Saturday, 12 August 2017

World War One Soldiers' Story - Arthur and Spence Walton

Some days I tend to 'go off down a rabbit hole' in my WW1 soldiers research.  That's what one of my colleagues on the Remote Volunteers team for the Imperial War Museum's Lives of the First World War website calls it when we get distracted by a particular man or woman and spend hours on them instead of getting on with our standard work. 

At the moment I am fluctuating between Tweeting a few details of each Barnsley connected man who fell during the Battle of Third Ypres, commonly known as Passchendaele, on the 100th anniversary of the day they died, and trying to research a batch of men buried in France between 31 July 1917 and 2 November 1917 to see if any of them might have been wounded in Belgium, but transported to a hospital in France before they died.

The Passchendaele at Home project is a similar initiative.  They are asking schools and community groups to look for men buried in the UK who were wounded at 3rd Ypres. I have checked 15 Barnsley men who might have fulfilled these criteria, but only one seems to fit. He is buried at Darfield, so I have passed his name onto the Friends of Darfield Churchyard who are going to take up the research and hopefully carry out some form of commemoration on the 100th anniversary of his death in September this year.

So far, out of my list of 44 Barnsley men buried in France I have ruled out 16.  It is a complicated process requiring you to find out where his battalion was serving when he was wounded. The Long, Long Trail website is particularly useful for this as it lists which Division a battalion was in at any particular time and then you can cross reference that with the battles in which each Division was involved.

Yesterday morning I started work on Private Arthur Walton 13/671 in the 2nd Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment at his death in France on 8 September 1917. He is buried in St Patrick's Cemetery at Loos. We think he is the man remembered on the Roll of Honour at the Wesleyan Methodist Church at Stairfoot, Barnsley and on the WW1 memorial plaque in Christ Church, Ardsley. The date given on the RoH is one day out (September 9th 1917), but the Battalion fits and he is the only Arthur Walton in the Y&L to die any time around September 1917.
Enlarged snip from the Stairfoot Wesleyan Methodist RoH
In addition I have discovered that Spence Walton, named below Arthur on the RoH, did definitely live at 24 Industry Road, Stairfoot in 1915. He is named in the Electoral Register at that address.  Industry Road is immediately adjacent to the Wesleyan Chapel on old maps of the area. Spence also served in the York and Lancaster Regiment, Private 3/3864 in the 8th Battalion at the time his medals were awarded, which tallies with the detail on the RoH, although he seems to have become a Lance Corporal.  I assume Spence asked for Arthur's name to be included on the RoH.

Arthur Walton's Service Records have not survived, but I suspect that he initially enlisted in the 13th Battalion Y&L at Barnsley (Soldiers Died in the Great War says he enlisted at Barnsley) and then was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, possibly after being wounded or sick and having some time away from the front line.  The Long, Long Trail website says that the 2nd Battalion Y&L were in the 6th Division and in 1917 the took part in the Battle of Hill 70 (near Loos on 15th to 25th August 1917) and the Cambrai operations (20th November 1917 to 30th December 1917). Neither of these were part of the Battle of 3rd Ypres in Flanders, and neither took place during the time period in which we are interested so Arthur's death, "By Aerial Torpedo", if you are having trouble reading the rather fuzzy snip above, must have been a random occurrence whilst his battalion was working at or near the front, maybe in support or on transport duties.

Arthur's wife Eliza (nee Fisher) had remarried by the time her details are recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Arthur and Eliza had married in Castleford on 26th March 1910 and had one child, John Thomas Walton, aged 7 months, listed in the 1911 census. It seems likely that four other Walton children born in Pontefract with the mother's maiden name Fisher, also belonged to the couple. These were George Arthur Walton b.1912, Martha Ann Walton b.1913, Arthur Walton b.1914 and David Walton b.1916.  As Eliza was left a widow with up to four small children it is no surprise to me that she remarried so quickly. She and Joseph Garforth married in Q4 1918 in the Pontefract Registration District.

The location of Hill 70 does fit with Arthur being buried at Loos in September 1917. So not a Passchendaele man then. Tick him off the list and move on.

Well, that was the plan, but along the way I had become quite involved in finding out about Spence Walton and his connection to Barnsley.  

The older generation of the Walton family were living in Castleford in the 1891 and 1901 census returns. Harry Walton (of full age) and Annie Wright (aged 17), had married on 12th April 1879 at Drax Parish Church in the Selby Registration District. Their first child Spence, was born in the same Quarter, also in Selby RD. He was baptised on 6th July (when a birth date of 8th June is noted) at Carlton near Selby. So a bit of a hurried marriage then!
Snip of the 1901 census for Harry Walton's family in Castleford
By 1901 Harry and Annie have 8 children living with them at 26 Chapel Street in Castleford. Harry is a Colliery Surface Man, eldest son Spence, aged 21, is a Coal Miner Hewer and Arthur, aged 14, has no occupation declared.  There must have been great changes for the family over the next ten years as in the 1911 census Harry Walton is a widower declaring he is the uncle of the householder, Robert Wright, at 2 St Michael's Place, Rotherham.  A relative of his wife's maybe? Harry only has one child living with him, his second youngest daughter Martha, now aged 18. 

