Lance Corporal WALTER ERNEST ALEXANDER
1st Battalion, The Newfoundland Regiment
Who died aged 24 on 5th July 1916
Buried in Beauval Community Cemetery, Somme
Walter was the son of Robert and Annie Alexander. In April 1911, at the time of the 1911 Census, the family was living at Veranda Cottage in Bergh Apton (on the lane going North from the junction between The Street, Threadneedle Street and Cooke’s Road. Walter and his twin brother Harry were the elder two of Robert and Annie’s three children. Their sister Eva (or Edith as on the 1901 Census) was three years the twins’ junior.
Robert worked as an engineman (a description of those times for a tractor driver) for Lord Canterbury’s Brooke House estate.
Robert and Annie moved, at some time after 1911, to live by The Meres in Brooke but, as evidenced by the address Annie gave when she wrote to the Canadian Army on 10th May 1921, the family had returned to Bergh Apton by that time to live out their lives at Holly Hill on Sunnyside.
With the help of Calgary-based researcher Dan Breen we have a comprehensive record of Walter’s military service record.
He enlisted at Boswarlos on the west coast of Newfoundland on 30th April 1915 and sailed for England on SS Calgarian out of St John’s on 19th June.
He was promoted to L/Cpl in November 1915. Promotion so soon after he joined the Army may have recognised that, before he had emigrated to Newfoundland, he had served for a year with 3rd Battalion the Norfolk Regiment (“The Rough and Readies”) that was part of what is now known as the Territorial Army Reserve.
After five months, presumably training, either in England or Scotland, he embarked at Devonport on for Marseilles and arrived there on 3rd April 1916 to join the 1st Battalion at Bonneville shortly before it moved up to the Front to prepare for the Battle of the Somme.
The Newfoundlander Regiment “went over the top” at Beaumont Hamel on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on the morning of 1st July 1916. From the Casualty Report filed in his papers it looks that he survived unscathed that first awful day of the battle in which two hundred and fifty five of his Battalion comrades were killed or mortally wounded. But on 2nd July he received a gunshot wound to the head . He was evacuated to the Casualty Clearing Station at Beauval near Amiens where he died on 5th July. He is buried in that part of Beauval communal cemetery that is set aside for soldiers who died at the Clearing Station.
More Family information
The Canadian Army records that Dan Breen located for us, together with our own research and the remembrances of Walter’s great nephew Bill Fitches, of Oshawa in Ontario, have given us much background to Walter Alexander’s life.
The Army records include even the correspondence on the matter of a pension Walter’s mother felt she was due following his death. Her letters to the Canadian Army together with those of Dr Gillett, the Brooke general practitioner and of the Revd. Harvey Thursby, Rector of Bergh Apton failed to persuade the Army of her case, and it failed.
The records include, too, the evidence that, before he sailed for England, in June 1915, Walter signed an Allotment by which he gave 60 cents per day from his army pay to Miss Maude Harvey of Boswarlos who, we conclude, was Walter’s sweetheart.
This leading family of the Methodist congregation of Boswarlos developed strong ties through marriage with the Alexanders. Maude’s cousin Margaret May Harvey married Walter’s twin brother Harry in Boswarlos in September 1913; and Maude’s cousin Andrew Harvey, while in the Canadian Army based in England after the war, married Nellie Graveling (from the Norfolk village of Syderstone) in Brooke church in 1919 after which the wedding reception was held at the home of Anna and Robert Alexander in Brooke.
Thus, had Walter survived the war and married Maude, he would have been connected by marriage to three Newfoundland Harveys; Maude (his wife), Margaret (his sister-in-law) and Andrew (his bother’s brother-in-law)!
Harry and Walter’s life in Newfoundland began sometime before 1909 but later than 1901 (when they are recorded in the Census living in Bergh Apton at Veranda Cottage). Family oral history has it that Harry joined the Royal Navy in HMS Ganges, the training base at Shotley Point in Suffolk but later, when the ship he was serving in called in to St John’s Newfoundland to take on coal, he had “jumped ship”. We have yet to establish this as a fact but it may account for Harry not having volunteered for military service in WW1 (that would have risked him being revealed as a deserter from the Royal Navy).
In Walter’s case there is a passenger list record of him arriving in St John’s via Halifax Nova Scotia as a passenger on SS Mongolian, having sailed from Liverpool on 22nd April 1909. He joined Harry in the west coast town of Boswarlos (also known as Port aux Port) where he found work as a Fireman in the Bowater timber mill.