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Robert William Walton was born in the village of Longton near Preston in 1871 the son of William and Alice Longton (nee Houghton) and his christening was held in St. Andrew`s Church in the village on the 1st March 1871, his parents had married in Warrington the year before he was born. Robert`s mother Alice already had two sons prior to her marriage; Thomas and John George, the two boys both born in Longton. Robert also had two younger sisters; Lily Isabel (1877) and Margaret Alice (1881).

By 1891 Robert had left home and was lodging with railway worker Richard Pickthall and his wife Jane in the village of Scorton in Nether Wyresdale, Robert was also labouring as a platelayer on the railways. The following year on the 22nd October 1892 he married Alice Kay in St. Peter`s Church in Preston, the couples` first child Jane was born the following year and then in 1897 a son Robert William arrived. In 1901 Alice was living at 1 Vicker Street in Preston with daughter Jane and son Robert William, she was employed as a cotton rover. Robert isn`t listed in this Census so it`s very likely he was serving overseas in the 2nd Boer War. Alice had also taken in a boarder, 17 year old Steven Moran who was working as a lap piercer in a cotton mill.

The 1911 Census shows all the family reunited and living at 12 Whalley Square in Preston, the family had also increased in size with the addition of twins Annie and Lily (1904) and another daughter May (1909). Robert`s job is described as a `lime washer` and Alice a cotton spinner. Later the same year another set of twins arrived; Jane Agnes and Thomas Francis (1911).

Robert attested at Preston on the 9th September 1914 joining the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment with the service number 4080. He confirmed that he was `time expired` from the Loyals, his previous service number had been 3810. He stated his age as being 39 years but he was actually 43 years old at the time. Robert was quite a tall chap standing at 5`11” and he weighed 158lbs and had blue eyes and grey hair. He confirmed his address as 12 Whalley Square and his occupation as a `lime washer`. For official purposes Robert named his wife Alice of the same address as his next of kin. He was then placed on Reserve with the 3rd Battalion, for which, his papers note, he would receive 6d per day in pay.

He was recalled for service in early November 1914 and then on the 29th November 1914 he embarked for France with a batch of reinforcements for the 1st Battalion LNL, the Battalion coming under the Command of the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Division. Five days prior to her husband`s departure Alice had also given birth to another daughter and she was named Evelyn.

The 1st Battalion was part of the BEF and had been in France since the 12th August 1914. By the time Robert and the rest of the reinforcements arrived the Battalion had already incurred substantial losses during the `Retreat from Mons`, at the Marne and Aisne and their number was seriously depleted. On arrival Robert was posted to “B” Coy.

The Battalion War Diary notes;

“4th December 1914 – At HAZEBROUCK re-fitting. A draft of 458 N.C.O.`S and men arrived under 2/Lieutenant Gilliland, 3rd Bn. Loyal North Lancs Regt. joined the Battalion. 2/Lt. Gilliland posted to “B” Coy”.

The 1st Battalion remained at Hazebrouck until the early morning of the 21st December 1914.

The Battalion then took part in an attack at Givenchy on the night of the 21st – 22nd December 1914. To read a full account of the action on 22nd December, click here….

After the attack the Battalion losses amounted to 6 Officers and 408 non-commissioned Officers and men killed, wounded and missing. Robert Walton was one of those posted missing, it was later discovered that he had also been wounded and then taken as a prisoner of war. Later information states that Robert was wounded in the early morning of the 22nd December, a shrapnel bullet had hit him in the back of the neck and had come out at the front of his throat and another had struck him in the upper thigh of his left leg.

Robert spent the majority of his captivity in hospital, first of all in what he later described as a `wayside` hospital, then at Coblenz in Germany. When Robert was at Coblenz he was able to write postcards to his wife at 12 Whalley Square which is where the family was living when he went overseas, unfortunately Alice had moved to Martland Street in July 1915 so she didn`t receive his communication, the postcard shown below appears in the middle of his papers;

At some point he was transferred to Meresburg POW camp and from there he was released in early September 1915 with around 260 other wounded prisoners, the group leaving Germany via Holland and from there sailing to Tilbury Docks in London. Robert then spent a few days in hospital in London before finally returning home to Preston on Sunday 5th September 1915.

