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Walter Leigh was born in Darwen near Blackburn in 1880 and was the youngest son of Thomas and Margaret Jane Leigh (nee Leach). Walter`s parents married in Darwen in 1867 and had the following children, Betsy Ellen (1867), John William (1869), Hannah (1871), Harry (1873) and Thomas (1876).

In the 1881 Census one year old Walter was living with his parents and siblings at The Rising Sun Public House in Moss Bridge, Darwen where his father Thomas was the Publican.

Sadly, Walter`s mother Margaret died in 1885 and his father Thomas remarried the following year to Sarah Ellen Crook. Sarah was eighteen years younger than Thomas when they married and she already had a daughter Elizabeth who was born in 1885 in Darwen. In 1887 Thomas and Sarah Ellen had a son together and named him Fred.

Walter was still living at home with his father Thomas, step mum Sarah and half siblings Fred and Elizabeth in 1901. The family had left the Rising Sun and had moved to Hollinshead Terrace in Tockholes, Darwen and they were all working locally as cotton weavers.

At some point after the 1901 Census Walter and Fred moved from away from Darwen and by the time of the 1911 Census Walter was lodging with Mr and Mrs Kirby at Fern Bank, Garstang Road in Wesham and working as a cotton weaver. His brother Fred had married Elizabeth Alice Carter at St. Michaels Church in Kirkham in 1908.

On 1 September, 1914 Walter enlisted at Preston and was posted to the 7th Battalion with the number 13306.

Walter married local Wesham girl Louisa Bee on the 26 June, 1915 at Christ Church in Wesham and Walter`s step brother Fred stood as one of his witnesses.

Unfortunately Walter`s service papers have not survived so there is very little information available but his Medal Index Card does state that he went to France with the 7th Battalion on 17 July, 1915. Walter and Louisa had only been married for three weeks when he left.

In July 1916 the 7th Battalion were involved in actions during the Battle of the Somme and it was here that Walter won his Military Medal and the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

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Citation for Distinguished Conduct Medal

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Medal Index Card for Military Medal

The Preston Guardian printed the following article in recognition of his award.

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Extract from the Battalion War Diary

1st July, 1916

8 a.m. – Left intermediate line for the Usna-Tara Line in reserve to the 8th Division. Captain Leverson wounded.

3 p.m. – Battalion moved to old British front line preparatory to attack on Ovillers from north-west, attack to take place at 5 p.m.

4.45 p.m. – Message received, attack cancelled. C.O. summoned to 25th Brigade, 8th Division headquarters at once. Battalion then placed in reserve trenches as reserve for 25th Brigade till dawn. About twenty five casualties.

On the 2nd July the Battalion was relieved and went back to the railway cutting near Albert, where, in a field, the day, and part of the following night was passed. But at 3 a.m. on the morning of the 3rd they were on the move again, going up again to the Usna-Tara line on the right of the main Albert-Pozieres road. The Battalion remained here until night being in support of the 7th Royal Lancaster Regiment which was then in the old German front line trench. At 1 a.m. on the 4th the Battalion was sent to the trench line around La Boisselle the trenches having been badly hit and full of dead.

4thJuly 8.30 a.m. Three companies sent up at intervals during the morning to help. Heavy bombing in village of La Boisselle. Lieutenant Hughes did very well with Lewis guns. Lieutenant L. Milbourne and his bombing sergeant were both killed. Towards dusk it became quieter.

10 p.m. our line heavily shelled; about 40-50 prisoners came through our line.

5th July 12.30 a.m. Aid post found very overcrowded. Quiet morning.

2 p.m. 7th East Lancashire made bombing attack, `D` Company and the Battalion bombers went up to help. `C` Company was up in reserve when at 3 p.m., owing to some misunderstanding on the left, the East Lancashire withdrew back to the old German front line and old British front line. `C` Company were ordered to charge to regain the lost ground, went over the open in very good order and retook the line vacated by the East Lancashire. This was a very fine performance. Lieutenant Wilkinson on the left held up some Germans with a machine gun as they were advancing down a trench, and by his prompt action stopped a determined rush by the enemy. Lt Wilkinson was recommended for the Victoria Cross. He was subsequently killed when trying to rescue a wounded man forty yards in front of our parapet.

7th July relieved by the 13th Battalion The Rifle Brigade, went back to bivouac in heavy rain in rear of the Usna-Tara line.

The 7th Battalion suffered many casualties over this period amounting to 7 Officers and 164 other ranks. It would also seem that Walter himself had been wounded during the Battle and was subsequently sent back to England for treatment.

Just before Christmas 1916 a special presentation was made to Walter by the townsfolk of Kirkham and Wesham. Details of the event were also reported in the Preston Guardian.

Presentation to Wesham War Hero

On Saturday a whist drive and entertainment was held in the Church of England Schoolroom, Wesham, and was made the occasion and presentation to Private Walter Leigh of the L.N.L. who was wounded on the Somme and awarded the D.C.M. and Military Medal for bravery.

Father D`Heurter presided and was supported by Captain R. Challoner M.C. in command of the Company in which Leigh was. Mr. Windham E. Hale and Mrs Hale, Mr. W. Challoner, Blackpool (Captain Challoner`s father), the Rev W. Yates (Vicar of Wesham), Mr. Parkinson, Mr. Jolly and a company of about 300 including a number of wounded from Leigh`s Battalion.

