WALTER JOHN WALLER was born in Rudgwick in 1877, the son of John and Harriet Waller and brother of Harry Waller (born c1873), Frederick G Waller (born c1880), Ernest Waller (born c1883), Alice Waller (born c1885), Ellen Waller (born c1888), Percy Waller (born c1892) and William Waller (born c1895). The family lived in Lynick Street. John was a bricklayer and in turn his sons followed him into this trade.
It appears from Walter’s service number, GS/27419, that he enlisted in Horsham in November 1915, when he was 38 years old. By early 1915 the numbers of volunteers for military service had begun to dwindle, and by spring it was clear that volunteers could no longer provide the manpower needed to fight a continued war. In July 1915 the National Registration Act was passed to assess the number of men available between the ages of 15 and 65, and to encourage further enlistment. In September the results of the census became available and on 11th October 1915 Lord Derby was appointed Director General of Recruiting. He introduced the‘Derby Scheme’ in an effort to encourage men to volunteer before conscription was fully introduced (27th January 1916). It is likely that Walter enlisted under this scheme.
The Derby Scheme offered men the chance to volunteer and choose between either entering service immediately or deferring service until mobilised. The men who deferred were grouped by age and marital status. Each group was given a month’s notice before mobilisation. If Walter enlisted under the Derby Scheme, his age would have placed him in Group 21, with a mobilisation date on or around 18th March 1916. He would then have undertaken his basic training before being posted overseas.
The 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers had been on active service in France and Belgium since 1st June 1915 as part of 36th Brigade, 12th (Eastern) Division. It had participated in the Battle of Loos and entered the Battle of the Somme on its second day (2nd July 1916). It is believed that Walter joined the battalion in France in 1916 as part of a reinforcement draft.
On 7th August 1916 the 9th August 1916 the battalion was withdrawn from trenches near Poiziers. The unit had sustained heavy losses in an attack on a position known as ‘Ration’ trench and a subsequent German counter attack with flamethrower. 5 officers had been killed and 7 others wounded together with 281 other ranks reported killed, wounded or missing.
The flamethower attack on the 6th August was described in the battalion war diary:
“At dawn on the morning of the 6th a sudden burst of flame appeared over our barricade and along the trench in rear of it for some 25 yards. The flames came from various directions. The method of employment seems to have been for one man to creep forward with a hose while a second man pumped up pressure in a tank to supply it with liquid. The men using the flammenverfer were clad in what looked like shiny black oilskins. No of jets used is doubtful, probably about 8. The attack was supported by about 40 bombers who used the smoke as a screen.
The attack was checked and finally beaten off by extending some 20 men in the open on each side of the trench supported by 2 Lewis guns - bombs were also thrown as the ground was so broken that rifle fire could seldom reach the enemy in the shell holes. Flames were of short duration - thick smoke hung about for some considerable time. Towards the end of the encounter we obtained superiority of fire and were able to dig in 30-40 yards of trench in daylight, and thus form an efficient barricade, after which the covering party on the flanks was withdrawn.” Captain S L Cazalet ‘A’ Company (Captain Cazalet was later awarded a D.S.O for his actions.)
The men were moved north out of the Somme sector, towards Arras, where they could recover from the effects of the battle whilst holding relatively quiet trenches in the vicinity of Agny, arriving on the 21st August. They remained here until 24th September, when they commenced a move south to rejoin the Somme battle.
By 27th September the battalion had reached Neuvillett, which it left the following day and marched to Bouquemaison where they boarded French motor buses. From there they were transported via Doullens, Beauval, Talmas, Villers-Bocage (the route of the modern N25 towards Amiens) and then through Rainneville and Querrieu to a point 2 miles south west of Albert on the Albert-Amiens road. They then marched through Dernancourt, Meaulte, Fricourt and Mametz to arrive at bivouacs at Pommiers Redoubt at midnight on 29th September. (Pommiers Redoubt was on the south side of the D64 Mametz to Montauban-de-Picardie road and had been captured on the first day of the Battle of the Somme by 18th Division, one of the few successes of the 1st July actions).
On 1st October 1916 the 12th (Eastern) Division, as part of XIV Corps received orders to relieve the 21st Division in the front line. The division was to be a part of the forthcoming Battle of the Transloy Ridges. 9th Bn Royal Fusiliers broke camp and moved forwards at 4.30pm via Montauban, Longeuval, Delville Wood and Flers before relieving the 23rd Bn Middlesex Regiment in trenches just to the west of Gueudecourt. The relief was completed by 11.15pm and the battalion settled into their positions in ‘Gird’ and ‘Gird Support’ trenches. The next few days were spent improving the position and enduring German artillery barrages which inflicted a number of casualties upon the battalion. At 11pm on the evening of the 3rd the unit was relieved by the 23rd Bn Middlesex Regiment and moved a short distance back to reserve trenches south east of Flers, to the east of the Longuval-Flers road.
The offensive was due to resume on the 5th October, but a deterioration in the weather lead to its postponement for 48 hours. At 6pm the battalion once again moved into the trenches, taking up their positions by midnight. ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies occupied the front line which consisted of an advanced trench and ‘Gird Support’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companied were held in support in ‘Gird Trench’. (The ‘Gird System’ was a German trench system captured on 26th September. As such it’s ordering of trenches was reversed to that of the British trenches; ‘Gird Trench’ had originally been the German frontline facing the British, and ‘Gird Support’ was to its rear by approximately 50 meters. Now, the ‘Gird Support’ trench was the British front line and ‘Gird Trench was effectively it’s support trench.)
