Son of Henry and Elizabeth Walker of Westgate, Wetherby.
Ernest was born at Wetherby on the 27th May 1893 to parents Henry, occupation, a Domestic Gardener, and Elizabeth
Walker, the family residing at Walton Cottage located in Walton Lane.
By 1903, the family had relocated to premises in Fox Yard, located off Bank Street behind the Fox Inn Public House.
In the Electoral Register of the following year, the Walker family are recorded as residing in Kell's Yard, off Westgate.
(Authors note: This location could in fact be the Yard located opposite the Fox Inn. The Yard itself being named after Councillor
Thomas Kell, a local solicitor).
1911 Census details now record at this period that Henry was in the employment of Wetherby Rural District Council as a Highway
Labourer, Ernest, now aged 17 years, employed as a Grocer's Errand Lad.
With the family now consisting of five children, Fred, employed as a Warehouseman
for the Co-operative, William, a Domestic Gardener, Lily, a Domestic Servant at Home and Henry attending School, Ernest took
the opportunity to enlist in the local Territorial Force contingent, the 5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment.
An analysis of the
serial number issued to Ernest, 1490, indicates an enlistment in August 1913, this act taking place at Wetherby Town Hall,
the Drill Hall of "F" Company. Upon attesting, his service obligation would be that of four years service in the
United Kingdom with the Territorial Force. After a series of questions put towards the recruit before enlistment, a declaration
and an oath would then be taken before the Attesting Officer or Magistrate, in this case, one Second-Lieutenant Charles Ellis
Foulds, employed at the London City & Midland Bank and also the Secretary of the Wetherby Hockey Club. The son of a Colliery
and Coal Merchant, Foulds had received his commission on the 17th June 1913 and would eventually rise to the rank of Captain.
After receiving a
medical inspection conducted by the attending Medical Officer, Herbert Hargreaves M.B. of Collingham, he was then declared
"Fit," the Approving Officer, Captain and Adjutant of the 5th West Yorkshire Regiment, Percy Gordon Williamson,
then signing the document.
At this period, the Territorial Force were under strength and struggling to find new recruits. In the Wetherby area
and in the County in general, a concerted effort was made to find recruits to fill the ranks of the 5th Battalion. One of
Second-Lieutenant Foulds first duties as an officer was a recruitment drive in the district, an analysis of various sources
indicating amongst others, the enlistment of William Pratt (1489), killed in action in 1917 whilst serving with the 2/6th
In early August 1913, the 1st West Riding (Territorial) Division attended
their Annual Camp at Aberystwith, Wales. Exactly one year later, the 1st West Riding Brigade containing the 5th, 7th and 8th
Battalion's, West Yorkshire Regiment, were once again attending or about to attend their two week Annual Camp at Scarborough
when on the 4th August 1914, war was declared on Germany. With most of the men of the 5th Battalion enjoying their free time
wandering around the town, at the battalion's camp located on Scarborough Racecourse near Seamer, the news was received
with both trepidation and excitement. For the men of both the 7th and 8th Battalion's (Leeds Rifles), the news was greeted
with a certain amount of disapointment, not just because the storm clouds of war were looming, but that they had just
arrived at the camp, looking forward to the chance of momentarily escaping the hardships of life and work in the city of Leeds.
For the men of the 5th Battalion, they had been 'lucky' in certain respects having already having spent one week on
the east coast enjoying glorious weather however if events had transpired, they themselves were due to be replaced in the
following week by the men of the 6th Battalion.
Men were now rallied at speed for departure to York. Special trains were
detailed at Scarborough Railway Station to overcome a further influx of holiday crowds, those already in the town estimated
at 70,000 people with a further 30,000 expected.
The first to depart the town was the 5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel
Cecil Ernest Wood V.D., each train detailed to depart within an hour of each other. As thousands of people assembled to witness
the departure of the "Terriers," the 5th Battalion were followed by the 7th and 8th Battalion's (Leeds Rifles)
under the commands of Lieutenant-Colonel's Albert Edward Kirk V.D. and Edwin Kitson Clark T.D. respectively. The Yorkshire
Post dated the 4th August 1914 records their departure as follows:-
"The Leeds Rifles had a particularly hearty
send-off. As soon as the strains of the "Ca Ira," the regimental march, were heard in the distance, a huge crowd
collected outside the departure platform, and cheered almost without a break until the last file had wheeled inside the gateway.
When, a few minutes later, the 8th Battalion appeared, some of the crowd took up the music of the band and sang "The
Old Folks At Home." Now and again the old cry was heard, "Are we down-hearted?" to which there came from a
number of tongues vigorous denial. The spectators gave salvoes of cheers, and the ladies waved handkerchiefs."