The Chairman explained that some time ago, an enthusiastic meeting was held, when it was decided to present any Kirkham or Wesham men serving with the forces who obtained distinction with some token of appreciation from his fellow townsmen. A fund was inaugurated for this purpose, and also to erect a suitable public memorial for those who gave their lives in their country`s service. The movement had been heartily supported – Mr. Windham Hale presented Private Leigh with a gold watch and chain suitably inscribed and Mrs. Hale, on behalf of the ladies, presented Mrs. Leigh with a handsome brooch.

Captain Challoner paid high tribute to Leigh`s bravery, and said he had been the means on several occasions of saving his life. He also praised very highly the character and spirit of the whole of the Kirkham and Wesham men who were serving under him, and who, he said showed splendid dash and bravery on the field – Captain Challoner attended Buckingham Palace on Monday to receive the Military Cross.”

Private Walter Leigh survived the War and was discharged from the Army on 4 March, 1919 due to wounds. He was awarded the Silver War Badge numbered B139761.

In addition to his MM and DCM Walter also received the 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals.

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Private Walter Leigh’s DCM, MM, and WW1 Trio

Walter Leigh died aged 70 years at 19 Rawlinson Street, Wesham on 18 January, 1950. His widow Louisa died at the same address six years later on 26 March, 1956.

Janet Davis

Janet Davis

Janet Davis has been researching her family history for many years and through this she discovered many relatives who served in WW1. This interest then led Janet to do many walking the battlefield tours with her husband. In April 2013 she discovered this website and volunteered to help. Janet believes that there are lots of stories still to be told, most of them very sad but at the same time they are a fascinating insight into the men, their families, what they did and where they came from.
Janet Davis

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6 Responses to 13306 PTE. W. LEIGH. L.N.LAN.R

  1. Muriel Baxendale says:

    I find this fascinating as I am the grand-daughter of Elizabeth, daughter of Sarah Ellen. I live in Darwen and passed the Rising Sun pub daily going to and from school quite unaware of any connection. I have a copy of the certification of Walter Leigh’s Act of Gallantry on 4th to 7th July 1916 at La Boisselle signed by Major General Tom Bridges, commanding 19th (Western) Division. I gave the original to Fred’s descendants.

  2. Nick Bray says:

    I am a novice regarding ww1 soldier research but I have managed to find a few more pieces of info on Walter Leigh in addition to Janet Davis’s brilliant article.What a brave man Walter was.Very interesting to read Muriel’s more recent post as an actual descendant of Walter.By coincidence like Walter I have worked in both Darwen and Kirkham so Iknow both places well.As I am striving to build up a more comprehensive picture of Walter it would be great if Muriel could get in touch to fill in some of the gaps.I am a retired Probation Officer living in the Wigan area.

  3. simon buckley says:

    My uncle was captain Robert Challoner who is mentioned above
    and i think that it is possible that Walter Leigh helped to save uncle bobs life when he was injured

    • Nick Bray says:

      I wonder if simon knows if his uncle robert challoner ever met up with walter after the war.Having met with muriel, Walters certificate of gallantry states he helped to rescue Captain Thompson who was lying wounded in nomans land following the battle of Bazentin-Le-Petit on 23rd july 1916.B and D companies had been in the forefront off the offensive, walter was with his Pals from kirkham and wesham and Captain Thompson was the co D company the Preston Pals.I am now sure Walter was awarded his military medal for this act.The DCM citation already documented in janets original post refers to Walters bravery at La Boisselle on 4th-7th july 1916.

  4. Nick Bray says:

    Just to clarify a couple of points from my most recent post,it now seems that Walters official DCM citation also gives his abbreviated MM citation.This may be because there was less than 3 weeks between the 2 events.It is clear the last sentence of the DCM citation “On another occasion he assisted to rescue a wounded officer under heavy fire” refers to the rescue of Captain Thompson at Bazentin-Le-Petit on 23rd July 1916.The certificate of gallantry specifically mentions the officers name and Bazentin which we know the 7th Battn was involved in on 23rd July.This certificate signed by Major General Bridges is dated nearly a year later on 20th June 1917.Whilst it is widley known that D company of the 7th Battn was the Preston Pals the identity of the other 3 companies is much less clear, however I can confirm B company including Walter Leigh was made up largely of”Pals” from Kirkham,Wesham and the rural Fylde.A and C companies were made up with men from Chorley and Blackpool but I do not know which is which.Perhaps someone else will be able to help out.

  5. Simon Buckley says:

    Nick,
    I have a whole headful of information but it is like a jigsaw and I am not sure where the pieces fit together. I know very little about my Uncle Bob’s life prior to 1939 except for small snippets that I have extracted from the press at the time, a family scrap book, Fulwood Barracks and the internet. What I do know about the first world was is that he was mentioned in the war diaries and was nominated for his first MC in October 1915. He was wounded in his right eye on July 4th 1916 at La Borsille and he was repatriated back to England for recuperation. In January 1917 he returned to France to his unit and was wounded in the stomach at Kimmel Hill in Flanders in March 1917 and was again evacuated back to England.

    Now to get to your point I am sure that Bob met Walter Leigh on several occasions after the war. Firstly, there is the above record where Bob and his father, William Challoner, attended the presentation to Walter at Wesham. Also Bob attended the unveiling of the Wesham War Memorial which I would imagine Walter would have attended. These are the only instances that I have records of. There may be others.

    Bob rejoined the army in 1939 and was awarded a second military cross and was mentioned in despatches for his actions defending Rouen after the fall of Dunkirk in early June 1940 when he captured by the Germans. He escaped from a prisoner of war camp 18 months later and made his way back to the UK. I have good records of his second world war exploits as he documented it.

    I am in the process of researching and compiling a record of his military life which makes for compelling reading. I would be very interested if anybody has any documentation of Captain Robert Challoner prior to 1939.

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