Walter Withell – a happy ending?

Walter Withell, Private 15/1001, 1st Leeds Pals

Walter Withell 1914

Walter Withell was born in Leeds on 28th November 1886, the second child of Walter Ranson Withell, a warehouseman for a wholesale druggist, who had married Margaret Ellen Chapman five years earlier.  He had an older brother, William, and a younger sister, Maud. (Find My Past Census Records)


When he left school he became an errand boy, but in 1901 was taken on as an apprentice by John Curtis & Son, cabinet makers of Leeds, at their shop on the corner of Wade Street and Wade Lane. (Find My Past Army Service Record)  This he completed in 1908, and on the 1911 Census he is given as a cabinet maker at a camera works.  In 1901 the family was living at 8 Belle View Grove, Leeds, having moved there from 98 Rosebank View.  By 1911 they had moved again, to 6 Belle View Grove, and were still there in 1914, when Walter joined the Pals. (Army Service Record)


But before this Walter had met a girl, Ethel Gibson, who lived with her family, a widowed mother, one older brother and three younger sisters, in Lower Headingley.  She was just a year younger, and an assistant teacher for Leeds. (Census Records)


When war was declared Walter was 27, and he wasted no time in enlisting.  His attestation form show him enlisting on 13th September 1914, his age being given as 27yrs 10mths, his height as 5ft 4.5ins, so he just qualified there, and his weight 9st 2lbs.  He had brown hair and blue eyes. (Army Service Record)  According to the Nominal Roll he was posted to C Company, No.10 Platoon, No.3 Section, but the photo of him taken towards the end of 1914 lists him as No.9 Platoon.  This was taken at Colsterdale, where the Pals had gone for training, and from where Walter wrote to Ethel.  At least 13 of the postcards he sent have survived.


On 26th May 1915 Walter and Ethel were married at Queen Street Congregational Chapel in Leeds, witnessed by Walter’s parents, and Ethel’s mother and two sisters, Hilda and Pauline. (Find My Past Marriage Certificate)


Six months later the Pals were off to Egypt, where they stayed until March 1916.  Then they sailed for France, where they were to take part in the Big Push, the Battle of the Somme.  Walter appears to have survived the first day of the battle, but on 2nd July he was hit by a bullet in his left thigh.  The following day he was hit by shrapnel in his right thigh, and evacuated to hospital at Le Havre, and from there back to England.  His wounding was reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post of 11th July.  Presumably his bullet wound was not too severe if he was still in the line the following day, or perhaps he was just unlucky, but either way his wounds together proved serious, and on 26th November 1916 he was discharged as being no longer fit for war service.  He was awarded a pension of 12/6 a week, conditionally for six months.  In May 1918 he received the King’s Certificate to go with his discharge, and later the 1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. (Army Service Record)


In 1939, when a register was prepared for the Second World War, Walter and Ethel were living at 16 Regent Terrace, Leeds, together with Walter’s father, now a widower and long retired.  Walter was a foreman woodworker, making scientific instruments, (Find My Past 1939 Register) and, it appears, working for A Kershaw and Sons of Leeds, who made photographic and optical instruments, and cinema projectors.  When he retired, perhaps in the early 1940s, he moved to Whitby, where it is thought he lived in the Oak Road area.  He became involved in the Whitby Photographic Society, and for a number of years up to his death in 1962 was its chairman.  In his memory the Walter Withell Memorial Trophy was given, and is still presented annually. (Whitby Photographers, by Ruth Wilcock, Towlard Publications 2011)


Researcher: Peter Taylor

Please Note:

  • All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
  • Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.

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