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Walter Francis was born in Birkenhead, Cheshire in 1891 the son of Richard and Sarah Jane Francis (nee Hughes). Richard and Sarah Jane married in the parish church of St. Nicholas in Liverpool on the 27th April 1879 and Walter was the youngest of the five sons born to the couple, the others being;

  • Thomas (1880)
  • Robert (1882)
  • Ernest (1887)
  • John (1889)

In 1891 when Walter was born his family was living at 9 Millar`s Place in Birkenhead where his father was a general labourer. Sadly, Walter`s father Richard passed away in 1897 and the following year on the 7th February 1898 his mother Sarah Jane remarried to John Richard Poole at St. Mary`s Church in Birkenhead. After their marriage the family moved into 122 Oliver Street in Birkenhead, Walter`s stepfather was also a labourer. By the time of the 1911 Census Walter, his stepfather, mother and brother John had moved to Preston and had gone to live at 18 Beverley Street where Walter was now a general labourer like his stepfather.

On the 19th October 1912 Walter married a local Preston girl Alice Fazackerley, the marriage taking place at St. Peter`s Church in Preston and then in February 1913 their first child, a son Richard was born.

At the outbreak of war Walter enlisted into the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, signing his papers on the 31st August 1914 at Preston. He was 22 years and 8 months old and prior to enlistment had been working at a shipbreakers on the docks in Preston. He declared that he had no previous military experience. The Medical Officer noted that he was 5`7” tall and he weighed 135lbs and had a pale complexion, grey eyes and dark hair. Walter named his wife Alice of 37 Milton Street as his next of kin for official purposes. He was issued with the service number 12450 and posted to the 7th (Service) Battalion LNL. The 7th Battalion departed for their training camp at Tidworth Pennings but on the 14th October 1914 Walter underwent a second medical inspection after which he was discharged as a consequence of; “not likely to become an efficient soldier”.

Undeterred by his first rejection Walter had a second attempt a month later, this time enlisting for 4 years with the 4th Battalion TF of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. Once again, he underwent a medical inspection and was passed fit for service. He was issued with his new number of 3286 which would later become 201031 and he signed his agreement to serve abroad on the 22nd January 1915 at Blackpool.

Between the 21st June 1915 and 23rd July 1915 Walter was in the 2nd Eastern General Hospital suffering from a hernia, the hospital was a Territorial Force Hospital situated in Brighton.

Walter embarked for France with the main body of the 2/4th Battalion on the 7th February 1917 as a member of “D” Coy, the Battalion coming under the Command of 170th Brigade of 57th (2nd West Lancashire) Division. The Battalion had been in France for just over twelve months when Walter was granted some home leave 12/2/18 – 26/2/18, the Battalion at the time was around Erquinghem carrying out working parties when out of the line and also doing some valuable patrol work when they were up at the front.

The first three weeks of March was spent at Pont de Nieppe, a rest area, but even here they were not immune from the long-range, high-velocity enemy guns. On the 21st March the Brigade marched to Fleuxbaix where towards the end of the month they relieved a brigade of the 38th Division in the West Macquart sector, the Battalion taking the place of the 17th Royal Welsh Fusiliers in the left sub-sector, said to be a fairly quiet part of the line. They remained in this area until the 7th May and then made the move to the Bucquoy area, south of Arras having been sent to relieve the 42nd Division. On arrival they relieved the 8th Manchester Regiment and went into Brigade Reserve at Coigneux. The following day the Battalion sent working parties to Beer Trench which was the old British front line, east of Fonquevillers and Hebuterne.

Extract from Battalion War Diary – 10th – 11th May 1918

10th May – The Battalion took over the defence of BEER TRENCH from the 1/5th Bn. L.N. Lancs. The first Coy left Coigneux at 7.30pm and the remainder at half hour intervals. Relief complete at 12.30am.

11th May – Working parties at JULIUS POINT and RUM TRENCH (Gommecourt). During the morning and afternoon about thirty 7.7 and 5.6 shells fell in the vicinity of right coy and Battalion H.Q. At 7pm heavy concentration of gas shells about the Battalion`s dug-outs and shelters. This continued until after 10pm. At 11.30pm orders were received from 172 Brigade H.Q. to move the Battalion to the higher ground in STOUT TRENCH.

2 other ranks wounded. 23 Officers and 341 other ranks gassed.

Unfortunately Walter was one of the casualties of the gas and after attending a field ambulance he was admitted to 29 CCS and by the 14th May 1918 he had been admitted to 11 Stationary Hospital in Rouen. Two weeks later he was on his way back to hospital in England via the hospital ship Guildford Castle. On arrival Walter was sent up to Fusehill War Hospital in Carlisle where sadly at 9.20pm on Sunday, 9th June 1918 he passed away, cause of death given as `mustard gas poisoning`.

Walter`s body was returned to his wife and family in Preston and he was later buried in Preston (New Hall Lane) Cemetery.

There is no record of any of Walter`s personal items being returned to his family. Alice was later awarded a pension of 25/5s per week for herself and the two children with effect from 16th December 1918.

After the war Alice took receipt of her husband`s British War and Victory Medals and would also have received his Memorial Plaque and Scroll in recognition of his sacrifice.

In 1919 Alice Francis remarried to Charles Frederick Aldridge in St. Peter`s Church in Preston and the following year a son Frederick was born (1920-1987).

Alice had the following words inscribed at the foot of Walter`s headstone;

“HE DIED THAT WE MAY LIVE”

PRESTON (NEW HALL LANE) CEMETERY

Rank: Private
Service No: 201031
Date of Death: 09/06/1918
Age: 27
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, “D” Coy. 2nd/4th Bn.
Cemetery: PRESTON (NEW HALL LANE) CEMETERY

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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One Response to 201031 PTE. W. FRANCIS. L.N.LAN.R.

  1. Sarah Davies says:

    Hi Janet
    I think that Walter was my Great Grandfather’s brother. It has been so lovely to read your account of his life.
    Thank you so much
    Sarah

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