Writer seeks family of Sanderstead WWII adventurer
A world war enthusiast who is putting together the life story of a Sanderstead soldier is appealing for members of his family to come forward.
Ian Miller is writing about Walter Hook’s experiences as a sergeant in Africa during World War II. Mr Miller won the medals, pictures and documents belonging to Walter Hook at an auction in Tamworth, Staffordshire.
Walter Hook, the son of a grocer, was born in 1912. He left school at 16 and started working as a clerk.
By the time he was 27, he had worked his way up to a position with Metal Propellers handling all its ledgers and wages.
At the outbreak of World War II, in 1939, he had married his sweetheart Elizabeth Watson and moved to a home in Sanderstead.
The clerk, a keen cricketer, enrolled in the Home Guard 59th Surrey Battalion and was promoted to sergeant in 1942.
Shortly afterwards, he found himself aboard the RMS Alcantara bound for north-east Africa.
Many soldiers have harrowing memories of the conflict in that area so it is perhaps unusual that Sgt Hook regarded the whole journey as something of an adventure.
Although he makes no mention of any combat he was engaged in, the soldier does write about suffering from a bout of malaria and the number of wildlife photographs he was able to take while he was stationed in the area.
Sgt Hook was one of few in his regiment who had a driving licence and so had the grim task of visiting cemeteries in the area and identifying war graves.
At the end of 1945, he travelled hundreds of miles from Nairobi, through Tanzania (then Tanganyika) and over to Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) taking pictures as he went.
He kept the menu from a stopover at the Victoria Falls Hotel along with his receipt and the change from his dinner of grilled kabeljauw.
The soldier-tourist kept exactly 100 pictures of his time in Africa including the celebratory drink when the regiment learned they were to be repatriated to Britain.
In a glowing reference from a Major Gannicliffe, Sgt Hook is described as “willing and painstaking at all times and carried out deputy duties in the absence of more senior officers”. He died in 1995 at the age of 81.
Do you know more? Contact the Heritage desk on 0208 330 9559.