Private Walter Wagstaff

A white circle with a glove crossing it's fingers and the words: Made Possible with Heritage Fund.This man is a candidate for addition to Keighley's Supplementary Volume under the proposal to add further names in 2024, the centenary of the original roll of honour.
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Supported by the National Lottery's Heritage Fund, our project intends to submit about 120 names for peer review to add them to the book which is kept at Keighley Library. The unveiling of the book with it's new names is planned for November 2024, 100 years after the unveiling of the original war memorial.

Private. 1st/4th Bn. Duke of Wellington's (West Riding Regiment). Service Number 31921.

A rather dark and blurred portrait photo from a newspaper in 1918. It's a man's head and chest and he is facing the camera.

Private Walter Wagstaff.

Early life:

Walter was born in 1882 in Coventry and his birth was registered there in the first quarter of the year.
We believe his parents were John and Elizabeth Wagstaff. In the 1881 census (the year before Walter was born) they were living at 170 Far Gosford Street in Coventry.
It appears that Elizabeth died in June 1887 and by the 1891 census John and their three sons were in Coventry Union Workhouse.
We also believe their father John died aged 79 in 1924.

Walter next appears in 1899 living at Ingrow in Keighley and getting married to Matilda Bancroft of Hainworth. Walter was a 19 year old grocer and Matilda was a 23 year old spinster. They tied the knot at St. John's Church at Ingrow on 12th September 1899.
Their first child was Ethel Florence, who was born on 27th December, just over three months later, so it seems their marriage was rather urgent.
Ethel was baptised on 4th February 1900 at St. James' Church at Cross Roads Cum Lees.

In the 1901 census Walter and Matilda were living at no. 2 Malt Street in Ingrow. Walter was 21 and a grocer's shop assistant and Mary was 24 and looking after the family home and their daughter Ethel aged just one.
Their second child was Wilfred Winston and he was born on 6th April 1902.
They may have been living at 21, Balcony Terrace in Cross Roads at this time.
Their third child was Phylis May and she was born on 19th June 1905. Wilfred and Phylis were baptised together on 16th July 1905 at St James' Church, Cross Roads. Walter appears to have changed his occupation and is now a mechanic, working for Prince Smith & Son at Burlington Shed. (this site is now Asda Supermarket.)
Their fourth child was Edith Alice Estella. She was born on 29th January 1908 and baptised at St. James' Church in Cross Roads on 19th April 1908. Walter is still a mechanic.

By the time of the 1911 census the family is at 23, Balcony Terrace in Cross Roads. Walter is 29 and a labourer on a spinning machine, working for Messrs. George Hattersley at Cabbage Mills in Keighley, Matilda is 33 and a warp twister. They have been married for eleven years and had four children all of whom are still living. They are Ethel aged 11, Wilfred aged 8, Phylis aged 5 who are all at school, plus Edith who is three years of age and not quite at school age.
Considering where they were living, these three were almost certainly attending the Lees Board School.
[Note: Cabbage Mill is on the site of what is now Morrison's Supermarket and car park]

Walter and Matilda's fifth child was Kathleen Lucy, born on the 1st April 1917 and her birth was registered in Keighley in the second quarter of the year, so this was be before Walter was called up for Army service.

War service:

Walter attested for General Service 25th June 1917 at Keighley. He was approved for enlistment on the same date at Halifax. His age was given as 36 years and 166 days, and his Army service number was 31921.
Walter stated that his home address was 2, Ruth Street, Cross Roads.
He was in the UK from enlistment until 16th January 1918, when he went overseas.
His service was as follows: 3rd Reserve Battalion West Riding Regiment on 25th June 1917.
His records was uneventful until January 1918, when he was absent without leave for 6 days on 9th January, finally reporting late on 14th January and he received 6 days field punishment no 2 for this.
He embarked at Folkestone on 18th January and disembarked in Boulogne the same day. He was transferred to 8th Battalion West Riding Regiment at the Base Depot in France on the same date. He was then posted to his unit with the 1/4th Battalion West Riding Regiment on 21st January and arrived at his unit in the field on 29th January.