Upon arrival at their respective barracks, it was not long before orders arrived for the constituent units of the
1st West Riding Brigade to concentrate at Selby. By the 5th August, a telegram was sent to York by the Officer Commanding
6th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Oswald Wade, this stating that the battalion was virtually
at full strength, a further telegram sent on the 8th reporting that the 6th West Yorkshire's were now at War Establishment,
a remarkable feat of organisation by any standard.
The respective battalions now prepared for entrainment, the 6th from Belle
Vue Barracks, Bradford, the 7th from Carlton Barracks and the 8th from Whitehall Road and Green Lane Council Schools, Leeds,
respectively. On the 10th August, the 6th Battalion more or less 'slipped' away from the Midland Station at Bradford
without pomp or ceremony unlike the 7th and 8th Battalion's of the Leeds Rifles, the 7th being addressed before their
departure by both their Colonel and the Earl of Harewood, Lord-Lieutenant of the West Riding. The 7th West Yorkshire's
were the first to depart wearing full service dress and with rifles slung over shoulders. Marching via Woodhouse Lane, Briggate
and Kirkgate, Marsh Lane Goods Station was eventually reached, the men then entraining for Selby. For the 8th Battalion, their
route of march would witness them passing down Wellington Street and then Boar Lane, the latter lined with crowds cheering
loudly as the men passed by. It must have been a sight to behold as the crowd and the men were swept with patriotic fervour
however tragically, it was not without incident. Rifleman Thomas Beckwith, 1430, aged 37 years, a soldier with "D"
Company of the 7th Battalion and a resident of 14 Kelsall Terrace, Burley, Leeds, was thrown from his horse in Clay Pit Lane
on the journey to Marsh Lane. A Boot Riveter by trade and a married man with children, Thomas died on the 12th August at Leeds
General Infirmary after sustaining a fractured skull. Originally interred in Woodhouse Cemetery on the 14th August, Thomas
now lies in Lawnswood Cemetery, Leeds.
It is now that we turn our attentions to the 5th West Yorkshire's. The City of York, as one could imagine, was
by now virtually bursting at the seems as men flocked to the city either to enlist or re-enlist in the Line and Special Reserve
Battalions of the West Yorkshire Regiment. Such was the influx of men that accommodation was at a premium, some men were lucky
to be housed in Fulford Barracks but for some, tents had to be established in the Barracks Square.
Upon their return from Scarborough, the 5th West Yorkshire's
had mustered at their Headquarters located in St. Andrewgate (Colliergate Drill Hall) whereupon equipment was issued from
the West Riding Territorial Association stores. As previously stated, accommodating the men was a serious issue and to this
end the 'Out-Companies' from Ripon, Harrogate and Selby were found billets in Haxby Road Council School. As per the
other constituent units of the 1st West Riding Brigade, the 5th Battalion journeyed to Selby by 'special' train and
once assembled, the brigade numbered about 4000 men. Accommodation once again proved to be problematic however some men were
to be found billeting arrangements in private houses whilst the remainder would be placed under canvas.
It is of interest to note that the 5th Battalion, even by the 28th August, were short of their full establishment.
In Harrogate, Frederick Arthur Kelley, late Captain of the 1st West Riding Royal Engineers and now commanding the Harrogate
Defence League, was tasked to make strenuous efforts to find yet more recruits without interfering with those responding to
Kitchener's 'Call to Arms.' About fifty men were required and if none were to be found, there was a possibility
that drafts would have to be found from outside the natural recruitment area of the battalion. Kelley enthusiastically set
about his own recruitment drive, men being found from a variety of sources, some from the National Reserve but also men who
had previously served with the Territorial Force but who were now time expired.
Harry Westerman of Horsefair, Wetherby, had previously served for a number
of years with the 5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment. Time expired, Harry re-enlisted at York on the 18th August 1914,
the attesting officer being one Captain Alwyne Percy Dale, a veteran of the South African War and a resident of York. The
3rd September 1914 proved to be a good day for Kelley and his recruitment drive, one example of a number of men who enlisted
on this date being one Harold Slee, 2185, a native of Pannal and aged 24 years.
The problem however of reaching War Establishment was
not unique to the 5th Battalion. The 7th Battalion (Leeds Rifles) did not complete full establishment until the 16th August,
the Yorkshire Post dated the 17th August declaring the rank and file as numbering 1,020 once complete. Their sister
battalion, the 8th, were in a similar predicament to that of the 5th with a shortfall of 50 men to bring them up to an establishment
of 1,010 but recruitment had moved swifltly in Leeds and by nightfall on the 17th, the Yorkshire Evening Post announced
that the battalion had reached their allocated strength.
