What this is about

To mark the centenary of the Great War, I am researching the WW1 histories of my ancestors. This blog documents my progress.
To read a summary of what I've discovered so far, select an ancestor/family member from the list on the right-hand side.

Walter Thomas Price (aka Gwilliam)

My paternal grandfather, 'Grandad Walter' as I knew him, was born Walter Thomas Gwilliam on 7th September 1896 at Preston Wynne, Herefordshire, to agricultural labourer Joseph Gwilliam and his wife Mary Elizabeth (nee Blizard). Mary died when her children were young, and they were raised by their elder sister Lizzie.

Joseph was the illegitimate son of Eliza Gwilliam and a currently unknown father. Eliza later married one Thomas Price, and by 1911 (possibly as early as 1905 when Mary died) most of Joseph's family had taken this surname.

In the 1911 census (courtesy of Ancestry.co.uk), 14 year-old Walter Price had moved from his family home at Rose Cottage, Preston Wynne, and was recorded as living at Woodhouse Farm, Stapelow, near Ledbury, where he was employed as a domestic/farm servant to a recently married couple, Charles and Frances Stackhouse:

1911 Census

We are fortunate in that my father still possesses Grandad's WWI medals (British and Victory), which state that Private 32789 Price, WT served in the Devonshire Regiment.

This service number enabled me to look up his Medal Index Card on Ancestry.com, which shows that he was indeed awarded the Victory and British medals, and that he also served under the service number 32615 in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry:

Medal Index Card

This MIC references the actual Medal Roll, which was found by searching for C/1/101B page 865 on The National Archives website. A copy of this medal roll was then ordered:

Medal Roll

This gives us a little more information, stating that Walter served in the 9th Battalion the Devonshire Regiment - a 'service' battalion (20th Brigade, 7th Division), before being transferred to the DCLI.

Unfortunately Grandad's actual service record was among the 60% of Great War serviceman's records that were destroyed during WWII, so this is as much as can be ascertained with any certainty. However a search through contemporary newspapers on Herefordshire History website goes some way toward revealing the start of Grandad's WW1 service. With the introduction of conscription in 1916, it was common practice for newspapers to list those who went before local appeals tribunals to seek a deferral or exemption from military duty.

Hereford Times, 22nd April 1916

Having not yet volunteered, Grandad would have been conscripted under the Military Services Act when it came into being in 1916. Being born in 1896 and unmarried, he would have been put into class 2 - members of which were issued a proclamation on 19th February 1916 that they could expect to be called-up on or after 3rd March. 

Walter, then working at Field House Farm, Sutton as a cowman/horseman and later a wagoner, is first listed in the 22nd April 1916 edition of the Hereford Journal and Hereford Times, which reveals that he was originally in a 'starred' occupation (basically exempt from military duty). It is reported that, alongside other skilled agricultural workers, his 'starred' status was removed by the tribunal and his call-up deferred until 1st September 1916.

Hereford Journal, 16th December 1916
No doubt unwilling to be left short-handed, this caused his employer, Arthur J. Williams, to attend the Hereford Rural District Tribunal at the Law Society Rooms, East Street, Hereford, and to plead his case on three separate occasions. On each occasion Walter's call-up was deferred until December 1916, March 1st 1917 and finally September 1st 1917. I can find no more references in the Hereford Journal after this time.

Hereford Journal, 24th March 1917

So we know that Grandad wasn't called up until after 1st September 1917. Further information comes to light in the Absent Voters Lists, held at Herefordshire Archives and Records Centre. The lists, which show eligible voters who were absent from home, were taken in the spring and autumn from 1918 to 1921.

Grandad is listed from autumn 1918 to autumn 1919. In the autumn 1918 list, he is listed as 44144 3rd KSLI. According to Annette Burgoyne (author of 'The 6th battalion King's Shropshire Light Infantry 1914-19' (ISBN 1 903360 02 1) and someone who knows an awful lot about the KSLI), army service number 44144, 3rd KSLI would have mobilised late May 1918.

Grandad's Home Guard entry

The KSLI connection is also borne out by Grandad's entry in a list of Withington Home Guard members, which gives his previous military experience as 'KSLI, Great War'.

