Private Jasper Wilfred Walker, 2nd Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment, 19552, killed in action 21 March 1918, age 19, unknown grave.
Currently being researched in advance of the 100th anniversary of his death.
Jasper was born in Tockenham in about 1898. Jasper’s parents were Bryan Walker (also known as Bryant), a labourer, and Bessie Walker, nee Holloway. Jasper was named after his grandfather Jasper, who was born illegitimately and went variously under the surnames Walker and Smith. Jasper was the second of five children, his older sister Queenie Anna, and his younger siblings Ella Mary, Lily Gladys, and Bryan James. Jasper’s sister Lily died in 1916.
Jasper enlisted on 21st April 1915 and was posted on enlistment to the 3rd Battalion (19552), however, his medal record shows that he served as a Private in the 1st Wilts and 6th Wilts before finally being allocated to the 2nd Wiltshire Regiment. He embarked for France on the 1st November 1917, and was posted on the 7th of November 1917. He joined the 2nd Wiltshire Regiment in Belgium on the 9th November 1917. Their war diary on that day confirms that 30 Other Ranks joined from Rouen. They were taken on strength, but remained at Divisional Reinforcement Camp and were not yet posted to Companies. Eventually (date unknown) Jasper was posted to A Company.
The Battalion Headquarters in the line was at Derry House, near Wijtschate. After a few days in the trenches they returned to camp for training and working parties. On the 25th November they marched to Caestre and travelled by train to Dickebusche. From there they marched to their new billets at Scottishwood Camp, Steenvoorde. The next day they relieved 12th Battalion Royal Sussex Regt, at Hedge St Tunnels. After a few days of heavy action (on 7th December A Company lost 10 men), they were relieved, and moved by train to Reninghelst then marched to Chippawa Camp for a welcome period of rest, cleaning and training. On December 12th they returned to the trenches at Hedge Street. On the 18th they were relieved and marched back to Scottishwood Camp to rest, training and work parties. On the 23rd December they relieved the 2nd Yorkshire Regiment in the right subsector. They remained in action in the trenches until boxing day, when they were relieved and returned to trench digging, working parties and carrying parties in the Trench St area until they were relieved on the 29th December and returned to Chippawa Camp.
After resting and cleaning up they enjoyed a late Christmas celebration and concert on New Year’s Eve. The festivities continued on New Year’s Day. On January 2nd training activities resumed. A and B companies made use of the rifle and Lewis gun Range at Brigade School, also the bombing pit and assault course. However, the 2nd Battalion’s Casualty Register (3662) shows that Jasper was admitted to hospital on that day. It is not known whether this was due to an injury in the previous weeks, or whether something happened to him at Chippawa – there is no record in the war diary. He was admitted to the 9th C.R.S. [Camp Reception Station? (Rifles Museum note)] D.C.S. [Divisional Casualty Station? (my note)] Hand [a hand injury?] on 3rd January 1918. He returned to duty on the 31st January 1918, and on the 13th February 1918 he rejoined his Battalion, who were by then undergoing rest and training at Le Plessie – Patte d’Oie. Battalion life continued as usual until the 19th March 1918 when the war diary reads,
Quiet day. Information was received from prisoners captured that the enemy was expected to attack on the night 20/21st inst, and preparations were made accordingly. At 10pm gas was emitted from our front line. No enemy retaliation was forthcoming.
On the 20th March the war diary states again that it was a “Quiet day with everything normal,” but that evening, as a precautionary measure, the Battalion HQ was moved to the Ham – St Quentin Road. All hell broke out the next morning,the 21st March 1918. The Michael Offensive, part of Ludendorff’s Spring Offensive, targeted an area of over 150 square miles, and was the biggest barrage of the whole of WW1. The war diary reads:
An intense enemy bombardment of our trenches and back areas with High Explosive and gas shells at 4.30am and continued throughout the day. The enemy attacked at 10am with two Divisions on our Battalion front, and owing to the dense mist which prevailed broke through on our flanks and surrounded the Battalion in spite of the strong resistance which was offered. No definite information was forthcoming owing to the Battalion being cut off, but a message was received by pigeon carrier at 1.30pm from Lt Col AVP MARTIN to the effect that he was still holding out in the redoubt with 50 men. The Battalion Transport moved back from Fluquieres to Dury at 4.40am and again moved at 11pm to Esmery Hallon.
By the end of the day, the Germans had breached a quarter of the first and second lines of defence. The 2nd Wilts had been cut off and destroyed, and Jasper was among the many reported missing. As the war diary comments ominously: “No news received from the Battalion.” On the 28th the Division was relieved by the French, and they moved out, unable to retrieve the bodies of the stranded Wiltshires. It was not until April 2nd that they were able to take stock of what had happened. The war diary reads:
Casualties during the recent action (commencing on 21/3/18) were:- Officers Killed. Capt WB Gardner, MC. Wounded. Lieut CL Usher, 2/Lieuts K D’O Husband EH Capp and WGE Wiltshire. Missing – Lieut Col AVP Martin, Captains AO Clayton, LC Makeham and HH Martyn, Lieuts TW Glynn and RMP Beaven, 2/Lieuts JFF McQueen, RH Edwards, EW Apps, AR Moore, P King-Smith, WR Gosling, SS Miller, EL Hall, CD Baker, BM Ivison and HJ Hulbert. Other ranks. Killed 4 Wounded 9 missing 597.
Jasper was formally added to the casualty list, missing, presumed dead, on the 5th April 1918. His body was never recovered. He is remembered on the Pozieres Memorial panel 64. He is also commemorated on the Tockenham War Memorial. His father Bryan was his legatee.
With thanks to the Rifles Museum, Salisbury, for their assistance in researching Jasper’s story.