As the men set about various tasks involved with the
act of mobilisation, yet still more men arrived at Selby to train with the territorials. Men arrived from the Jewish community
of Leeds as well as men of the National Reserve, transferred to the 7th and 8th Leeds Rifles. Even before the 1st West Riding
Brigade had arrived in the town, a detachment of twenty men of "D" Company of the Selby contingent of the 5th West
Yorkshire's had been detached to guard a War Office powder magazine located on the Selby - Market Weighton railway line
at Barlby. The remainder of this company, numbering 66 men under the command of Captain Henry Cooper Scott, then proceeding
to York to join their battalion.
As the County of Yorkshire mobilised their respective territorial units, one section of the 1st West Riding Field
Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps arrived at Selby to set up a Field Hospital. Provision for recreation tents was also submitted
by the Y.M.C.A. to establish and make available their resources pending substantial funding.
The threat of an enemy invasion was also foremost in
everyone's mind to the extent that some of the men became undoubtedly nervous and likely to act in haste. At just after
3 a.m. on the morning of the 17th August, the "Ammonia," a steamer belonging to a chemical firm from Goole
under the command of Captain J. Robinson, proceeded up the River Ouse in the direction of York. As the ship approached the
Selby Railway Swing Bridge, the vessel was challenged by the sentry on duty and after repeated calls whereupon there was no
reply, he duly opened fire. Upon the commotion, the guard on duty then turned out as the boat continued onwards towards the
toll bridge and began to fire volleys of rifle fire at the steamer which was then compelled to stop, three rounds being lodged
in the funnel of the boat. Captain Robinson was then brought ashore and questioned as to why he had failed to stop the vessel
when challenged. He stated that he was unaware that the steamer was likely to be challenged and he believed that the engines
had in fact ceased operation but that the boat was carried forward by the incoming tide. The identity of the sentry and the
guard are unknown but there is no question that this escapade brought much amusement to those who were not involved in the
'fighting' in the days to come.
|Hydraulic Bridge, Selby. Author's Collection.
On the 19th August, the 1/1st West Riding Brigade relocated to a camp near
Selby. The precise location of the camp is unknown but the Author is of the opinion that this may have been located near Barlby
and in close proximity to the Powder Magazine and associated rail and road networks. One may surmise that the 'camp'
was not an established facility for example, as late as October 1915, the Second Line Territorial Battalion of the Regiment,
the 2/5th, had to find accommodation on a march to York at Selby in four schools and halls, transport animals being housed
in an old disused mill.
It is of interest
to note that certainly after the 17th August, newspaper articles referring to the exact location of the West Riding Brigade
are virtually non existent. The reality of the seriousness of the situation it would appear, had been impressed by higher
authority upon the various newspapers reporting every movement of the brigade, a news 'blackout' in essence. Tempest's
History Of The Sixth Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, records that on the 24th August, the battalion, in brigade,
had moved to the Knavesmire (York Racecourse), this date of relocation being confirmed by a variety of sources. Although the
stay of the brigade on the Knavesmire was only about one week, a letter published in the Yorkshire Post dated the
7th September describes some of the facilities available to the men and the general daily routine. Wrote by the Reverend Stanley
Bickersteth D.D., Chaplain 2nd Class (T.F.) to the Leeds Rifles and dated the 24th August, the following extract is an abridged
account of the aforementioned letter:-
write here on duty as chaplain of the Leeds Rifles, and my work yesterday will give you a sample of my work. At 7 I celebrated
the Holy Communion for the 7th and 8th Battalions in the Y.M.C.A. tent, using the sacred vessels which the officers subscribed
to purchase a year ago. At 9 I conducted the parade service, and preached to over 2,000 men, the General, Sir Herbert Plumer,
K.C.B., and his staff attending. At the close of the service I gave a message to the troops from the Archbishop, whose home
at Bishopthorpe is hard by, that he was sending a large marquee, 120 feet long, to be used as a reading, writing, and games
tent, alongside of the invaluable Y.M.C.A. tent already pitched."
In August, Temporary Brigadier-General Frederic Alexander MacFarlan had
been appointed the G.O.C. of the 1/1st West Riding Brigade. An accomplished officer who had served with the Cameron Highlanders
in Sudan, Egypt, South Africa and China, MacFarlan was also an excellent sportsman who excelled in both cricket and rowing.
Command of the West Riding Division had been
assumed by Major-General Thomas Stanford Baldock C.B. in September 1911. Originally commissioned into the ranks of the Royal
Artillery in April 1873, Baldock had performed good service in South Africa and in addition to his military attributes, he
was also an accomplished and published historian.
command of the 5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, was one Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Ernest Wood V.D. Originally commissioned
into the 1st West Riding of Yorkshire Volunteers in April 1886, Wood served as a Captain with the 1st Volunteer Service Company
of the 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment in the South African War (Second Boer War) and was awarded the Queen's South Africa
Medal with Three Clasps (Orange Free State, Transvaal and Laing's Nek). After the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act of
1907 was introduced, in effect the creation of the Territorial Force, Wood was appointed to the 5th Battalion, West Yorkshire
Regiment, in November 1908.
