“Dear Mr Walters. It is with deep regret that I have to write and tell you of the death of your son, Private Walters. Your boy was killed by a shell which pitched at the mouth of his dug-out on the afternoon of the 22nd [September 1917]. He was killed instantly and suffered no pain. It is a great loss to me and my Company as we were all very fond of Walter; he was such a good fellow and very keen on his gun [a Lewis gun]. Your son was buried by our Chaplain, Captain Barrett, and the Commanding Officer and I, with some men of the Company, attended the funeral. I am not allowed to tell you the position of the cemetery, but if you write to the Registrar of Graves, War Office, London, he will give you the particulars. Please accept my most sincere sympathy in your great loss.”
Henry and Priscilla Walters (sometimes written as Walter) of 1 Myrke Cottage, Datchet Road, received this letter, above, from their son’s commanding officer in October 1917.
The Walters were a family of agricultural and general labourers who lived at The Myrke. Henry, a shepherd from Datchet, and his wife Priscilla, née Hambleton, from Earley, were married in 1896. By 1911 they had five children, two boys and three girls. Thomas Henry Walters, their eldest child, had been born in Datchet in February 1898, and a sixth child, another daughter, was born into the family in 1914.
Joining the army
Thomas Henry enlisted in Slough in November 1916. He initially joined the 4th Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, and later transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the Duke of Edinburgh’s (Wiltshire) Regiment, as Private 220029. (There is a discrepancy in Thomas’s medal records which indicate Thomas was in the 4th Wiltshires whereas other documents list him in the 2nd. The 4th wasn’t on the Western Front and, as Thomas was killed and buried in Flanders, we have assumed the 2nd Battalion to be correct.)
To read more about the Duke of Edinburgh’s (Wiltshire) Regiments, click here
In 1917 the 2nd Wiltshires were part of the 21st Brigade in the 30th Division. According to the www.wardrobe.org.uk website: ‘The 2nd Battalion spent the first three months of that year around Arras. On 9 April they took part in the attack on the Hindenburg Line. Very few men reached the objective and those that did found that the German wire was undamaged. On 11 April they came out of the line weaker by 16 officers and 363 other ranks. After 10 days rest they returned for a further week’s fighting in the same area. [We don’t yet know the exact date that Thomas joined them but it would probably have been in April 1917.] They then spent a month training before a long march north to the area of Ypres. For most of July they were in training. On 31 July they took part in the Third Battle of Ypres near Hooge. In late August they relieved the Australians on the newly captured Messines Ridge. They remained there for three months digging deeper and taking part in many trench raids.’
Five months at the Front
After five months in France and Flanders, on 22 September 1917, Thomas Henry was killed in action, aged 19. The website, www.wardrobe.org.uk has a diary entry from the 2nd Wiltshires for the day Thomas died in the Belgian trenches: ‘Day marked by persistent shelling of area between Lumm Farm and the Messines-Wytschaete Road. A direct hit was obtained on a concrete dug out near the road where a Lewis Gun post had been established. Casualties for the day were 2 OR [ordinary ranks, ie not officers] killed and 6 OR wounded. Slight amount of gas shelling during the night. 2/Lt C V Deane joined from Rouen and posted to “B” company. 71 OR joined from Rouen.’ Thomas was one of the two men killed.
On 6 October 1917, the Windsor & Eton Express reported Thomas Henry’s death:
‘Death of Private H F Walters [sic]
‘With much regret we have to record another who has made the supreme sacrifice, viz., Private H F Walters, son of Mr H Walters, of The Myrke. The deceased was only 19 years of age last February and had been five months in France. He joined up 11 months last Tuesday in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, but was transferred to the Wiltshire Regiment. He was of exceedingly amiable disposition and was well liked by his school confreres and others with whom he was associated afterwards in life.
…/… ‘Much sympathy is felt for his parents and young brothers and sisters.’
On 4 November 1917 Datchet’s Parish Magazine announced Thomas’s death along with that of another Datchet soldier: ‘Much sympathy … with the family of Henry Walters, Myrke Cottages, who was killed in the recent advance on the Western Front. These two [deaths] bring up the total to nearly 30 from our small parish, out of some 310 who have joined the colours.’
A letter to his headmaster
The Windsor & Eton Express also reported on 6 October 1917: ‘Four days before his death he wrote to [Mr Page] the Head Master of Datchet Schools a letter saying how happy he was and wished to be remembered to all the old boys. He said how they would cheer those at home up when they returned, asked Mr Page to write to him, and signed himself, “Your loving and best friend”.’ The letter would probably have arrived in the village around the same time as the news of Thomas Henry’s death.
Remembered in Belgium
Unlike many of the men on Datchet’s WWI memorial, Thomas has a grave. He is buried at Torreken Farm Cemetery No 1, Wytschaete, Belgium, 7.5 kms south of Ieper (Ypres) town centre, on the road to Armentieres.
Wytschaete (now Wijtschate) was taken by the Germans early in November 1914. It was recovered by Commonwealth forces during the Battle of Messines on 7 June 1917, but fell into German hands once more on 16 April 1918. The village was recovered for the last time on 28 September. Torreken Farm Cemetery (there is now only one) was begun by the 5th Dorset Regiment in June 1917 and used as a front line cemetery until April 1918. It contains 90 Commonwealth burials of the First World War and 14 German war graves.
Thomas Henry Walters was awarded the Victory and British War Medals.