Wallace Anderson's legacy as a great Australian sculptor is encapsulated in the First World War dioramas and a number of bronze sculptures at the Australian War Memorial. Anderson worked on the dioramas and related plan models from 1918, when a modelling section was formed within the Australian War Records Section in London immediately after the November armistice. He not only contributed engineering and sculptural knowledge to this undertaking, but his combat experience enabled him to describe the war devastation that had occurred in the areas depicted.
Having the means to attend secondary school, Anderson was enrolled at Geelong College from 1902 to 1903, after which he studied engineering at Gordon Technical College from 1904 to 1905, where he also took modelling classes at night. He later attended night classes for life-drawing at the Victorian Artists Society, and for drawing at the National Gallery School, while teaching art by day at Sunshine Technical School.
In June 1915 Anderson enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) at Melbourne. He was 5ft 8 inches (173cm) tall, with a fresh complexion, hazel eyes and brown hair. He attended officer training school at Broadmeadows, as well as musketry school and 1 machine-gun school. In May 1916 he married Gladys Ada Andrews at Scots Church in Melbourne and two months later he embarked on HMAT Armadale (A26) for posting at an Instructional Camp in England.
Anderson was sent from England to France in January 1917, where he served as a Lieutenant in the 23rd Battalion. His early war service with the 23rd Battalion involved action near the town of Albert, Mouquet Farm, and Bullecourt. His diary records the futility and sickening violence of the Western Front. Due to a request from his friend, Lieutenant Sidney Gullett, Anderson was seconded to assist in gathering information for the Australian War Records Section. This in turn led to his appointment as museums officer and sculptor to the AIF in April 1918.
Based in the Australian War Records Section in London, Anderson became head of the Modelling Subsection, tasked with researching and constructing the Memorial's first dioramas. His associates in this included painter Louis McCubbin and sculptor Web Gilbert. Following the war, Anderson, McCubbin and Gilbert toured the battlefields of Belgium, France, Egypt, Palestine and Gallipoli in order to gather visual information. They made sketches, watercolours and plasticine models.
The men returned to Australia in 1920 after completing fieldwork, to begin construction of the dioramas and topographical models in the Australian War Museum (as the Memorial was called at the time) Exhibition Building at Fitzroy, Melbourne. Anderson continued with the Memorial until 1930, when he began working as a private sculptor. He resumed his position at the Memorial in the late 1930s working until after the Second World War, assisting with the compilation of models and other artefacts as the Memorial was transferred from Melbourne to Canberra.
On his own initiative, Anderson produced a series of commemorative sculptures for the Memorial, which symbolise the ANZAC spirit. The men depicted in his sculptures - Evacuation ART09633, Defence of ANZAC ART13664 and Water carrier ART14074 - embody the ideal of healthy, young Australians sent to fight at Gallipoli, perpetuated in the ANZAC legend. His most famous sculpture, however, is Man with the donkey at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. Some of Anderson's personal papers are in the Private Records collection at the Memorial.