Richard Carroll Walsh

Name: Richard Carroll Walsh1
Rank:
Able Seaman
Unit/Regiment:
Howe Battalion, Royal Naval Division, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
Service Number
: KX/305
Date of Death: 24 March 1918
Memorial:
Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

Arras Memorial Inscription – Photo by Jane Roberts

Richard Carroll Walsh, as his surname is recorded on the St Mary’s War Memorial, was born in Birstall on 3 July 1895.2 His unusual middle name, Carroll, was his paternal grandmother’s maiden name. However, when he enlisted in September 1914 he did so under the name Carrolwalsh – possibly to cover up his previous served military service. More of that later.

His parents were Batley-born Michael Walsh and his wife Maggie (née Barker) from Darlington, who married in 1889. According to the 1911 census, they had six children in total, all of whom were still alive. In addition to Richard, these were John William (born in 1890), Stephen (1897), Lawrence (1901) and Theresa (1905).3 As yet the sixth child has not been identified.

In 1891 the Walsh family lived at Spa Street, in the town centre area of Batley, with Michael working as a hawker and Maggie a woollen weaver.4 Four years later, at the time of Richard’s birth, the family were in Birstall. Thereafter they lived in locations in and around the Batley/Birstall boundary. For example in 1901 their address was Woollers Place, on the Batley side of the boundary with Birstall.5 By now Michael worked as a mechanic’s labourer, with no employment listed for Maggie. In 1905 their address was given as Coach Lane, Birstall.6 And by 1911 they had moved to 55 Quarry Road, Brownhill,7 Batley with Michael working as an engineer’s labourer manufacturing wrought iron pulleys.8 At this point Richard worked as a coal hurrier, having completed his schooling at St Patrick’s, Birstall.

When he first enlisted in the Regular Army in July 1913 his papers give his occupation as a coal miner. At the time of his death in 1918, newspapers reported that he had been a bye-worker employed by the West Yorkshire Colliery Company at Howley Park Colliery. This was a general mining job, working where needed – mending roadways, doing joinery work and providing cover for absent workers.

Richard’s pre-war Army service was as a Gunner with the Royal Regiment of Artillery (Royal Horse and Royal Field Artillery). It proved short-lived. His papers state he stood at 5’6⅝”, weighed 132lbs and had a fresh complexion, blue eyes and brown hair.9 After initial training, in October 1913 he was assigned to the 45th Battery Royal Field Artillery (RFA). By the end of October 1913 Richard was awaiting trial by Court Martial for an unspecified offence. He did return to duty in early December 1913, but a little over a month later, on 16 January 1914, he was discharged for misconduct.10

Once war broke out, Richard re-enlisted on 2 September 1914 as a Private with the Northumberland Fusiliers under the name of Richard Carrolwalsh. Perhaps this was to hide his ignominious discharge less than 12 months ago. He also gave a false date of birth, 10 May 1890, which was more in line with that for his elder brother.11 Again, was this to try to cover his previous military spell?

On 7 September he was transferred to the land-based Royal Naval Division (RND), serving with the Howe Battalion, with the rank of Able Seaman.

© IWM Art.IWM PST 0896 under the IWM Non-Commercial Licence.

This anomaly, the navy serving on land, arose because when war was declared there were not enough ships to accommodate the number of men in the Royal Naval reserves. The answer was to form two Naval Brigades and a Brigade of Marines for land operations. Numbers were made up by transferring men, like Richard, who had enlisted in the Army.

Richard’s papers now put his height as 5’ 7½”, and described him as fresh complexioned with dark brown hair.12

Richard Carroll Walsh

In early October 1914 he wrote to his mother:

I am on my way to ………. When I get there I will send my address. I am as cheerful as the rest so don’t be downhearted.13

The redacted location was Antwerp, where the RND were sent to help with the defence of the city. The defence failed, and those RND units who managed to successfully withdraw returned to England, arriving on home shores on 11 October 1914. Richard was amongst those who escaped, and he gave a vivid account of events to the Batley News, one of the first descriptions published in England. As a result of his narrative, he became the first winner of the Batley News Half-Sovereign Order Competition. This competition, open to servicemen, earned the winner a half-sovereign, which could be spent with any of the newspaper’s advertisers.

