Walter Thomas Edward Harris

Private Walter Thomas Edward Harris, d. 13th November 1920

Research will be updated before the anniversary of Walter’s death, please return again.

46 High Street was owned by W J Comley in 1914 and occupied by Edward Harris. Edward was born in Wootton Bassett in about 1870 and died at 46 High Street in 1927. He was a sawmill labourer working for the Great Western Railway. He was married to Charlotte, née Matthews. In 1901 the family were living in Sparrow Lane. In 1911 they were in Coxstalls. Living with them was Frederick Jacob Matthews, a groom, and a member of the YMCA. Frederick was probably a relative of Charlotte’s. He died at Coxstalls in 1912 age 23 after three years of illness.

Edward and Charlotte had four sons: Francis, William, Walter, and James, and two daughters: Martha, who died in 1905 age 13, and Dorothy Margaret Harris, born in 1906. Francis Edward Harris was an assistant for a draper’s shop, doing ‘outside work’, presumably measuring and estimating, or perhaps delivering and installing soft furnishings. I have not found a service record for him. James Albert Harris was born in 1901. William John Harris was born in 1896. He was a farm labourer in 1911. He joined up on the same day as his brother, Walter. William and Walter were wounded on the same day. William was taken to a hospital in Yorkshire but was later transferred to the Royal United Hospital in Bath, then known as the Bath War Pensions Hospital, for surgery on his temple. William later married Rose Lawrence from the Curriers Arms.

Walter was born in 1898 in Swindon. He joined the Wiltshire Regiment as a Private, probably the 7th (Service) Battalion, (possibly 19398?) in September 1914. He went out to France in September 1915. He was transferred to Salonika later that year and remained there for nearly three years. He came home for his first leave in August 1918, and one can hardly imagine how transformed he must have been by his experiences. After his leave he was sent back to France where the 7th Battalion were attached to 150th Brigade in 50th (Northumbrian) Division.

Walter probably marched with the 7th Battalion to Le Cateau, where they were billeted on the night of October 29th 1918. On the afternoon of October 30th, the Battalion relieved the 9th Devon Regiment in the line, and it was probably here that Walter was badly wounded in the head, just two weeks before the Armistice. Walter was brought back to England and was taken to hospital in Nottingham where he remained until February 1919, by which time he had sufficiently recovered to be sent home to Wiltshire.

Walter spent the next nine months training as a poultry farmer in Chiseldon, under the care of the Swindon Training Centre for Disabled Ex-Service Men. He married Gladys Norris, of 169 High Street, in September 1920, but his happiness was short lived. On October 13th 1920 he took a turn for the worse and he was obliged to come home, whether to his parents’ house in the High Street or to his own home in Lydiard Tregoze, we do not know. A week later he was taken to Ward 7 of the Royal United Hospital in Bath, then known as the Bath War Pensions Hospital, where he underwent four operations. Everything possible was done for him, but he passed away early on Saturday morning on the 13th of November 1920, age 22 years.

Walter’s body was brought home from Bath on the following Wednesday morning, and the funeral took place in the afternoon. The coffin was of polished elm with brass furniture, and an engraved plate bore the inscription: WALTER T HARRIS Died November 13th 1920, Aged 22 years. It was covered with the Union Jack, and Walter’s helmet and belt were placed upon it. The cortège was met by a firing party at the headquarters of the Discharged Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Federation in Wootton Bassett. It must have been an impressive sight as the procession moved slowly along the street, accompanied by the band of from the Wilts Depot at Devizes playing Chopin’s sombre and beautiful March Funebre, followed by over a hundred discharged soldiers and sailors, members of the parish council, and members of the town football club.

The first part of the burial service was read in the parish church by Reverend Cowie. The church was crowded, and some of the shops were closed during the hour of the service. The Vicar, Reverend Mathias, read the lesson. The cortège then proceeded to Wootton Bassett cemetery, where Walter was laid to rest with his grandfather, Jacob Matthews. The grave was beautifully lined with laurel leaves and laurestina by Joseph Wiltshire as a token of respect and esteem, and tributes included wreaths and flowers from several ‘old comrades’ including Mervyn Edmonds and H Woodward. The service was concluded by Reverend Cowie, the firing party fired three volleys, and the ‘Last Post’ was sounded.

Today, Private Walter Thomas Harris’s grave is unmarked.

Photograph of Walter Harris included with thanks to John Harris.

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