Walter was born in Birkenhead in the summer of 1896 to parents of Welsh descent, He grew up in Birkenhead, but moved to Caergwrle to work before joining the Territorials a few months before WW1 started,
John Francis Griffiths (Walter’s father), was born to Welsh parents in Bangor in 1862. His three siblings and two half sisters were all born in Birkenhead and the family lived in Birkenhead for many years. He worked in a shipyard.
Elizabeth Whitley (Walter’s mother), was born in Caergwlre in 1861 to a large family of 7 girls and one boy. According to the census returns the Whitley family had lived at Plas yn Bwl in Caergwrle, for some decades at least. By the age of 20 she was a domestic servant in Tranmere. She married John Griffiths at St Annes parish church in Birkenhead on 18th May 1891.
They lived at 438 Price Street, Birkenhead.
There were 7 children, all of whom survived infancy:
- Charles Robert Henry b 1892
- Elizabeth b 1894
- John Edward b 1895
- Walter Whitley b 1896
- William Harold b 1897
- Florence Edith b 1901
- Rebecca Evalyn b 1903
The 1901 census return showed John Francis Griffiths (a shipyard labourer) and his family living at 16 Moon Street. Florence Edith Griffiths was born in August that year.
By the time of the 1911 census the family was still at the same address. Elizabeth, who then would be about 15 years old , was no longer living at home.
On 26th June 1911 Walters older brother Charles Robert Henry Griffiths enlisted in the Cheshire Regiment Special Reserve . He gave his occupation as a “Holder up in the shipyard”. He later served with the Cheshire Regiment 1st Battalion but was killed in action on 17/04/1915 at Ypres, and is commemorated on the Menin Gate.
Walter was not at home on the night of the census. The only census record for that night that can be assumed to be him is that of a Walter Griffiths, aged 14, born in Birkenhead as an inmate at Northamptonshire Society’s Reformatory School for Boys, Tiffield, near Towcester. Middle names were not included on the record so we cannot be 100% sure that it is him.
The website http://www.childrenshomes.org.uk/TiffieldRfy/ describes the school:
The industrial training was chiefly working the School’s garden and 45 acres of farmland, with a few of the boys making and mending their own clothes. In the early 1900s, a number of improvements and extension were made to the premises. In 1903, eight new pigsties were built. In 1908-9, the buildings were extended with the addition of new workshops, office, committee room, laundry, wash-house and store-room. Physical drill was a regular part of the boys’ routine and part of the dining-room was fitted up as a gymnasium, where air rifle shooting was also practised. Football and cricket matches were played with other local teams, and fife and drum band was started. In 1908, the official capacity of the School was increased to 100 places. The industrial training now included shoemaking, tailoring and technical drawing.
In the spring of 1913 Walter’s mother Elizabeth died.
It is not known how long Walter was at Tiffield but by 1914 he was in Caergwrle, living at Plas yn Bwl which is where his mother’s family came from.
Whatever difficulties he may have had as a young man he was now in employment as a collier at Llay Hall Colliery, Cefn y Bedd. Samuel Young, the colliery manager gave him a character reference for his application to join the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He stated that he had known Walter for “some months” and believed him to be honest and sober. This describes Walter as being 17½ years old, 5′ 2″ tall, with a fresh complexion, blue eyes and brown hair.
Walter enlisted in the Territorials on 22nd April 1914 (before the war started), He stated that his employer was Ed Clarke, esq. The Wrexham Story (http://www.nickamyes.com/whf/local-history-llay.html) states:
The Clark family, who owned Llay Hall Colliery near Cefn-y-Bedd, had financed the initial survey work and had bought most of the estates and mining rights in the Llay area. Edwin Stanley Clark who lived at Oak Alyn Hall, Cefn-y-Bedd. bought Llay Hall Colliery out of liquidation in 1885. When he died in 1900, his son Edward Stuart took over the family business.