Half Sovereign Prize Winner Announcement, Batley News 17 October 1914

His story was published on 17 October 1914 as follows:

Seaman Carrol Walsh….told a “News” representative yesterday, with a simplicity characteristic of British soldiers and sailors, a rousing story of the Naval men’s lightning visit to Antwerp, their encounter with Germans at 500 yards’ distance and less, how the Teutons were easy to shoot because they moved in solid columns, and the infernal devastation wrought by the enemy on the fine old Belgian City. He experienced thrills of shrapnel firing, of German aeroplane visits, and of seeing dear comrades killed or horribly wounded. Yet he and his bosom friend, Joe Gallagher…both escaped unhurt.

Walsh, who was formerly employed at Howden Clough Colliery, was in the Royal Field Artillery 15 months until the outbreak of the war, when he volunteered for the Royal Naval Brigade, with whom he spent in Belgium the liveliest week of his life. Their camp was at Bettshanger (Kent), where work comprised of a 5½ hour drill, and other work every day – counteracted by the great kindness of the local people and by good food.

When reveille was sounded at 5am last Sunday week, the command was circulated to get ready for France, and in two hours thousands of men were on their way to an unknown destination. So much for the readiness of Britain’s sons to answer urgent calls.

The next thing of interest was that the Britishers were landed at Dunkirk. “We had a great reception from the French people,” said Walsh. “They gave us cigarettes, chocolates, tobacco, etc., and cheered us splendidly. We left at 8pm, and travelling through the night. We were in Belgium at daybreak. We detrained at 9am in Antwerp and were taken to a school for dinner.”

“That building was later blown down by a bomb, seven people being killed. In it were all our kit and beds, so we have come back with practically only what we stand up in. I’m glad we weren’t in the school any longer.”

“We were only there three hours before we marched straight to the trenches just before the Lierre Forts, on the west of the city. There were four battalions of us – the 2nd Royal Naval Brigade – there, whilst the 1st Brigade was on the south. Altogether there were ten thousand of us.”

“My mate Joe Gallagher, of Birstall, was not with me, but on the very dangerous and important work of carrying messages on behalf of Lord Curzon.”

“We slept that night in a barn near the trenches, and at breakfast time we had a mixture, but there was plenty of it. There were tins of sardines, also cigarettes, beer and plenty of food.”

Asked when he got his first “real” taste of war, he said it came about 5pm on the Monday, just as they got to the trenches. It was a bomb, “made in Germany”, and fell into an adjoining turnip field, where it made the usual big hole and sent the turnips flying in all directions.

“Those big siege guns of the Germans were firing as we landed” Walsh went on, “with their “Jack Johnson” shells, but very few of the Belgians were killed, and not so many of ours, considering the number of shells. These stopped coming round us when darkness came, but they were fired on the city, so we got a few nods of sleep – four men taking an hour’s turn acting as guard. Luckily there was no rain, so we were not particularly uncomfortable.”

Walsh said the trenches were well made – by the Belgians – up to a certain point, but he and his comrades set about to make them bomb-proof by covering them with iron. For propping, his colliery experience proved useful, and trees were cut down to provide the props.

At daybreak on the Wednesday, a German aeroplane flew over the trenches, and obviously took news to the artillery, for the latter began to fire at once on the Britishers, and 100 men were killed or otherwise put out of action by 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Walsh could not estimate the number of shells, except that there were dozens of them – the same sort of shells as the British 9.2 guns use.

“The firing was very accurate” he remarked “for the shells dropped exactly on our trenches or just behind. Our men who were just behind us, backing us up, but not under cover, were the poor fellows who suffered. Some were hit in the back and killed straight off, for a hit from a big lump of shrapnel is a deathblow”.

“There was no British artillery, and the Belgians had only 4.7 guns against the Germans’ of 9.2 calibre.”

Walsh said another aeroplane visited them, and, unlike the first one which escaped from all the firing at it, it was damaged, but the pilot managed to get back to his own lines.

The Brownhill soldier-sailor next related how the Britishers and Belgians are as well up in the “tricks of the trade” as the Germans;-

“We were only 500 yards from the enemy. I took about 200 rounds of ammunition with me, and fired about 50 rounds. When they moved towards us, we couldn’t help hitting them, the way they came up in column formation. The Germans, by the way, were not entrenched – their only covering was what they could get on the ground”.

“Plenty of Germans were electrocuted. We had barbed wire, and when the poor beggars touched it, it finished them right off, for a heavy current of electricity was going through it. Not only that, but we had wires hidden in or on the earth, and when the Germans came tumbling on them, the electricity killed them”.