On 1st March the Regimental Sergeant Major caught him smoking whilst on duty at Battalion headquarters and he was given 7 days field punishment no 1. Whilst this might seem a bit severe, he was now in a war theatre and the consequences were more serious. Also, it came just three weeks after his previous punishment for being absent, so they may have felt it important to drive the point home.

At this time the Battalion was in trenches near Bailleul, which is about 11 miles South West of Ypres. Steam Mill (mentioned below) is on the bottom right corner of the following map: See the trench map on the National Libary of Scotland website


War diary for the 1/4th Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment.
BAILLEUL was heavily shelled during the afternoon. Otherwise the day was a quiet one. Early in the evening two companies were sent up under Captain Fenton, MC to hold the line of the RAILWAY as it was feared the enemy might break through.
During the night the Brigade front was withdrawn & adjusted the Battalion., being only responsible for the outpost line to the S.W. of the Town.
The morning was quiet but soon after noon the enemy opened a very heavy bombardment of the Town and some of the outposts. Early in the afternoon his troops were observed dribbling forward in the direction of STEAM MILL.
About 4.0 pm enemy troops advanced against the line at STEAM MILL & to the South of it. A number of troops of the 22nd Corps Reinforcement Battalion surrendered without any resistance & the enemy was able to occupy STEAM MILL & seriously threaten the whole line in the vicinity. 'C' Company and two companies of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment immediately counter attacked. The situation was completely restored except that STEAM MILL remained in the enemy's hands. The counter attacking troops occupied a line across X.23.d which was rendered necessary by the retirement of the 22nd Corps Reinforcement Battalion.

Walter was in C Company and he was reported missing on 14th April 1918. He was not found in any roll call and his body was not found. On 26th June 1919 he was presumed to have died, on or since 14th April 1918.

In appendices reports were made on operation.
Casualties on the 14th April - 1 officer and 14 other ranks were killed, 4 officers and 51 other ranks were wounded, 1 other rank was missing and 1 was wounded and missing.
One report tells of the surrender of Corps troops at STEAM MILL:
Situation is normal. Enemy retired down VIEUX BERQUIN Road in considerable numbers but occupied STEAM MILL owing to the disgraceful surrender of Corps reinforcement troops who put up their hands and went over without firing a shot. Our post on South side of mill, a Vickers & a post of the 6th Battalion did good execution with rifle & Lewis Guns & at least 50 Germans were seen to fall. Our casualties 1 officer killed & 3 officers wounded & probably about 50 other ranks during the day. I am please to report that our men fired on the men who surrendered & hit a few.
(NB remainder of message lost)

Walter has no known final resting place and his name is on the memorial wall at Tyne Cot Cemetery, panels 82 to 85.
Locally, we think he is the Walter Wagstaff named on the Lees, Bocking and Cross Roads war memorial in the memorial building in Cross Roads park.

A large stone panel with hundreds of names inscribed and painted in black. There are three columns and the central one is those who died in the Great War 1914 - 1918.
There is a poppy wreath at the foot of the panel.

Lees, Cross Roads and Bocking war memorial.

Keighley News Saturday 15th June 1918, page 3:

Private Walter Wagstaff, of 2, Ruth Street, Lees, Keighley, is reported missing from April 14 last. He enlisted in June, 1917, and went to France in January, 1918. For twelve years he was employed by Messrs. Prince Smith & Son, Burlington Shed, Keighley, and afterwards by Messrs. G. Hattersley & Sons, Cabbage Mills, Keighley as a mechanic. Mrs. Wagstaff will be grateful for information respecting her husband.

After Walter's death:

Matilda received a separation allowance of 30 shillings on 1st June 1918 and a £5 grant payment on 21st July 1919.
She was awarded a dependant's pension of 29s 7d per week for herself and three children, with effects from 23rd December 1918.
[Note: Two of their five children were over the age of 16 by this time so they received no pension award. Ethel was 16 on 27th December 1915 and Wilfred was 16 on 6th April 1918, so neither would be classed as dependants]

After exhaustive efforts by his wife Matilda to find out what had happened to him, no proper account of his death was forthcoming. There are a number of letters between Matilda and the authorities trying to find out what had happened to her husband. One of his comrades also wrote to her in her desperate efforts to find out.


