became a hero.

This is the story of the 'German Tommy', Walter Schwarz (alias Lieutenant Walter Lancelot Merritt, Military Cross and Bar, bearer of the king's pardon), told in full for the first time after years of research in Australia and Britain. It reveals why and how others helped the young man from Queensland – an Australian Army deserter – survive in an atmosphere that was poisonous at home and in battle for those of German blood who were, nevertheless, like Schwarz, loyal to king and country. Ken Anderson has gone behind the accepted facts to claim how official documents were altered and members of a secret society lied and swore false testimony to help Schwarz, acting on their oath to help a fellow member in distress.

The book offers an insight into the way in which people of German origin were treated in Australia and Britain during the First World War, as well as how Freemasonry – at its peak at that time – helped men of humble background improve their status in life.

It is a story of bravery and deception, unique in the history of war.

As featured in Discover Your History and Essence magazines.

A consistently fascinating read that keeps you on tenterhooks as to how the story will develop.

History of War Magazine

An amazing story.

The Great War Magazine

An extraordinary story and one that you would only imagine to be a screenplay for a movie or TV drama. A superb read.


I have to confess to bias with this review, as I worked with the author some years ago in carrying out the research into the military career of the subject of the book. The story amazed me then and it still does. It is an extraordinary, as far as is known unique, tale of a man of German background who served with the Australian forces, deserted, enlisted into the British Army as a “Ranker”, was commissioned and carried out two acts of such bravery that he was awarded the Military Cross and Bar. His tale came to light after the war as he sought a pardon for his desertion but also because he sought the offered free passage back to Australia. He confessed all in a long letter which is stored with his army service record in London’s National Archives. The letter tells how Walter Schwarz becomes Walter Lancelot Merritt and how he covered up his real identity for so long during the Great War. His letter caused consternation and presented a real dilemma for the authorities – was this man a deserter or a hero? In the end it was only settled at the highest level when King George V gave his assent for Schwarz to be pardoned and sent home. Ken Anderson has done a terrific job of providing background and context to his story, and as we might expect from a journalist, he has written it in a pacy, gripping style. He has also woven into the story an enquiry about how Walter managed to do it, an aspect that the purely military papers of course do not cover. It’s a great read and a great story.

The book is of special value to anyone interested in the Sportsmen’s Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers or the 29th Division.

Chris Baker, 1914-1918.net
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