Walsh went on to tell how, at dark on Wednesday night, after being in the trenches 51 hours, the men got the order to retire quietly. “Our Company had lost 70 killed and wounded, but the others of us got safely away with Lord Curzon. Another Company was left to come back under a guide, who we thought was a Belgian. But he misguided them, and altogether two thousand of the Expedition were taken prisoners in Holland”.

The speaker confessed it was incomprehensible that the “guide” could get lost in his own district, and Walsh agreed with a suggestion that it seemed like treachery.

Having regained the city of Antwerp, the men were taken on Thursday to Ghent, via St Gilles Station, and on Friday they went to Ostend. There and then they embarked on the “Fremons” to the number of some thousands. A roundabout course was taken down the coast to Dunkirk, and then to Dover, which was not reached till Sunday night.

The route of the retreat revealed some awful sights. Antwerp, where the Anglo-American Oil Company’s place was seen ablaze, was like an inferno with smoke and flames. Refugees were seen in countless crowds. To quote Walsh’s words: “There seemed to be nothing else at one part of the journey for 15 miles.”

On the other hand the people were as good as they possibly could be, considering how the country was denuded of edibles etc. In the trenches however, he recalled there was nothing but bully beef and hard biscuits – “dog biscuits” he humorously called it, as he pulled out some pieces as sample souvenirs.

Whilst at Ghent, an effort was made by some of the men to get a meal in the town, but there was practically nothing to buy or eat except currant bread. The good-hearted Belgians did the best they could and provided unlimited coffee free for those who had made a hurried trip across the strait to defend a gallant little country.

“I have practically nothing but what I stand up in” Walsh concluded, “because our kit was lost in the destroyed school, and so we have a few days’ leave whilst replacements are found for us. That, however, is nothing compared with what some of our fellows suffered. Some of the sights were horrible – men with an arm or leg blown off; but they were very brave in their terrible sufferings”.

“I don’t know what the German losses were, but we just mowed the men down. We couldn’t help it – we couldn’t do anything else, for we couldn’t miss them when they did move towards us.”14

Richard was home again on leave in early January 1915, along with his younger brother Stephen who was serving with the RFA. But he expressed keenness to get back into action.15 He did not have to wait long, for after a period of refit and training, the Division moved to Egypt in preparation for the Dardanelles/Gallipoli campaign.

In August 1915 Thomas Grailly of Birstall received news concerning Richard and Stephen. Richard was now fighting in the Dardanelles, and was reported to be in one of the first landing parties on the Gallipoli peninsula. In his letter he thanked God for still being alive after miraculous escapes and he expressed a longing for news of his brother Stephen.16

Stephen enlisted in November 1914, aged 17, and arrived in Belgium in early 1915. He had been posted missing, but Mr Grailly reported that a letter had just been received giving the glad news that he was well.17

Shortly after this, at the beginning of September 1915, Richard was admitted to hospital in Egypt suffering from neurasthenia, the term used for mental trauma such as shell shock.18 The Batley News of 30 October 1915 reported that he remained in hospital for only a short time and was now fully recovered from it. The accuracy of this is debatable. Richard’s records show that in early November 1915 he moved to a convalescent camp in Cyprus, with the note “Spinal severe.19 Reading between the lines, the implication is this was the manner in which Richard’s neurasthenia manifested itself.

It was around the time Richard’s incapacity started that father, Michael, was involved in a curious incident. In September 1915 he was summoned for wearing the uniform of a private in the Royal Marines without permission. The uniform belonged to one of his sons, so presumably Richard. Michael enlisted in the West Yorkshires in around September 1914 but was discharged as medically unfit a short time later. He now worked as a mill hand, and put the uniform on “for a bit of fun.” Someone had told him that he was not as tall as his son, so to settle the argument Michael donned the clothing. Another possible explanation though is he was using the uniform as a ruse to get drinks bought for him by grateful civilians. He was spotted by a police constable who reported the incident and the case ended up in court. The Chairman said the Bench considered that Michael had acted with no ill intent, but impressed on him that it was very dangerous to wear His Majesty’s uniform when not serving. As the magistrates thought Michael had no wrong intention, the case was dismissed upon payment of costs.20

