Researched and written by Anne Wright
Pte W P Letford
2nd Battalion, Manchester Regiment
Killed in action, 26.10.1914
Walter Patrick Letford’s experience of the First World War was brief. He enlisted on 30 August 1914 at Aldershot and two months later he was dead. Early death was common in Walter’s family; he was one of seventeen children, nine of whom died. His father, William, was a native of Walton-on-Thames (b.c.1846) as was Walter who was born in 1884.His mother, Betsy, hailed from Frensham and was four years younger than her husband. In 1881 William Letford was the foreman of the Walton & Weybridge Gas Company (coal dept.). The family do not appear to have been recorded on the 1891 Census but ten years later Walter, his parents and four siblings lived at Ham Moor in Addlestone. He was employed as an agricultural labourer as was his brother, Edward.
This did not remain his employment for long as he enlisted in the army at Walton on 4 June 1904. Walter did not sign on for a long period of service as when he married on 24 May 1909 he was a Carman (driver). The wedding took place at St. Mary’s Church in Walton but at this point Walter was a resident of Weybridge, living at 11, Byfleet Road. His new wife, Martha Frances (nee Cousins) had been a domestic servant at ‘Brathay’, Winchester Road in Walton. Two years later the young couple, their son Alfred Walter, who was born on 13 January 1911 and Martha’s seven year old sister, Lily lived at 29, Green Lane Avenue, Hersham. Walter had changed his occupation once again and was now a coal labourer.
Military service reclaimed him once again when he enlisted in 1914. Walter was posted to the 2nd Battalion, Manchester Regiment, of the 14th Brigade in the 5th Division and he arrived in France on 30 August 1914; the battalion had deployed two weeks earlier. His previous experience no doubt explains his swift involvement in II Corps of the British Expeditionary Force in France. By the time Walter linked up with the 2nd Manchesters they were already in retreat from Mons where they had fought in the battle there on 23 August against a superior force having also stood and faced the pursuing Germans at Le Cateau three days later. The enemy was finally held at the R. Marne which the Manchesters crossed on 3 September but then re-crossed on 9 September and deflected to attack the German held ridge at Pisselout; 8 were killed and 37 wounded. They then crossed the Aisne on the 13th and attacked the village of St. Marguerite, subsequently taking up a defensive position on the west side of Chivres’ Wood. On 15 September they recorded 15 deaths and 47 injuries. Just over a week later they went into billets at Jury where they were joined by 160 ‘new men’ and were able to enjoy a period of rest before moving north to French Flanders.
The move north saw no reprieve for Walter and his comrades from the hard fighting they had already endured; they became involved in a series of attacks and counter-attacks known as the ‘race to the sea’. Between 10 October and 2 November they were caught up in the Battle of La Bassee (east of Bethune). On 20 October they were engaged in vicious fighting which included two bayonet charges by one of their companies; on that day 6 men were killed, 112 wounded and 69 were reported missing. Two days later whilst on the way to Festubert they counter-attacked and effectively checked the advance of the enemy by maintaining a line within 100 yards of them until midnight. On 26 October they were holding a line at La Quinque Rue where they were heavily shelled; there was one fatality – Walter. He had been in France for 58 days and had had little respite from the desperate attempts to hold back the Germans in these early stages of the war.
Walter has no known grave; he is commemorated with over 13,000 British soldiers who were killed in this sector of the Western Front between October 1914 and September 1915 on Le Touret Memorial (panels 34 & 35) in Le Touret’s Military Cemetery (on the main road between Bethune and Armentieres). His widow, Martha, remarried to Philip Hollands in 1923 and once more in 1938 when her surname became Whitlock. She also lost two brothers, Henry and Arthur, in the First World War. Martha and Walter’s son Alfred died in Surrey in 1986.
UK, Army Registers of Soldiers Effects, 1901-1929, www.ancestry.co.uk
British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – Manchester Regiment, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration of Birth Index, 1837-1915, www.ancestry.co.uk
Clargo/Smith Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk