If one man could claim to have influenced the course of history with a single deed, it would be AE2’s telegrapher William Falconer. Falconer was born on 14 October 1892 at Richmond, Victoria. He enlisted in the RAN at age 18 for a period of seven years’ service. It was Falconer’s Marconi wireless message on the night of the Anzac offensive that figured in the midnight meeting aboard the flagship on whether the Anzacs should be withdrawn.
Stoker wrote: ‘At nightfall we again commenced to establish wireless communication with the fleet, but with no more success than before. Every possible test and overhaul of our instruments was carried out, but to no avail.’ But the message had got through.
Falconer’s role was never acknowledged as the feat it actually was, but it was known about. Captain Francis Haworth Booth, the RAN representative in London, wrote to Naval Command in Melbourne on 17 December 1917: ‘John Kerin and W.W. Falconer were both nominated for awards, the [Admiralty] Naval Board rejected this because the Admiralty had not proposed to take similar action for their personnel.’
As a prisoner of war in Turkey, Falconer was interned first at Afion Kara Hissar, then Belemedik. His technical expertise made him a valuable asset to the German engineers contracted to build the railway through the Taurus Mountains. Falconer survived these bitter years, and after his release returned to London by the end of 1918. He arrived back in Australia in April 1919 and was demobilised at his own request in September 1919.