Biddulph & District Genealogy & Historical Society Biddulph Grange

Biddulph and the Great War

'There Shall Be In That Rich Earth A Richer Dust Concealed'

'We Will Remember Them'

Private Alfred Moss Walley

3294 19th Bn. Middlesex Regiment killed in action October 18th 1918 Age 27


Alfred had been born in Biddulph circa 1891. He was one of nine children and in 1911 was living with his family in Congleton Road. In 1915 he married Alice Knight at St. John’s, Buglawton.

His service records survive which show that he enlisted at Congleton on May 31st 1915. He was a collier weighing 115lbs and being 5ft 2½in tall. His address was given as 28, William Street, Buglawton and he gave his age as 24 years and 6 months. Later forms record that he also had a daughter, Mary, who had been born on December 9th 1915.

A battalion raised in April 1915 by North Staffordshire MP, Lieutenant Colonel John Ward, was the chosen unit of Alfred when he enlisted in the army, joining the 19th battalion Middlesex Regiment. The battalion trained at Hornsey and Aldershot. Before his training was complete Alfred was admitted to the Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot, during February 1916 for seven days as he was suffering from influenza. The battalion, now divisional pioneers to the 41st Division, were inspected by King George V and Field Marshal Lord French on April 26th 1916.

The 41st Division crossed the English Channel on May 1st 1916 and moved to their assembly point situated between Hazebrouck and Bailleul. The division were to fight their first major action in the Battle of the Somme in July. A pioneer battalion consisting of some skilled tradesmen and the rest able to use a pick and shovel, which as a colliery worker would not have been a problem for Alfred. There were others in the battalion who were also Staffordshire miners. The duties of the pioneers who followed the infantry were varied: the building and maintaining of defences, making roadways and tracks and when required, laying down their tools, taking up their rifles and Lewis guns and helping the infantry during attacks. The infantry of the division fought at Flers and Courcelette on the Somme battlefield and later at Transloy Ridge. In January 1917 the pioneers were in the Kemmel area.

From his service records we know that in March 1917 Alfred was hospitalised again, this time suffering from scabies. He was admitted to the 138th Field Ambulance and 50th Casualty Clearing Station. Orders now brought the troops to Messines and fighting a battle there during June aimed to gain this high position from the enemy. By July they moved into the Salient to fight in the Third Battle of Ypres. The pioneers bravely worked through shell and rifle fire carrying out their work, repairing walkways and tramways for the troops, in the most appalling conditions, at Pilkem Ridge and the Menin Road. Near the end of the battle the division was withdrawn to Bray Plage, on the Flanders coast, to help deal with the operation there and to recover and retrain.

On November 7th 1917 orders were received to prepare for a long rail journey. The 41st Division were going to Italy. They left in two trains from Loon Plage, near Dunkirk, travelling south through France, away from the shelling before crossing into Italy. It was a long tedious journey with many delays but must have been a welcome relief for Alfred and his mates. Their destination was the ancient town of Mantua where they detrained, arriving on November 20th 1917. The division then marched to the positions they were to hold on the front line behind the River Piave. The division had been sent to help to prevent the collapse on this front. They then moved on to an area north of Treviso in late November into early December when the first snow fell. They were still fighting on the Italian front until February 1918 when the battalion received orders to concentrate in the Camposanpiero area ready for a return to France. After another train journey the battalion arrived in the Doullens and Mondicourt areas. Happily Alfred was amongst the troops in the battalion to receive a 14 day home leave on February 10th 1918.

Alfred Moss Walley, his wife Alice and their daughter.

After his furlough Alfred returned to the Western Front, and for the small scale offence of “drunkenness” in February he was awarded seven days Field Punishment no. 2. Now in the St. Quentin area the division was met with news of the German Spring Offensive on March 21st 1918. This enemy attack pushed the division back to the Arras area with many men lost or taken prisoner. In August the enemy advance was halted and the British began retaking the lost ground in the “Hundred Days Offensive”. The 41st Division fought in the Battle of Lys and The Advance in Flanders. As already mentioned the 19th Pioneers were not only trained in their usual role but to support their infantry in these desperate times, using their rifles and Lewis guns.

During these offensives, in the old Ypres salient, on October 18th 1918, Private Alfred Moss Walley was to fall on the battlefield. It was so close to the end of the war. He was aged 27 and now rests in the Moorseele Military Cemetery. He is also remembered on the Biddulph memorials. In May 1919 a pension of 20/5d per week was awarded to Mrs. Walley and her daughter.

His belongings were returned and included: “mirror, cig case, ring, cap badge, 2 handkerchiefs, 2 combs, papers, cards, reg. envelope”

Alice remarried in 1919 to George Henry Jones and they moved to 13, King Street, Buglawton.

Michael Turnock and Elaine Heathcote.

A list of all the medals awarded to the men of the Biddulph area has been compiled and can be viewed here.


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