News, events and discoveries of the Walkley Ways, Walkley Wars history project.
Leonard Walmsley was born in 1900 to George and Sarah Walmsley who were living in Norton at the time. He had an older sister, Clara born in 1895 and brother, George Ellis born in 1898. Neither of his parents came from Sheffield George being born in Boston, Lincolnshire and Sarah in Peterborough. They were a family who moved frequently and were living in Yardley (nr Birmingham) in 1901 with Leonard’s father George working as a Managing Clerk of a watch factory. In 1911 according to the census they are living in Sheffield at 54 Winter Street, now relatively well off in a house with 8 rooms and the help of a servant. Clara is already working as a Drapers Assistant. George’s occupation is now that of a Poor Law Relieving Officer working for the Sheffield Board of Guardians, the workhouse committee. It was a responsible job that entailed handling money and was also a job which had status.
In 1914 at the beginning of the war the two brothers would have been aged 16 and 14 with George probably already working in the steelworks.
Both brothers became soldiers late in the war as young men and would undoubtedly have been conscripted. By 1918 almost half of the infantry were nineteen or younger. There are no service papers for Leonard or for his brother George Ellis but we do know that George’s number was handed out on him joining the Royal Field Artillery on 16th March 1917. He became a gunner in the ‘A’ Battery of the 256th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery.
A year later, at the age of 18, Leonard joined The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion belonging to 98th Brigade, 33rd Division. He joins the regiment in time for what is known as the 100 days of offensive and finds himself at the Battle of the Epehy, and the Battle of the St Quentin Canal both on the German Hindenburg Line.
Both the Walmsley sons were serving in France in 1918 and this would have been a worrying time for their family. Their worst fears were to be realised with both sons loosing their lives that same year. George was killed in action on 29th July aged just 20 years at the battle of Tardenais part of the 2nd Battle of the Marne and Leonard died of wounds aged 18 years only two months later after the battle of St Quentin Canal.
This battle beginning on 29th Sept 1918 was a pivotal battle of WW1 involving British, Australian and American forces in the spearhead attack and as a single combined force against the German Hindenburg Line. The assault achieved all its objectives, resulting in the first full breach of the Hindenburg Line, in the face of heavy German resistance. By this time the British High Command had fully realised that any success against the formidable defenses of the Hindenburg Line could only be achieved with the use of tanks.
To quote from the battlefield:
Very early on 29 September, having assembled in rain and darkness, Fourth Army infantry attacked on a 12 mile front through dense fog and smoke, amid the din of machine-guns, tank engines, and the clamour of the protective artillery barrages. In the northern sector, the drive eastwards towards the tunnelled sector of the St Quentin Canal was led by tanks and two inexperienced American Divisions; confounded by fog and wire, their progress was slow and casualties heavy.
In the 4th Battalion dairy (where Pt Leonard Walmsley served) the entries are thus:
29th Sept 1918
Battalion attacked Villers Guislain at 3.30am in conjunction with 2nd Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders on the right. Strong fight put up by enemy. Prisoners taken by Battalion: 3 officers, 107 ordinary rank. Casualties 2 Lts and 19 ordinary rank killed; 255 ordinary rank wounded, 9 ordinary rank missing.
30th Sept 1918
Fine – Patrols out during night. Enemy evacuated Villers Guislain – Line pushed forward but Battalion remained in position in reserve.
They were to remain in reserve until 5th October.
Pte Walmsley is one of just four men recorded as dying on 30th Sept, though there are no casualties listed on that day. He was probably one of the wounded on the 29th, dying the following day. He and Pte Harold Evans, who also died on 30th, are the only men of the 4th Battalion to rest in Fins New British Cemetery.
Leonard is buried at Fins New British Cemetery. In Sept and October 1918 about 73 British soldiers were buried by the 33rd and other Divisions and here Leonard is buried amongst his comrades of the same Division – grave no 6, just in front of the War stone to the right. (The next row back is the beginning of a plot of German graves.)
Leonard’s brother George is buried at Marfaux British Cemetery. They are also remembered in two places in Sheffield, both of them are named on the Crookesmoor Methodist roll of honour. George is also remembered on the Vickers roll of honour Gate 1 Sheffield Forgemasters which is where he probably worked before he enlisted. Leonard’s name has taken the central place in the Reform Club memorial window marked by a poppy rather than a photograph. Maybe his father helped to pay for the window in order to keep his younger son’s name alive as there is no record of him as a reform club member.
Leonard’s sister Clara did marry however she had no children and this branch of the Walmsley family came to an end.
By Melanie FitzGerald