I have found a possible death for an Annie Walton, in 1905 in Castleford but her age at death is out by two years compared to the ages given on the census returns for Harry's wife. A final child to the couple may have been born and died aged 8 months as I have found the burial record for a Harry Walton in Castleford New Cemetery (while I was looking for Annie) in MQ 1902 which tallies with the birth of a child of the same name, with mother's maiden name Wright in Q3 1901. Having had at least nine children (and there may have been more who died young) it is not surprising that Annie was only in her 40s when she died. 

Hopefully Annie was able to enjoy the marriage of her eldest son in 1901. 

Spence Walton had married Emma Caroline Legg on 12 May 1901 in Castleford. In the 1911 census they are living at 4 Granville Street, Cutsyke, Castleford and despite being married 10 years only declare one child, a daughter, Emily who appears to have been born BEFORE their marriage as she is 13 years old at this point. The birth place of Emma and her daughter are both Fareham in Hampshire, so maybe Emily is Emma's illegitimate daughter and Spence has adopted her.  

I do know that when Emily Beatrice Walton, aged 19, gets married in Darfield Parish Church on Christmas Day 1916 to James E Garner, she declares her father to be Spence Walton, who is at that time "On Active Service". A search of the electoral registers shows that Spence was registered at 34 New Street in Darfield in 1918, when he was listed as an Absent Voter (Naval or Military). 

Sadly the Ardsley Cemetery burial registers show that Spence's wife Emma was buried on 26 September 1915 from 24 Industry Road. In the same grave is a 10 month child, Harold Walton, buried on 11 September 1915 from the same address.  Had Spence and Emma had a child together at last, only to see him die in infancy? Without finding a birth registration that fits it is impossible to say.  The only Harold Walton that is born in the area is an illegitimate child in the Rotherham RD in Q4 1914. Could this be a child of Emily Beatrice Walton who would have been about 17 years old at the time? Also in the grave is a James Spence Garner, aged 23 months, buried from 26 New Street in Darfield in March 1919. This must be a child of Emily and her husband James Garner.

Earlier I used the 1915 Electoral Register earlier to show that Spence Walton was at 24 Industry Road in Stairfoot in 1915. Interestingly at 18 Industry Road in the same year the occupant is a Thomas Walton.  Spence and Arthur had a brother Thomas who fell between them in age. Could this be the same man?

A Thomas Walton whose father's name was Harry, married Elizabeth Firth on 25th June 1905 at All Saints Church, in Castleford.  In 1911 they living at 10 High Street, High Town, Castleford and have two children, Lillie aged 5 and Harry aged 2. This last seems to confirm that I have the correct family. The census notes that little Harry was born in Rotherham and a search of the Yorkshire Baptisms on Find My Past turned up a record for Harry Walton born 11 June 1908, baptised 5th July, son of Thomas and Elizabeth living at 4 Charles Street. Thomas' occupation was Miner.  Unfortunately Barnsley baptisms beyond 1910 are not available online so I cannot check whether three births registered in Barnsley between 1914 and 1920 to surname Walton, mother's maiden name Firth are for this couple, but they do seem to fit especially as the child born in 1914 is named Thomas (for his father?)
Two snips from the 1918 Electoral Register for Darfield (from Ancestry & FMP)
In the 1918 Electoral Register for Darfield on Ancestry I was able to find a Thomas and Elizabeth Walton living at 34 New Street.  Previously in a different section of the 1918 Electoral Register, which I had found on Find My Past, I had discovered Spence Walton registered as living at 34 New Street, Darfield and absent from home as a Naval or Military voter. (I am assuming the MN instead of the usual NM is a typo as I can find no mention of that abbreviation at the start of the volume.) So the two brothers Walton appear to be living at the same address in Darfield in 1918, or at least Spence is registered to the address at which his brother lives. Bearing in mind that his wife had passed away in 1915 and that his only child had married in 1916, maybe Spence had no particular home address of his own by then.

So, to conclude, this rabbit hole was very deep and it took me most of yesterday to dig myself out of it!  Arthur Walton somehow made his way from Castleford to Barnsley where we know at least one of his brothers (Spence) was living in 1915.  The 13th Y&L recruited in Barnsley in the autumn of 1914 but did not go overseas until the end of 1915, arriving in France in April 1916. As Arthur and Eliza appear to have a child born in late 1916 (David b.Q4 1916) that suggests Arthur was at home sometime in early 1916. (Dare I say it? If it was his child - sorry but I have to keep my mind open about these things.) We know Arthur transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the Y&L before his death in September 1917; transfers often happened after a period away from the original battalion, usually through wounds or sickness. This could be when Arthur was in England in early 1916.  I have shown proof that his brothers Spence and Thomas were both registered in Darfield in 1918, and probably both lived on Industry Road in Stairfoot in 1915. The names for the Stairfoot Wesleyan Roll of Honour were collected in 1917 (first version, see newspaper cutting) and probably updated in 1918 and it includes men who survived the war. It seems reasonable that when approached (or when the family became aware of the appeal for names) either Spence or Thomas may have asked that Arthur be included in the RoH, especially as he enlisted in a Barnsley Battalion, in Barnsley.