10th August 1918:
International Committee for the Red Cross:
A letter was sent by Mrs M. Wagstaff of 2, Ruth Street, Lees, nr. Keighley, Yorkshire, England., by the Red Cross and a prisoner of war index card for Walter Wagstaff was annotated to this effect, with the above date and the words: 'négatif envoye' meaning that they had no record of him being a prisoner of war.

27th August 1918:
Pte. Fred Turton 172118
No. # Company
No. 1 MGC Belton Park, Grantham.
Grantham, Same address.
I got your kind letter this afternoon & thank you for your good wishes & hope that I have not to go out again. A lad called Whitehouse told me about Walter. He went out with us from ####### & he got wounded & came to the palace just before I came down here.
I think he will be up there for he was going on another course of Lewis Gun in the Grand Hotel, Tynemouth. I am sorry to tell you that Walter got killed in April somewhere round Bailleul. This lad Whitehouse was by his side at the time & when he came to the Palace he told me. I thought that you would have had news long ago otherwise I should have written before. I can't express my feelings now for not writing you sooner. I don't know this lad's no. but if you write to the following address if he is still there it will find him.

Pte. Whitehouse. Lewis Gun Section, Grand Hotel, Tynemouth, Northumberland.

If he is not there I will do my best to get into communication with him. I feel so sorry & put out that you have been in suspense so long & I hope you will think none the less of me. Do you know where Percy Markham lives in Keighley for we all three were pals & I should like some news of him & his address if you could get it for it will not be the same as when I left them for there were only a few left out of the company at the end of April & the few that were left were put on headquarters staff. You must let me know if you hear from Whitehouse won't you. I should like to see you but it's such a long way from here to you.
Very faint section:
Know we have very little time when we come on leave & when I should be home I don't know. I will now close so hoping that you are in the very best of health & assure you of my true & lasting friendship and my deepest & sincere sympathy.
Yours sincerely. Fred Turton.

29th August 1918: (stamped as received by infantry records at York 31 Aug 1918)
Dear Sir,
I have received the enclosed letter today and forward to you as requested, it being the first information I have received since my husband was reported missing on April 14th 18. Yours faithfully, Mrs. W. Wagstaff.
The last address to which I wrote my husband was as follows:
Pte. Walter Wagstaff 31921
11 Platoon, C Company.
1/4th West Riding Regiment
B. E. F. France.

Army form B. 104-53:
Received from Mrs Wagstaff
Letter received from 172118 Pte Fred Turton MGC, Belton Park Grantham, who states that a lad called Whitehouse informed him this soldier was killed in April somewhere round Bailleul.

6th September 1918:
22504 Pte. Whitehouse
Lewis Gun Section
West Riding Regiment
Grand Hotel, Tynemouth.
Ref: 31921 Pte. Walter Wagstaff 1/4 West Riding.
Reported missing 14.4.1918.
A letter has been received in this office from the wife of the above named soldier.
Attached is a letter received from 172118 Pte. Fred Turton Machine Gun Corps who informed her, that you had made a statement to him that you was by the soldier 31921 Pte. W. Wagstaff 1/4 West Riding Regt. and that he was killed in April somewhere round Bailleul.
Will you send a further statement to this office confirming this so that we may be able to take necessary action with regard to his death. Please send your full regimental particulars when replying.
For, Colonel I/c no. 2 Infantry records, York.
2nd App. 18.9.18.

12th February 1919:
(Copy of translation)
Central Committee of the German Red Cross Society, Berlin. S.W.

With reference to your letter of 26/8/18 in respect to Pte. Walter Wagstaff.
The name of the soldier enquired for is not shown here in the official list of prisoners of war, nor in the German military list of burials. If in any German camp or hospital there is any prisoner guilty of stubbornness or refractory conduct, there would be no hesitation on the part of the authorities in stopping communications with his relation, consequently one may assume that he is in German captivity, or may not have been found.
All our investigations have turned out unsuccessful.
Dept. For the Care of Prisoners of War.