After his recovery Richard returned to Egypt in early 1916, followed by a posting to the Depot at Mudros in April 1916. Mudros was a small Greek port on the Mediterranean island of Lemnos. It gained wartime significance for the Allies because of its proximity to the Dardanelles Straits, some 50km away. Once the Gallipoli campaign was called off in evident failure at the close of 1915 Mudros’ importance receded, although it remained the Allied base for the blockade of the Dardanelles for the duration of the war. Whilst there Richard also spent time at Buda Point.21

He returned to the UK in late August 1916. Less than a fortnight later, on 5 September 1916 at St Mary’s, he married parishioner Ellen Phillips.22

In the months immediately following his marriage Richard was based at Blandford Camp, Dorset, the Base Depot for the RND. This changed as the year drew to a close. At the beginning of December 1916 he was drafted back into the Howe Battalion, in preparation for joining them in France before Christmas.23

As 1917 got underway, Richard was with the Howe Battalion in trenches near Engelbelmar, on the infamous Somme.24 The Battle of the Somme had drawn to a close in November 1916, as the harsh winter weather closed in. Rain, snow, mud and waterlogged trenches restricted activities, but this did not mean they were non-existent. Richard’s Battalion was involved in the Operations on the Ancre.

However, towards the end of April 1917 he was once more receiving medical attention, this time for an abscess. It was sufficiently serious for him to be evacuated back to England for treatment at the Beaufort War Hospital, Bristol.25

His recovery progressed well, enough for him to be allowed furlough between 20-29 May 1917 to join a heavily pregnant Ellen at their home at 45 Hume Street.26 He was discharged from hospital care on 8 June 1917 and back at Blandford Camp with the 2nd Reserve Battalion when his daughter, also named Ellen, was born a month later on 28 June.27

Perhaps it was Ellen’s birth which precipitated the next series of events. On 3 July 1917 Richard broke out of camp and remained absent without leave until 13 July 1917. For this, on 16 August 1917, he faced a District Court Martial at Blandford, where he received a punishment of 90 days Detention, to be spent at Gosport Detention Quarters.28

This was not his first brush with military authorities whilst with the RND. His service records note two separate pay-docking punishments in April 1915, and a further one in November 1916. He had also been before a Regimental Court Martial at Blandford in November 1916, sentenced to 35 days Field Punishment No2.29

His latest punishment ended early, with his return to the 2nd Reserve Battalion in early November 1917, prior to his transfer again to the Howe Battalion for overseas service.30 Once more, just before Christmas, he found himself bound for the Western Front.31

On 11 February 1918 Richard was one of 12 Officers and 250 men transferred from Howe Battalion and attached to the 1st Royal Marine Battalion.32 This transfer does not appear to have been picked up in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website records.

On 21 March 1918 the Germans launched their massive Spring Offensive, in an attempt to seize victory before the arrival of American troops. The “Operation Michael” phase was the main initial attack, launched from the Hindenburg Line, and fought over the old Battle of the Somme ground.

The German Offensive began at 4.40am under cover of thick mist. The heavily outnumbered British troops were taken by surprise by the intensity of the attack by German stormtroopers. They were driven back in a fighting retreat. On the first day alone British casualties numbered 38,500, including almost 21,000 soldiers taken prisoner.33 It was the second worst day for the British Army in the First World War, only surpassed by the first day of the Battle of the Somme. And in the midst of it was Richard.

The 1st Royal Marines Unit War Diary shows they were in the frontline trenches near Flesquières on 21 March 1918. By 24 March they had been pushed back over seven miles to Bertincourt. The retreat from Bertincourt to Martinpuich between the 24 and 25 March amounted to over another 11 miles.

The Diary gives some indication of the relentless pressure they came under:

FRONTLINE BN HQ SCREW TRENCH – 21/3/18 – FRONT LINE and back area heavily shelled during early morning, & intermittent shelling during day.
FLESQUIERES – Battn ordered to withdraw through 2nd Bn R.M.L.I.,34 thereby causing SUPPORT LINE to become FRONT LINE.

HAVRINCOURT WOOD – 22/3/18 – Bn. ordered to evacuate & proceed to OLD BRITISH LINE in HAVRINCOURT WOOD. Shortly before evacuation, Lt. Colonel C. J. Farquharson M.C. R.M.L.I. commanding 2nd Bn. R.M.L.I. wounded in BROWN LINE.