Not long after he arrived home he was interviewed by a representative of the Preston Herald newspaper in Preston, the newspaper article was published on the 8th September 1915;              

 “DISABLED PRESTON SOLDIER RETURNS HOME FROM GERMANY”

“One of the repatriated soldiers who have recently returned to England under the exchange arrangement is Private R. Walton of the 1st Loyal North Lancashire Regiment who is now safe at home in Martland Street, Preston.

Private Walton has had many adventures since he left England with the special batch of Reservists in November of last year, and he has not returned unscathed, for as a result of two shrapnel bullets, once of which hit him in the back of his neck and came out at the front of his throat, and other of which hit him in the upper part of the left thigh, he now suffers from a marked impediment in his speech and his left arm is completely paralysed. His left leg was affected in the same manner, but partial use has been regained, and he is now able to walk about with the aid of a stick. To these afflictions Private Walton owes his release, for, as he said to our representative, if the Germans ever thought I would be able to use a rifle again they would never have let me go.

“A SURPRISE NEAR YPRES”

In describing some of his adventures, Private Walton said he was first called up in late September, and left for France in November. He took part in several small engagements but on the 21st December he and his Company were sent to the neighbourhood of Ypres. After a hard five miles march over ploughed fields and muddy roads, they arrived at their destination only to find the trenches allotted them were filled with Germans.

“Even after our long march” continued Private Walton, “we soon cleared them out”. The next morning, however, the Germans returned in force, and, after a hard fight, the trenches were recaptured by them.

“HOW HE WAS CAPTURED”

About 200 of the English were taken as prisoners at that time, including Walton. He was taken whilst he was lying upon the ground suffering from the wounds caused by the shrapnel, and so could offer no resistance. This occurred early on the 22nd December

He was kept without attention in the German lines until late the same evening, when he was removed to a wayside hospital, where he was detained for five days; he consequently spent his Christmas Day as an ill-fed German prisoner. His next move was to Coblenz, where he was kept for five weeks, and then on to Meresburg from whence he returned only this week. During the whole time he was in Germany, he was confined to hospital as a result of his wounds.

LACK OF FOOD THE WORST TROUBLE”

Speaking of the treatment accorded to the prisoners of war, Private Walton said that the worst thing about it was the food. The prisoners practically existed on the parcels sent from home, and looked forward eagerly to the weekly consignments. “Not all the parcels sent reached the prisoners, but a fair amount did, and it was a real godsend, for we could hardly have lived without”. The food supplied was meagre and unappetising, consisting as it did of such items as chestnut soup, sago soup and potato soup. The sago soup is not flavoured by sugar, neither is any milk or such like ingredients allowed.

“NO NOURISHMENTS FOR WOUNDED”

The wound prisoners in hospital received no special attention in the way of better food, and the parcels from home came as an added boon to them. Private Walton attaches no great blame to the Germans themselves in regard to the poor food supply, for he says they had barely enough for themselves. At the places he visited, food appeared to be at a premium, there certainly not being over much for the prisoners. In regard to the general conduct of the Germans towards the captured also he has no great complaint. They appeared to be fairly decent, but certainly hated the English as a race, and could frequently be observed shaking their fist at any English whom they saw. The medical attention was, however, quite up to the mark, and Private Walton has a great respect for the skill of the German surgeons and doctors.

 “THE HOME COMING”

As has already been stated, Walton was interned at Meresburg immediately prior to his release, and was despatched from there in company with about 260 other men, through Holland, along to the sea coast, where a boat was taken to England, the party eventually arriving at Tilbury Docks, London, last week. Some of the men released had been frightfully injured, Walton quoting such cases as one man without both eyes, another minus his legs, and any amount with only one arm or leg. He himself has not altogether despaired of regaining the use of his left arm some day, although the prospect seems a very remote one. All Regiments were represented on the boat, there being an exceptionally large number of R.A.M.C. men. The sailors on board the vessel treated the wounded men in a most kindly manner. After a few days stay in a London Hospital, Private Walton was despatched to Preston, where he arrived home on Sunday night”.

On the 27th October 1915 Robert was finally discharged from the Army and was issued with a Silver War Badge, number 72963. The following month his papers confirm that he would be paid a pension of 25/- per week. After the war he took receipt of his 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medals to which he was entitled.

Sadly, Robert and Alice`s 21 year old son Robert William died in 1918, his death registered in the December quarter of that year.

Robert himself only lived for another five years after his son died, his death was registered in the December quarter of 1923, aged 52 years.

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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