In the Absent Voters list there is also a handwritten entry stating that he was posted to the Devonshires on 31/10/1918. This means that, after eventually being conscripted, he was sent to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion KSLI for a few months training, before being transferred to the Devonshire Regiment, with whom he qualified for his medals. 

Walter's listing in the Absent Voters Lists (autumn 1918, spring 1919, autumn 1919)

This is bourne out by Paul Nixon, of the excellent Army Service Numbers website, who believes that Walter's Devonshire Regiment service number was issued not before August 1916. I also compiled a list of servicemen in the Devonshire Regiment in the same service number range as Walter. Doing this revealed that a large proportion of them were originally in the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, and that there must have been some sort of mass transfer into the Devonshires.

I started a thread on the Great War Forum, which happily caught the attention of Annette and Dave Dycher, who has an interest in the Devonshire Regiment. Annette discovered that the men listed by me, some of those who's Medal Index Cards did not include the KSLI (such as Grandad), did in fact start off in that regiment (for example one soldier was listed as being in the KSLI on his area's 1918 absent voters list). Dave also had a pension record for another man in the Devonshires with a service number very close to Walter's: Private 32811 Henry Atcherley, which showed his initial posting to the KSLI and subsequent transfer to the 9th Devonshires.

Henry Atcherley's transfer from the KSLI to the Devonshires

Annette was able to deduce that these KSLI men were initially from the 3rd (Reserve) battalion KSLI, a depot/training unit formed in 1914 at Shrewsbury. After a stint in Pembroke Dock and Edinburgh this unit moved to Ireland (Queenstown Harbour, Cork in 1917 and thence to Fermoy in 1918). 

Mentioning this to dad, he remembered Grandad telling him that he did indeed train in Ireland, and that the crossing was particularly rough.

Searching for details on the approximately 150 men who were transferred to the 9th Devonshire Regiment in the same number block as Walter reveals a few clues. As mentioned above, according to the medal roles the majority of men were in the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry when they first qualified for their medals. Mostly the 1st KSLI but some the 3rd or 4th. Others, like granddad, qualified while in the 9th Devonshires, and it is largely these individuals who subsequently went into the DCLI. However a handful of medal roles show soldiers having served in the KSLI, Devonshires and DCLI.

A portion of Harold Mapp's RAF record.

While all except Private Atcherley have no surviving service record, a small handful have Silver War Badge records, which give enlistment dates ranging from 1915 to 1918. Additionally, one soldier from the list; Private Harold Mapp; would later join the RAF and luckily an RAF record exists, available from FindMyPast. This shows that from August 1917 to October 1918 he was in the KSLI, transferring thence to the Devonshires until March 1919, when he was posted to the DCLI.

Bear in mind that in the spring of 1918 the Germans launched a series of devastating offensives against the Allies on the Western Front, and men, some initially deemed fit only for home duty, were being hurriedly pressed into active service from all corners of Britain, which could explain the different enlistment dates and battalions. 

This research, coupled with the Absent Voters Lists, confirms that Walter was conscripted into the KSLI, joining the 3rd battalion for training in Ireland. On 24/10/1918 a number of KSLI recruits, Grandad possibly being one, embarked for France to join the 1st KSLI. But upon arrival at 'C' Infantry Base Depot at Rouen, they were instead posted to the 9th Devonshire Regiment.

The 9th Devonshires had already proved themselves during the Somme Offensive, the 3rd Battle of Ypres / Passchendaele and service in Italy. They were then shipped back the the Western Front in 1918 as part of the 7th Brigade, 25th Division (reconstituted in September 1918 after suffering considerable losses). They fought in the Hundred Days Offensive, where the Allies pushed the Germans beyond the Hindenburg Line. 

An extract from the 9th Devonshires' diary detailing their part in the Battle of the Sambre

We can follow the 9th Devonshires' movements via their regimental diary, which can be downloaded from the National Archives. After some sharp fighting the 9th Devonshires had reached Le Cateau on the 1st November, where it was billeted and received reinforcements - Grandad probably among them. On the 3rd the battalion marched to Le Pommereuil and thence to Malgarni the next day, heralding their part in the Battle of The Sambre (04/11/1918).

