Wetherby War Memorial - The Great War 1914 - 1918

Private Fred Walker

Introduction
Gunter, R B N
Durrant, C M
Weston, C G
Kelly, K G
Armitage, G J
Durrant, H M L
Hargreaves, J P
March, G
Dukes, W
Fowler, R
Westerman, H
Kirk, J C
Wiggins, T A
Telford, G
Harper, J W
Alexander, H W
Mason, T F
Wilkinson, W
Brown, C
Adkin, J
Barton, F
Hobman, A
Webster, A E
March, E A
Miller, G
Hannan, E
Utley, G
Walker, F
Bygrave, E W
Chapman, E
Varley, N W
Bowen, F J
Byrom, F
Backhouse, S
Dalby, M
Crossland, A
Crossley, J S
Dean, R
Frost, A E
Hodgson, F H
Holt, J
Hood, W H
Hill, W
Kitchen, T
Linfoot, E
Metcalfe, J C
Marsden, J
Pawson, W
Precious, G
Scutt, T G
Shields,P
Wiggins, J
Walker, E
Wood, A
Young, T
Pratt, W
Taylor, H
Dawson, G W
Lister, J
Binge, T
Atack, G
Durham, E F
Precious, G R
Wheelhouse Smith, W
Backhouse, H
Swann, J W
Burnsides, G A
Coles, W
Kelly, H W
Miles, J G
Tapsell, K
Acknowledgements
Dardanelles

31722, 16th (Labour) Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards)
(Commemorated by C.W.G.C. as 34470, 16th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment)
Transferred to 22nd Company, Labour Corps, Serial Number 13081
Died, 29th September, 1917

Cemetery : Aeroplane Cemetery, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium
Grave Reference or Panel Number : I.C.7

fredwalkerwebsite.JPG

Fred was born at Wetherby in 1887 to parents Henry, a Domestic Gardener, and Elizabeth Walker of Walton Road, Wetherby.  The family circumstances changed when Henry found employment with Wetherby Rural District Council as a Highways Labourer, the family then relocating to premises in Westgate, Wetherby. 

Finding employment as a Warehouseman at Wetherby Co-operative Society located in Crossley Street, Fred's fortunes also changed like that of his father's when he found employment as a Boilerman at the Tower Brewery, Tadcaster.

Enlistment

Upon the outbreak of the Great War, Fred like many young Wetherby men flocked to answer his country's call but was rejected for military service in the Army on four occasions, no doubt on being deemed medically unfit for front line service. However, in March 1916, he was finally accepted for service in the Army and joined the ranks of a Labour Company.

As is documented, Fred previously served with the West Yorkshire Regiment prior to being accepted into the ranks of a Labour Company. The Authors research can find no evidence at present to suggest that he served with the 16th battalion of the regiment as is suggested via his commemoration by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. There are many factors to consider as to this conclusion. If Fred, like many others on Attestation, was deemed 'unfit' for front line service, why would he have even been considered to have been posted to what was in effect a 'fighting unit?'

Documentary evidence as regards the Labour Companies/Labour Corps is virtually non existent as most of these units did not record a War Diary, however, information can be assertained from the following sources: surviving service records of soldiers that served with the 22nd and 23rd Labour Companies, Commonwealth War Graves Registers, Divisional Histories, and the Medal Index Card Rolls. The Author, on researching the latter, found many discrepancies as to the Serial Numbers inscribed on the cards, and those provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Using an example of another man killed on the date in question, and of the same unit, the following irregularities occur:

Arthur Darfield, commemorated by C.W.W.G.C. as West Yorkshire Regiment, 33002.

Medal Index Card denotes, Yorkshire Regiment, 38598.

Soldiers Died corroborates C.W.W.G.C. entry.

Of the seven men killed in the explosion and that are buried in the cemetery, irregularities occur in three instances. This may well be just an error that occurred whilst the Medal Index Card Rolls or C.W.W.G. C. entries were compiled, but further research to establish the previous service of these men is required. The Author would suggest however, that Fred initially served as Depot, West Yorkshire Regiment, hence his headstone bearing this regiments insignia, in effect, the 'parent unit,' transferred to 16th (Labour) Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, which then ultimately was divided into the 22nd and 23rd Labour Companies on formation of the Labour Corps.

