50939 PTE. L. E. WALTON. E.YORKS.
Lawrence Edwin Walton was born on 14 September 1899 and baptised at Farington St Paul’s on 19 November that year. His father was George Walton (b. 1874 in Lostock Hall), a railway signalman. His mother was Elizabeth Alice Brown (b. 1876 in Lostock Hall). George and Elizabeth were married in 1898 and Lawrence was their first child. He was followed by two more boys – Jack (b. 1900) and Stanley (b. 1903). George died in 1905 leaving Elizabeth to bring up the three young boys on her own. In 1911, the family was living at 3 Sefton Street. The boys were at school and Elizabeth had gone back to work as a weaver in the cotton mill.
We don’t have Lawrence’s attestation papers but all the evidence suggests he enlisted in 1916, aged only 16. He first enlisted with the Manchester Regiment, with service number 55928, but was later transferred to the East Yorkshire Regiment with a new service number, 50939. The new-style, 6 digit service numbers were introduced in 1917 so he must have enlisted before then. He was posted to 11 Battalion. 11th(Service) Battalion (2nd Hull), to give it its full title, came under orders of 92nd Brigade in 31st Division. They had served in Egypt at the beginning of the War but in March 1916 they went to France, so it’s possible that that is when Lawrence joined them (although as we will see later, the Bn was also reinforced by a large number of very young recruits in March-April 1918). In 1916, 31st Division took part in the Battle of Albert, including the attack on Serre, and the Battle of the Ancre – in other words, the opening and closing phases of the Battle of the Somme. In 1917, they were engaged in the Battle of Arras, but they were spared the horrors of Paschendaele. They were heavily engaged in fighting throughout 1918, however: in the First Battles of the Somme (1918), at St Quentin, Bapaume and Arras (21 March – 5 April); then at the Battles of the Lys (9-29 April), and the subsequent action at La Becque on 28 June 1918. In March and April, 92nd Brigade had suffered severe losses and 10 and 11 Bns were briefly merged and reorganised before further reinforcements could be brought in. Most of the reinforcements were very young, as evidenced below.
By late April, it had become clear that the German Spring Offensive had failed. The German army had suffered severe losses and now occupied ground of dubious strategic value which would prove impossible to hold. By August 1918, the Allies, strengthened by 1-2 million fresh American troops and ready to deploy new artillery techniques and operational methods, were prepared to make their final push. The 100 Days Offensive was launched on 8 August.
A reflection on the age of soldiers in 11Bn: Lawrence was clearly underage when he enlisted. During the month that he was killed, 10 and 11 Bns East Yorks had 64 men killed. 39 of these have their ages recorded by CWGC and of these 39, 16 were only 18 or 19 years old. The War Diary for 11Bn contains an unusual, personal, account by the OC, Lieut. Col. C. H. Gurney, DSO, in which he recounts the successful attack in July 1918 on Vieux Berquin. It seems the operation was carried out without artillery support, and the advancing troops thereby gained the element of surprise over the defending Germans. One section of his report is relevant to the issue of age:
The Battalion was back in the line on 9 August 1918. It was quiet by day but during the night, artilleries on both sides were very active and the enemy shelled and machine-gunned roads and tracks in forward areas. Around this time, Lawrence was wounded and he died of wounds on 13 August 1918. He was still only 18 years old.
Service No: 50939
Date of Death: 13/08/1918
Regiment/Service: East Yorkshire Regiment, 11th Bn.
Grave Reference: Plot 2. Row D. Grave 8.
Cemetery: LE GRAND HASARD MILITARY CEMETERY, MORBECQUE
Additional Information: Son of George and Elizabeth Alice Walton, of Lostock Hall, Lancashire.