7th Brigade's advance during the Sambre operation

After crossing the Sambre by trestle foot bridge the battalion occupied it's objective on the 'red line'. The next day they moved to Maroilles before digging in for the night. On the 6th they followed the 20th Manchesters, who forced the passage of the Grande Helpe River and crossed over to take up defensive positions near Les Cattiaux. Hampered by fog and machine gun fire, the battalion advanced as far as Les Tuiliers Farm before receiving orders to halt, going into billets at Dompierre after being relieved. On the 9th they moved to Landrecies for inspection, cleaning up, road maintenance and other general duties.

It is possible that during, or en-route to this engagement, Grandad was wounded (see closing paragraph). 

A sketch of the lock at Landrecies

On the 13th they returned to Le Pommereuil for more drilling, musketry practice, salvage work, general duties etc., remaining there until the 29th when they moved to Quievy. Here more training and salvage work was the order of the day, enlivened by a visit from His Majesty the King on the 4th-5th December. At the start of 1919 they headed for Englefontaine for yet more drilling, training, educational classes, and salvage work.

The 24th February 1919 saw the battalion in billets at Cambrai and things were beginning to wind down. Educational classes ceased and notice was given to those who were to join the Army of Occupation to prepare themselves. On 01/03/1919 the diary states that a number on men were posted to 1/5th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry as part of the British Army of Occupation (AKA British Army of The Rhine - BAOR). A further cadre left the battalion for the 1/5 DCLI two months later.

9th Devonshire Regiment diary for March 1919

Given that Walter's medal roll was issued by the DCLI, he could well have been in one of these groups. Hugo White of Cornwall's Regimental Museum states that 'the regimental numbers from 28601 to 33600 appear in our Attestation records as a group under the heading of "Allotted to Records by phone, 3rd August 1916"', so a portion of these numbers, including Walter's, could have been held back and then issued in 1919 for the BAOR. 

Confusingly, the Absent Voters Lists, while confirming that Grandad was posted to the 1/5th DCLI, has two different service numbers - 32367 and 32516 (the number on his medal roll). The first number could either be a mistake (on the medal rolls, 32367 is the number of a Llewellyn T. Price) or Walter initially held this number before being given 32516.

The 1/5 DCLI was a pioneer battalion which was stationed at Etaples during the time that the two groups joined them. On 20/03/1919 they moved to Abancourt, before entraining for Jambres in the Namur district of Belgium in July. In October they then returned to Etaples.

An extract from the 5th DCLI diary, 1919

During this time many soldiers were demobilised and left the battalion for home, their places being taken up by troops from other battalions such as the 9th Devonshires. It must have been a frustrating time - the war was over and yet these men, drawn from different units, were still in uniform. Their time was taken up performing guard duty at various outlying installations and with parades, fatigues and classes. This was enlivened by the occasional sports day, football match and other such events.

By the end of 1919 groups of over 100 men were being demobilised, making the journey from Etaples to Boulogne and travelling across the Channel to Dover (the last entry in the battalion's war diary for this period, dated 31/12/1919, states how a cadre of men travelled on the SS Princess Victoria) and thence to London, where they entrained for Bodmin. The Absent Voters Lists state that Walter was transferred to reserve and effectively demobilised, on 18/11/1919 - his military experience over - for now.

The earliest photo I have of Walter, dated 1925. It was torn in half by my nan, as it contained another girl who had designs on grandad!

Walter was working in Bartestree when he met my nan, Ellen. They married in 1929, living at Court Cottages, Ivington, near Leominster, before moving to The Wharf, Withington, Herefordshire, where he worked as an agricultural foreman at nearby Thinghill Court. They had four children, my father being the youngest.

Walter went on to serve his country again as a member of the Home Guard in the Second World War (according to dad, Walter was once tasked to lie in wait for a mysterious car which had been seen flashing it's headlights near the strategically important Dinmore Hill railway tunnel, although the miscreant never turned up).

Grandad (2nd from right) measuring hop bushels

Grandad rarely spoke of his experiences in the Great War (at any rate I was much too young to understand such things when he passed away). However dad did once overhear him remarking to a colleague how a wood that was being cut down reminded him of being in France: 'the Germans used to bomb the woods so that they could get to us.' Annette believes that this could be  I'Eveque Wood , just N.W. of Ors, which was being held by the 25th Division at the start of the Battle of the Sambre.

Nanny and Grandad, and me.

When Walter died in 1978 aged 81, a piece of shrapnel was found in his leg. He is buried at St. Peter's Church in Withington, Herefordshire.

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