To the battalion’s left was their sister battalion, the 8th Bn Royal Fusiliers, and to the right 37th Brigade. To the rear was 7th Bn Royal Sussex Regiment in reserve, and the 11th Bn Middlesex Regiment acting as the brigade reserve.
On 6th October the battalion held the line and were subjected to enemy artillery fire. The Battalion War Diary also records that two enemy aircraft flew low (200ft) over the trenches and were engaged with machine gun fire. Orders were received for the following day’s attack, and an artillery bombardment of the enemy front line in preparation commenced at 7.45pm. Along the British line, the action was to involve men of the 12th, 20th and 56th Divisions and was to be the start of a phase of the Somme offensive now referred to as the Battle of the Transloy Ridges (7-20th October).
THE BATTLE OF THE TRANSLOY RIDGES
The British artillery bombardment continued through to Zero hour, 1.45pm on the afternoon of 7th October. ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies had taken position in the advanced trench in front of ‘Gird Support’ through the night, positioned alphabetically from left to right. ‘C’ Company remained in ‘Gird Support’ trench. In the period leading up to the commencement of the attack the battalion had suffered 8 officer casualties and 109 other ranks, together with 20 men being absent sick, and therefore the battalion was significantly below strength for the action.
The men of the first three companies climbed out of their trenches and advanced up the ridge in two lines towards the German positions. Their place was immediately taken by the men of ‘C’ Company who moved forwards into the advance trench. Anthony Eden, then serving with the 21st Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps also took part in the battle to the left of 12 th Division wrote of the area “The incline at Gird Ridge towards the front line was a gentle one into a valley of dead ground which extended for at least one hundred yards. It ended against a bank topped with some scruffy and shell torn bushes.”(Eden, A , Another Country 1897-1917).
Contrary to their expectations, the first line of Royal Fusiliers was immediately met by heavy rifle and machine gun fire as it crested the ridge, and this was followed by very heavy shell fire. The British preparation had been a creeping artillery barrage, and had missed the enemy front line, which was much near than thought. As the men of 36th Brigade advanced the barrage had lifted to the rear of the brigade’s second objective.
The three front companies and two platoon of the support company were virtually decimated by this fire. It appeared that ‘B’ Company veered out of the line of advance to maintain contact with ‘A’ Company, and were enfiladed by two machine guns. None of the companies reached their first objective, ‘Bayonet Trench’, and the attack withered out.
Germans were observed taking in some of the wounded from ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies, and a counter attack developed to the left of the line, which was quickly driven back by machine gun fire. The two remaining platoons of ‘C’ Company held the advance line as dusk fell and were gradually augmented by stragglers crawling in from no-mans-land under the cover of darkness. To their left and right the attack also failed in similar circumstances. The German positions were found to be held in great strength, and it was later discovered that the attack had coincided with a relief.
The battalion’s casualties in the attack were found to be: 4 officers and 21 other ranks killed, 1 officer and 131 other ranks wounded and 4 officers and 161 other ranks missing (9 officers and 313 other ranks in total). They mustered, on relief, 144, with ‘B’ Company reduced to 12.
The Battalion commanding officer received a personal note from the General Officer Commanding 36th Brigade the following day commenting:
“Will you please thank all ranks of your Battalion for the magnificent gallantry they displayed yesterday. They advanced steadily under a very heavy fire which only the very best troops could have faced. Although unfortunately unsuccessful your gallant conduct has added to the fine reputation which you have already won yourselves.”
The remains of the battalion was relieved by two companies of the 11th Bn Middlesex Regiment (the other two battalions of the Middlesex relieving the survivors of 8th Bn Royal Fusiliers to the left). The 7 th Bn Royal Sussex Regiment moved up into support. The battalion was gradually withdrawn to rest in the area of Bernafay Wood.
Records indicate that 5 officers and 134 other ranks (1) died on 7th October 1917, including Private Walter Waller from Rudgwick. Undoubtedly more succumbed to injuries sustained in the action in the days and months that followed. 119 of these men, including Walter, have no known grave and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.
Notes & Sources
(1) 5 OFF/134 OR (from Soldiers Died in the Great War/Offiers Died in the Great War) 144 Total CWGC. 8th Bn RF 1 OFF/105 OR, (111 total CWGC) from 2022 British Officers and men who died on 7th October 1916 (SDITGW).
Harry Waller (born c1873),
Frederick G Waller (born c1880),
Ernest Waller (born c1883),
Alice Waller (born c1885),
Ellen Waller (born c1888),
Percy Waller (born Rudgwick c1892), employed by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway. Enlisted 1609/1914, aged 21. Address 19 St Leonards Rd, Horsham. Served as Driver 50655, Royal Engineers, in Serbia, Macedonia & Palestine. Contracted malaria. Records available online.
William Waller (born c1895),
9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers Battalion War Diary WO95/1857
The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War
Somme 1916, A Battlefield Companion
Soldiers Died in the Great War
Officers Died in the Great War