23/3/18 – Battn. proceeded to prepared line in front of BERTINCOURT & took up position in FRONT LINE on the left of 2nd Bn. R.M.L.I. During the afternoon enemy heavily shelled the right Battn.

BETINCOURT [sic] – 24/3/18 – Bn. ordered to withdraw from BERTINCOURT & proceed to BAUPAUME-PERONNE ROAD & there to MARTINPUICH.35

Richard was reported missing on the 24 March 1918. His name was included in the Red Cross missing list and a formal enquiry was made to them on 2 August 1918.36 All to no avail.

Whilst other families celebrated the Armistice, for the Walsh family the uncertainty continued. On the 18 November 1918 the military authorities made the decision to officially assume Richard had been killed in action on 24 March 1918.37 His family were notified. A further enquiry went to the Red Cross on 20 November 1918. Again no news was forthcoming. 38

Richard has no known grave and, along with almost 35,000 others, he is remembered on the Arras Memorial.

Arras Memorial – Photo by Jane Roberts

He was awarded the 1914 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal.39

In addition to St Mary’s, he is also remembered on the Batley War Memorial, Birstall War Memorial and the memorials of St Saviour’s Parish Church and Howden Clough Methodist Chapel.

His brother Stephen survived the war. In late 1920 his widow, Ellen, married John Thomas Watson at St Mary’s.


Footnotes:
1. This is the St Mary’s War Memorial surname spelling. Other variations include Carrol Walsh and Carrolwalsh.
2. Baptism register details. His Royal Naval Division service papers give his birth date as 10 May 1890.
3. 1911 Census, The National Archives (TNA) RG14/27251/172.
4. 1891 Census, TNA RG12/3720/74/9/56.
5. 1901 Census, TNA RG13/4257/118/22/162.
6. Baptism of Theresa.
7. Some non-census sources identify the address as 55 Brownhill, with the Quarry Road element dropped.
8. 1911 Census, Ibid.
9. TNA WO 364 Records, Soldiers’ Documents from Pension Claims, First World War.
10. Ibid.
11. TNA ADM339 Records, Admiralty and War Office, Royal Naval Division, Records of Service.
12. Ibid.
13. Batley News, 10 October 1914.
14. Batley News, 17 October 1914.
15. Batley News, 9 January 1915.
16. Batley News, 28 August 1915.
17. Ibid.
18. TNA ADM339 Records, Ibid.
19. Ibid.
20. Batley Reporter, 10 September 1915 and Batley News, 11 September 1915.
21. TNA ADM339 Records, Ibid.
22. Parish register.
23. TNA ADM339 Records, Ibid.
24. Howe Battalion, Unit War Diary, TNA Ref WO 95/3111/2.
25. TNA ADM339 Records, Ibid.
26. Ibid.
27. Pension Record Cards and Ledgers; Reference: 037/0158/CAR-CAR
28. TNA ADM339 Records, Ibid.
29. TNA ADM339 Records, Ibid.
30. TNA ADM339 Records, Ibid.
31. Jack Marshall, comp. The Jack Clegg Memorial Database of Royal Naval Division Casualties of The Great War.
32. These figures come from the Howe Battalion Unit War Diary, TNA Ref WO 95/3111/2. The 1st Battalion Royal Marines have a slightly lower number stating 222 Other Ranks and 3 Officers from the Howe Battalion reported to be attached at 11.15am on 11 February 1918. That TNA Ref is WO 95/3110/1.
33. 9 Facts about Operation Michael – https://www.cwgc.org/our-work/news/9-facts-about-operation-michael/.
34. Royal Marine Light Infantry
35. 1st Royal Marine Battalion Unit War Diary, TNA Ref WO 95/3110/1.
36. TNA ADM339 Records, Ibid.
37. Ibid.
38. Ibid.
39. Medal Award Rolls, Class: ADM 171; Piece: 139 and Class: ADM 171; Piece: 125.


Other Sources:
• British Red Cross Records
• Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
• Court Martial Records, WO 86; Piece Number: 77.
• GRO Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes.
• Imperial War Museum Website.
• Long, Long Trail website – 63rd (Royal Naval) Division.
• National Library of Scotland maps.
• Newspapers – various editions of the Batley and Dewsbury papers.
• Parish Registers.
• Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll, 1914-1919, TNA Ref ADM 242/7; Scan Number: 0671.
• WW1 Naval Casualties.