Reliving a story of heroism and tragedy from the Great War

Reliving a story of heroism and tragedy from the Great War

HISTORY: Some of the medals that belonged to Joseph Bowker

TRAGIC: Walter John Walden who was probably killed at Sahil on November 17, 1914

HERO: Joseph Bowker

PAYING TRIBUTE: Neville Smith

PIECE OF HISTORY: Joseph Bowker’s clay pipe

First published in News Dorset Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Trainee Reporter

A WEYMOUTH resident has revealed an unusual collection of First World War mementos passed down from his grandfather.

Neville Smith, 65, who lives in Rodwell, has a whistle, pipe, postcards, rosary beads and a razor blade more than a century old.

The well-battered razor has been traced to Germany and is believed to have been made in 1897.

Mr Bowker also had a Flemish psalm book, published in 1888.

Neville said: “Where my grandfather got this from, I don’t want to know.

“These things happen.”

Among other items, Neville also has a book full of tributes made by soldiers to the nurses who treated them.

He said: “If you got injured, you could purchase these things from the hospital, which I believe was in Bristol.

“In case anyone picked it up on the front line, they took out the name for security reasons. It was just to say thank you and you were sent straight back out again. Unbelievable.”

Neville and his wife moved to Weymouth seven years ago to retire. His grandfather’s items had previously been stored in un-opened boxes. The items belonged to Joseph Bowker, who went on to become a member of the 35th Division British Expeditionary Force in the Machine Gun Corp.

Mr Bowker was born in 1890 in Wheelock, a village in the parish of Sandbach, Cheshire.

He later moved to Talke in Staffordshire. He was 24 when he volunteered to fight in the trenches.

Neville said: “On his marriage certificate, which was 1912, his occupation was labourer. I know he went on to be a farmer, from what I can gather.

“A farmer was a preferred occupation. You didn’t have to go. You were exempt from the war. The only way you could go was to volunteer.”

Neville said he was stunned when he first learned about his grandfather’s exploits – more so because he had rarely mentioned it before.

He said: “My grandfather never spoke about the First World War, certainly not to me.

“The only word I could ever hear mentioned in the house was the name Passchendaele.”

The Battle of Passchendaele was fought in July 1917. Known as the ‘Battle of Mud’, the attack was Britain’s attempt to break through Flanders.

Neville said: “Whether my grandfather was involved, I don’t know. It was such an unusual name. That’s why I remember it.”

Joseph Bowker had a farm after the war called Cranberry Moss Farm in Alsager, Chesire. Upon retirement, he went to live with Neville and the rest of his family. He died in 1980 at the age of 90. Neville said he intends to keep hold of the items.

He said: “I’ve already spoken to the kids and told them what the stuff is. The fact is you could never get these things.

“They belong to him – family. It’s brilliant history.”

Dad’s brother lied to join up for war

As a child I remember hearing about my father’s brother who had been killed in the First World War, and that he had lied about his age to join up.

As my father died when I was only 21, I had not yet developed an interest in family history – I was much more interested in the Beatles and the Swinging Sixties, so I had not asked my father about his family. How I wish things were different, so many questions I could have asked.

I had assumed that Walter John Walden (my father’s brother) had died in France as so many others had done, but on doing some research I found that he was actually killed in Mesopotamia.

Walter John Walden was born on January 2, 1897, at Franchise Street, Weymouth, the fifth of 11 children of Robert Old Walden and Sarah Alice, nee Wright, therefore he was only 17 when he enlisted in the 2nd Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment, his Army number was 9347 and of course he was a private.

On his war record he is down as being 18.

War broke out in August 1914 and by November 17, he had enlisted, done his training, been transported half way round the world and died all in three short months.

I don’t suppose he had strayed much from Weymouth before and most certainly not overseas in his short life so what a shock he must have had, I hope that he enjoyed some of the strange things and places that he saw.

On October 2 the Dorsetshire Regiment departed from Bombay in a British-India liner arriving at Bahrain on October 23 but it laid off the coast for over a week before sailing up the River Shatt Al Arab which for about the second half of its course serves as a boundary between Iraq and Iran.

A force was landed at Fao and cleared it before continuing up river to land at Saiman on November 10, only to be attacked by more Turks. On November 15 they engaged in a battle for Saiman which was captured. Then came a fight over Sahil which they also captured. Walter was probably killed at Sahil on November 17, 1914 and was buried at Basra War Cemetery, Iraq.

This cemetery was well looked after for many years until the Iraq War when many of the grave stones were smashed.

My grandparents apparently had a letter sent to them from a soldier who said that he was with Walter when he died and that he had been killed instantly.

I have since found out that the Army used to get someone to write to all the next of kin saying the same thing.

I found Walter John’s death announcement in the local paper some weeks after his death and his parents had put his age as 21.

If they were worried about the fact that he had lied about his age they had only to put that he was 18 as on his war record.

In any case, there must have been lots of people in Weymouth who would have known the truth, such as neighbours and school friends so I can not work that one out.

As always, the more you find out the more questions remain. I only have one photo of Walter John Walden and he does look very like my father, which the only other brother I knew did not.

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