It was whilst in camp at York that the 6th Battalion volunteered for foreign
service, the first battalion in the brigade to do so. The Yorkshire Post dated the 4th September recorded that on
this day news was received by the West Riding County Association that in addition to the troops enumerated in the appeal over
the names of the Earls of Harewood and Scarborough, Lord-Lieutenant and Chairman of the West Riding County Association respectively,
the 5th, 7th and 8th Battalions of the West Yorkshire Regiment had also been selected for foreign service. In addition to
these units of the 1/1st West Riding Brigade, the 5th and the 7th Battalions of the West Riding Regiment (Duke of Wellington's)
of the 2nd West Riding Brigade also volunteered, the news of all these units volunteering also being announced in the Post
on the 4th by Brigadier-General Horatio Reginald Mends, Secretary of the West Riding of York County Association dated
the 2nd September.
on or about the 31st August that the respective battalions of the 1/1st West Riding Brigade proceeded to Strensall Camp. The
camp was established by the War Office in 1884 with the large expanse of Strensall Common providing an ideal natural area
for the performance of varied military activities. No sooner had the 7th West Yorkshire's arrived in camp, the Commanding
Officer, Colonel Albert Edward Kirk V.D., issued an edict published in the the Yorkshire Evening Post dated the 4th of September
1914 that stated that "no civilians are allowed in camp at Strensall, whether on Saturday, Sunday, or any other day".
This statement alone may have led to bouts of absenteeism but instances appear to have been few and far between other
than one man of the Medical Corps attached to the 5th West Yorkshire's deserting to be married at Rotherham.
As various programmes of training were initiated, medical inspections commenced
that ultimately led to those being declared unfit for military service being 'weeded out'. Struggling prior to this
juncture to reach war establishment as his previously been touched upon, it was in early September that men began to volunteer
for foreign service, i.e. "an agreement to be made by an officer or man of the Territorial Force to subject himself
to liability to serve in any place outside the United Kingdom in the event of National emergency". Referred to as
the "Imperial Service Obligation," suffice to say Private Ernest Walker, 1490, duly accepted the conditions
of service and signed the "Obligation" (Army Form E 624) on or about the 12th of September
1914 at Strensall.
|Imperial Service Oligation Of Private William Pratt, 1489, Of Wetherby
As a consequence of those volunteering for foreign service and
those that chose not to serve outside of the United Kingdom, the War Office now sanctioned a reorganisation of the Territorial
Force. To this end, the Force would now be formed into two parts, foreign service units and units designated for home defence
respectively. At a meeting held on the 15th of September at York, Lord Scarborough, Chairman of the West Riding Territorial
Force Association, addressed the meeting of the Executive and General Purposes Committee of the West Riding of York County
Association. It was announced that the state in terms of establishment and units at total strength as of the 9th of September
was 'encouraging,' the West Yorkshire Territorial Force numbering 608 officers and 20,211 men. (Source:- Leeds Mercury
dated the 16th of September 1914). Of the 5th West Yorkshire's, their establishment numbered 28 officers and 980 Other
Ranks, total strength as of the 9th instant numbering 32 officers and 1,277 Other Ranks. The report of this meeting continues
in some detail as regarding the needs of the Territorial Force for men to volunteer for foreign service:-
"Units in which not less than 60 per cent. volunteer will be designated
as "General Service" units and will at once recruit up to their establishment and 25 per cent. over.
Every unit comprised in the Yorkshire Mounted Brigade, the West Riding
Division and the Army Troops, has returned over 60 per cent. of volunteers, and will consequently be for general service.
The association, therefore, becomes
responsible for raising reserve units in each case, which means a duplication of the force, or, roughly, an additional 18,000
officers and men.
These units will
be raised and organised at the head-quarters of each regiment, and all recruits will be required to sign the Imperial Service
In order to prevent confusion
and discomfort, it has been decided not to commence recruiting for the Reserve Units until their commanding officers and staffs
are appointed, and proper arrangements have been made for accommodating and clothing the men".
Wheels were however already in motion in Harrogate. Captain Fred
Kelley of the Harrogate Defence League had commenced recruiting another Harrogate "Pals" Company. The Leeds Mercury
dated the 18th of September 1914 records that twenty names had been received out of a required number of one hundred and twenty
at this juncture, the League now in the process of drilling a number of men aged between the ages of seventeen and nineteen
with a view to forming a 'new' Territorial Force to replace those that had volunteered for active service.