Thank you for reading - writing this all out has, as usual, helped me to focus my thoughts on Arthur Walton's life and family and I am pleased that I have discovered a possible reason why he is remembered on two memorials in Barnsley.

Monday, 26 June 2017

WW1 Soldier's Story - Fergus O'Connor Law Buried at Rawmarsh

Two weeks ago the OH and I called in at the cemetery on Haugh Road, Rawmarsh.  It is a bit out of our local area, but we were on the way back from the Parkgate Shopping precinct in Rotherham, and I can't resist some WW1 gravestone potential! Little were we to know that just a short while afterwards I would be taken very ill and spend the next few days in and out of hospital.

It is only now that I've finally been able to concentrate enough to start processing the pictures we took that afternoon, and I can still only use my tablet in short bursts. I haven't turned my laptop on to do research yet. Happily the temptation of these photos is helping me overcome some of my tiredness, and hopefully I'm now on the mend.

Fergus Law's grave at Rawmarsh Cemetery
This is the CWGC gravestone of Fergus Law, born 1883 in Barnsley, died of wounds in May 1917 in a military  hospital in Epsom, Surrey. Follow the link to his page on the IWM site Lives of the First World War where you will find a photo of Fergus from the Barnsley Chronicle (with thanks to Barnsley Archives). He was a Private in the 2nd/5th Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment, one of the Territorial battalions.

The family citation at the foot of the stone reads, "Some Time We'll Understand."  I must confess it made me tear up a little at the time to read that sentiment. Yes, I expect the loss of a loved one in his prime is very difficult to come to terms with. Fergus would have been around 34 years old, although the CWGC have his age as 39 for some reason.

But who requested that message?
Citation instructions and contact details - CWGC website
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) recently added sone additional documents to their site which give more information on the graves and gravestones listed. On Fergus Law's page the document above tells us that his citation was billed to a Mrs F Smith of Upper Haugh, Rawmarsh. As I understand it despite a request for payment at three and a half pence per letter and space, six shillings and five pence in this case, families and/or next of kin were not obliged to pay if they could not afford it.
1911 census for 60 Upper Haugh, Rawmarsh (from
In 1911 Fergus Law was a lodger in the Smith household at 60 Upper Haugh, Rawmarsh. He is a 27 year old Iron Moulder. None of the detail of the Smith family suggests a kin connection, so I can only assume he was a genuine, unrelated lodger. He must have had a very good impression of the family for Mrs Smith to be his named sole legatee. This is confirmed on the Army Register of Soldiers' Effects which can be seen on Ancestry. In the report of his death in the Barnsley Chronicle on 30 June 1917 it notes that he had worked at the Low Stubbin Colliery in Rawmarsh before enlisting.  His entry in Soldiers Died in the Great War tell us that he enlisted in Rotherham.

Fergus was born in Barnsley, probably on Waltham Street off Sheffield Road in the autumn of 1883. His parents were Fergus Law (b.1841) and his wife Sarah Ann (nee Tingle, b.1850). They had married on 4 September 1871 at St John's church in the Barebones area of Barnsley. There were seven children born to the couple, two of whom died before the 1911 census (I have identified one as Fred Law who died aged 18 months in 1877) and all three of their surviving sons served in the Great War. Fergus, as we know, died of wounds in May 1917, Walter, who served in the KOYLI, was killed in action in December 1917 and Arthur, who served with the Royal Engineers, survived the war. Both Walter and Arthur had Fergus as a middle name which does make for some confusion in their records! In addition both Fergus and Walter have O'Connor as a middle name.
Baptism in the St Peter's District of St Mary's Church, Barnsley 3rd February1884 (from
Feargus O'Connor (1794-1855) was an Irish Chartist, who led a movement to try to provide smallholdings for the working classes. His name was obviously well known to the Law family for them to give it or part of it to their sons.

Fergus and Walter Law are both remembered on the additional name panel below the main war memorial in St Peter's Church on Doncaster Road in Barnsley.  These names were added in November 1921 after the main memorial was dedicated in June of that year.

Fergus Law senior had predeceased his sons in October 1914 and is buried in plot R 222 in Barnsley Cemetery. His widow Sarah, still living on Waltham Street, died in 1922 and is buried in the same plot. This makes me wonder why Fergus jnr was buried in Rawmarsh, not in the family plot in Barnsley? Brother Arthur died in 1946 and was also buried in R 222.

Walter Law had married Bertha Dewsnap in 1910 and when he left her a widow in 1917 she had four children. One of the Law daughters, Eva, also married and had at least eight children with her husband William Walton. So there are probably Law descendants in Barnsley today. I wonder if they know about their WW1 ancestors?