Our Heritage Lottery funded project, ‘Bury Remembers the First World War’ has enabled our volunteers to extract newspaper obituaries and images of upward of 3,000 local military personnel who died during the conflict. The published obituaries contain details of next of kin, how the death was reported to them and where and how they died.
Pte Fred Walker’s death, on the 19th October 1917, was duly announced in The Bury Times and included the contents of a letter sent to his widow, Mrs Ada Walker, shortly after his death. The letter was sent from 2nd Lt J Tingle – whose duty it was to inform her of her husband’s death.
In extracting the obituaries from the newspapers, we have become accustomed to the contents of these letters of duty, published so regularly throughout the period of war. It’s hard to imagine how a family might respond on opening and reading a letter which confirms their worst fears. In the case of Pte Fred Walker we were offered a taste of this sad process when we were handed the original letter, inside the original envelope which was opened by Mrs Ada Walker over one hundred years ago.
We see that Fred Walker’s obituary printed in The Bury Times in 1917 faithfully reproduces the entire contents of the letter; in it we read of bravery and courage and how the writer hopes these attributes are passed over to Fred’s widow, Mrs Ada Walker, while she suffers the loss of her husband.
A little research informs us that Fred and Ada married only months before the war started. I could not find any relevant birth matches so assume that the couple did not have children. I was interested to know what became of Ada Walker in the inter-war years: in the 1939 register she is listed as a widow living at the same address as written on the envelope from 1917 (106 Hollins Lane). The household includes 77 year old retired bleach worker John W Lees (the surname being Ada’s maiden name suggests the man is her father).
So on the eve of the next war Ada is caring for her elderly father in the same house she shared with her husband when he enlisted into the Machine Gun Corps shortly after they married. The letter, along with a few mementos returned to her in a separate envelope, safely stored inside a box or drawer? Certainly a frightening indicator of what to expect in the next few years ahead.
The letter, along with a selection of Pte Walker’s artefacts returned to his widow from France, will soon be on show in the archive’s search room to mark the Armistice and centenary of the ending of WW1. The materials were donated to former Library Supervisor, David Galloway, who passed them to the archives for preservation.
Transcription of letter:
Dear Mrs Walker,
It is my painful duty to inform you of your husband’s death on the 19th inst. It is indeed a painful duty for me, because I know what the consequences mean to you. I took a personal interest in your dear boy, and I cannot speak too highly of the good work and cheerful manner all the time he was in my section. He was shot by a sniper and died instantly, so he knew no pain. I was next to him, and I buried him where he fell. I have only just come out of the line, and am writing you without delay. I am ill with fatigue, strain, and worry, due to the rough time we have had, and so if my letter appears disjointed please forgive me. It is a difficult task to fulfil, and I cannot express my sorrow sufficiently, but I think you will understand me. Your husband will be far happier, for he is in heaven without a doubt, as all our fallen heroes have a place there, where they find peace and solace in a haven of rest so dear Mrs Walker, try and bear your heavy burden bravely for the sake of your dear friends left to you. If there is anything I could do for you write me a line and I shall only be too pleased – Believe me to be, dear friend, yours faithfully, J Tingle, Sec Lt, No 1 Section Officer.