Formation of Labour Companies

A problem that existed from the outset of the war was the shortage of unskilled labour for tasks as varied as the building of light railways and roads, to the unloading of stores and the materiel  necessary for the prosecution of the war. In the interim, these tasks were carried out by fatigue parties of soldiers whilst not serving in the front line and at 'rest,' however, this situation needed to be addressed as the war continued and it was recognised that trained men could not be spared to carry out these duties.

The introduction of the Military Services Act in January 1916 heralded the conscription of all males between the ages of 18 and 41 and also provided one answer to the shortage of unskilled labour at the front. It was found that some men conscripted under the Act were not suitable for combatant service but were deemed capable of performing labour duties. These men comprised of those that were too old, suffered from some slight physical disability which prevented service in the front line, or those down-graded from fighting status i.e., below "A1" medical status required for front line service.

Formation of the 22nd Labour Company

During 1916, Labour units had been assigned to tasks such as the building of railways, unloading of munitions, stores etc., most, primarily involved in these and other tasks at Base Ports such as Calais and Le Havre. This detracted from the initial purpose of these units which was to relieve the front line soldier whilst at periods of 'rest'. It was decided therefore in late 1916, that a complete reorganisation of the labour force was needed to rectify this situation and a Labour Directorate was established under the direction of the General Staff. This Directorate was tasked with the administration and distribution of the labour units and resulted, on 21st February 1917, with the various service and infantry labour units under its control, being brought together and formed into the Labour Corps. As a result of this restructuring, the 22nd and the 23rd Labour Companies were formed from the 16th (Labour) Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, the latter being formed at Brocklesby Camp, Lincolnshire, in June 1916 and consisting of men from various regiments of the British Army.

Operations on the Western Front

On July 11th, 1916, the battalion, at near full strength and under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel H.A. Hill, embarked for overseas service at Southampton. Sailing for France onboard the 'Mona's Queen,' a paddle steamer previously operated by the Isle Of Man Steam Packet Company, the battalion disembarked at Le Havre the following day.

The battalion remained at Le Havre throughout the remainder of the year and was employed in the docks area unloading and handling material and stores necessary for the war. Whilst undertaking these duties, the battalion was camped in an area known as "Cinder City."

In May 1917, whilst still carrying out duties at Le Havre, the battalion, as part of the reorganisation of labour units in the British Army, was re-designated as the 22nd and 23rd Labour Companies under the now formed Labour Corps, the two companies being commanded by Captains Harold Gaskell and S. Robinson respectively.

'The Green Howards In The Great War' by H.C. Wylly records that the 22nd Company was sent to Poperinghe and the 23rd Company to Bailleul, although the dates of these movements are not recorded. Wylly's History however, records that the two companies came together in the Menin Road area of the Ypres Salient. Research of the Commonwealth War Graves Registers and the casualties recorded would suggest that this took place around the beginning of September 1917.

Saturday, 29th September, 1917: The Death of Private Fred Walker

From early September, casualties had started to mount in the two companies, the 22nd suffering particularly, as the battle known as Third Ypres which commenced on July 31st ground on. As previously stated, the 22nd Company were performing duties in the area of the Menin Road, an area which had seen heavy fighting previously between the 20th-25th September and one could surmise that this was of a road building/improvement nature as the battle area moved forward. It was whilst carrying out these duties, that the 22nd Labour Company, or a Section of the latter, was hit by a bomb dropped from an enemy aeroplane. Fred and six other soldiers of the Company were killed by the resulting explosion, and they now all lie buried in the cemetery in plots I.C.1 - 7. A search of Commonwealth War Graves Registers in the Ypres area would also suggest that the explosion injured a number of other soldiers of the company, some, succumbing to their wounds in the days to follow.

A newspaper article in October, 1917 reports : “Private Fred Walker, second son of Mr. and Mrs. H. Walker, of Westgate, Wetherby, was killed overseas on September 29th, by a bomb from an enemy aeroplane. Deceased was four times rejected previous to being accepted for a Labour Company eighteen months ago. He was 30 years of age, and was formerly employed as a boilerman at the Tadcaster Tower Brewery. One of his brothers, Private Ernest Walker, was killed in action on July 16th, 1916, another has been discharged, while two others are serving with the forces - one in the Machine Gun Corps and the other in the Royal Army Medical Corps."

Authors note on the obituary:

The Walker family consisted of four sons and one daughter. Fred was the eldest son, followed by William, Ernest, Lily and Henry. Ernest Walker's death is incorrect as he was killed on the 1st July 1916 whilst serving with the 1/5th West Yorkshire Regiment at Thiepval, Somme.