29th March 1919:
2, Ruth Street, Lees
Officer in charge of records, York.
Having received an answer to an enquiry I sent to the Central Care of Prisoners Committee, Berlin, in respect of my husband, Pte. Walter Wagstaff 31921 B End? 1st 4th West Ridings 11 Platoon C Company, reported missing April 14th 1918. I enclose a copy of the answer for your perusal.
Yours faithfully
Mrs. M. Wagstaff.
(stamped 31 Mar 1919 Inf. Rec. Office. York)

6th May 1919:
Stamped 7th May 1919 no. 2 Infantry records Office York.
Infantry Records. York.
2, Ruth Street, Keighley, Yorkshire.
Officer in charge.
Sir, I again request that you will send me some information in respect of my husband, reported missing April 14th, 1918.
Pte. Walter Wagstaff 31921 1st/4th West Riding Regiment, 11 Platoon, C Company, France.
I forwarded to you a few weeks ago a copy of a German letter received by me from the Central Care of Prisoners Committee in which I have received no reply from you. It is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs that I have had no news as to whether he is alive or dead. Your attention to this is earnestly requested. It is now over twelve months of waiting, awaiting a reply.
I remain yours etc.,
Mrs. Wagstaff.

8th May 1919:
2 Infantry Records office York  WR/
Mrs. W. Wagstaffe.
2, Ruth Street,
Lees Nr. Keighley.
Ref 31921 Pte. Walter Wagstaffe, 1/4 West Riding Regiment
I reply to your letter, I regret that no further information has been received about your husband. The letter you sent from the Central Committee of the German Prisoners of which you have sent a written copy, does not help us in the matter #### definite
Next section is very faint:
You #### #### of state that ##### investigated ##### ##### ##### #####.
I may add that a lad called Whitehouse stated in a letter to you received from Pte. Fred Turton that he was ##### your husband.


Matilda received a dependent's pension of 29s 9d per week for herself and three children with effect from 23.12.18.
She also received by remaining Army pay which was £6 12s 5d and this included a £5 war gratuity payment. The full amount was paid to her on 8th October 1919.

Matilda signed for the receipt of Walter's British War Medal and Victory Medal on 5th May 1921.
She would also have received a bronze war memorial plaque and King's certificate inscribed with Walter's name.

In the 1921 census Matilda was still living at 2, Ruth Street in Cross Roadsand was a 48 year old housewife on her own account. Living with her were Ethel aged 21 and a florist's assistant employed by Herbert Tingle of 49, Church Street in Keighley; Winifred aged 19 and a Taker off employed by Dunderdale at Dalton Mills in Keighley; Phyllis aged 16 and a shop assistant for Redman Ltd Provision agents on North Street in Keighley; Edith aged 13 and a part time doffer (out of work) for Robert Clough's textile manufacturers at Grove Mills, Ingrow; Kathleen was aged four and whole time at school.

In the 1939 register Matilda was aged 63 and living at 28, Shirley Avenue in Batley with her 34 year old daughter Phyllis, who was a café manageress. Also with them was Sheila Richardson a 15 year old apprentice hairdresser.

Matilda died aged 67 in 1943, her death was registered in the third quarter of the year at Spen Valley.

Information sources:

England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915
1891 England Census
England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915
West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935
England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915
West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910
1901 England Census
West Yorkshire, England, Electoral Registers, 1840-1962
England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915
1911 England Census
England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1916-2007
British Army World War I Service Records, 1914-1920
British Army World War I Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920
World War I Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919
Keighley News archives at Keighley Library
National Library of Scotland trench mapping service
World War I Pension Ledgers and Index Cards, 1914-1923
Army Registers of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929
West Yorkshire, England, Electoral Registers, 1840-1962
1921 Census Of England & Wales
1939 England and Wales Register
England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007

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