On 29th April 1914 Walter was accepted for the 5th Battalion RWF. On 5th August 1914 (the day after war was declared) Walter’s record states that he was embodied. which means that, as a member of the Territorial Force, he was called up to serve full time.
His record states that on 15th May 1915 he was posted with the 2/5th Battalion, but it does not state where. During 1915 Walter was sentenced to forfeiture of pay on one occasion for “absence”, and detention on two other occasions, “for obscene and threatening language” and for “Insolence”. He appeared to be in Chelmsford Barracks at that time. In January and February 1916 admitted to hospital twice (4 days and 14 days) in Bedford with skin conditions. On 23rd Aug 1916 he was posted to the 3rd Battalion, and then posted with the 8th Battalion on 10th September, embarking from Devonport.
A month later, on 10th October they disembarked at Basrah and on 22nd October joined the unit at Amara. On 18th November Walter was treated by the 41st Field Ambulance for dysentery and admitted to the 21st General Hospital the following day. He was discharged from the hospital on 15th December and rejoined his unit in the field on New Years Eve.
The Field Ambulance was a mobile front line medical unit (it was not a vehicle), manned by troops of the Royal Army Medical Corps. On 16th February he was again treated by the 41st Field Ambulance, but this time he died of wounds received in action.
Amara is a town in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) on the left bank of the Tigris some 520 km from the sea, and 193 km south of Baghdad. Walter is buried in the Amara War Cemetery which is a little east of the town between the left bank of the river and the Chahaila Canal. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission says of this cemetery:
In 1933, all of the headstones were removed from this cemetery when it was discovered that salts in the soil were causing them to deteriorate. Instead a screen wall was erected with the names of those buried in the cemetery engraved upon it.
Walter is also commemorated on the Birkenhead War Memorial:
Mesopotamia in WW1:
The Long, Long Trail website (http://www.1914-1918.net/mespot.htm) describes the conditions in Mesopotamia as:
Like Gallipoli, conditions in Mesopotamia defy description. Extremes of temperature (120 degrees F was common); arid desert and regular flooding; flies, mosquitoes and other vermin: all led to appalling levels of sickness and death through disease. Under these incredible conditions, units fell short of officers and men, and all too often the reinforcements were half-trained and ill-equipped. Medical arrangements were quite shocking, with wounded men spending up to two weeks on boats before reaching any kind of hospital. These factors, plus of course the unexpectedly determined Turkish resistance, contributed to high casualty rates.
The town of Amara was besieged by Turkish forces between 7 December 1915 – 29 April 1916 when the garrison surrendered. This was a humiliating loss for the British. In July 1916 Sir Frederick Maude was appointed the new commander. He re-organised and re-supplied the British and Indian forces in the region.with the intention of a renewed offensive against Kut before the arrival of the winter floods. There were skirmishes in December, but winter rain hampered operations until 9th January. The objective was to cut off the Hai Salient, a series of trenches across the River Tigris from the town of Kut. The British had to force the Ottoman forces out of a strong defensive line along the Hai River. This took them two weeks (from 25 January till 4 February). Another Ottoman position, called Dahra Bend, was taken on 16 February, the day that Walter died. Finally, the British re-captured Kut on 24 February 1917 in the Second Battle of Kut, and entered Baghdad in March 1917.
For information about Kut al Amara see:
In September 1919 Walter’s father was sent army form W5080 requesting a list of Walter’s living relatives. It was sent to 10 Walton Street, Birkenhead, but the completed form was returned showing that Walter’s father and 3 sisters were living in 15 Washington Street, Liverpool. His brothers John Edward Griffiths and William Harold Griffiths were in the army. Sadly their records do not appear to have survived.
In 1920 Walter’s father was sent the memorial scroll and plaque (commonly known as the “Death Penny” in recognition of his son, and he signed for the receipt.
On December 22nd 1921 his father acknowledged receipt of Walters medals (British and Victory medal) ;
Walter’s family tree can be found at http://person.ancestry.co.uk/tree/70118846/person/42222283434/facts