19th April 1886 - 19/20th December 1915 (age 29)
1/5th Bn. West Yorkshire Regiment
Quarter Master Sergt. James Walker was a popular Thirsk evangelist and vocalist who had the honour to sing before Queen Victoria at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight in 1884. For his Diamond Jubilee hymn, he received the thanks of Her Majesty and became known as the soldier poet. When he retired from the army after 33 years in service he settled as a school attendance officer living in Sowerby with his wife and three children.
His only son John, became a member of the Sowerby Church Lads' Brigade and often enjoyed a game of billiards with his friends at the Thirsk Institute. Pursuing a career in education he was a pupil teacher by the age of 14 working as a teacher at Sowerby School and later becoming a class master living and working in Leeds. The onset of war brought a sudden interruption to his professional life when John signed the Territorial Oath in September 1914, an apparently lean 28 year old at 5ft 9 ins tall weighing 138lbs. A sound education and respectable occupation in civilian life would have been qualifications for a commission and so it was as 2nd Lt.J.C.Walker that he went to the Western Front with the 1/5th West Yorkshire Regiment in early 1915.
John Chinnery Walker - copied from the Thirsk British Legion display case
North of Ypres in Belgium, the historic Yser Canal running closely behind the front line was the location of a support community regularly shelled by the enemy and featuring many dug-outs in the canal bank. In this sector the front line remained largely unchanged for two years and of all divisions, the 49th (West Riding) including the 1/5th West Yorkshires served along the canal bank for the longest period. It is likely that 2nd Lt. Walker spent most of his military life here apart from a few days of home leave in the middle of August 1915. On 19th December 1915, the 1/5th West Yorkshires were in the front line when the enemy attacked with gas and a heavy bombardment although no advance was made. Owing to the serious effect of the gas upon the officers and men of C Company they were sent back to the canal bank. One of the officers affected was 2nd Lt. Walker who somewhat recovered, and contrary to the orders of the Medical Officer, returned with his company to the canal bank. There as he sat at the entrance to his dug-out, he was killed by a shell.
2nd Lt. Walker was buried by his comrades close to the dressing station by the canal bank in Essex Farm Cemetery in plot 1.M.11.
Earlier that year John McCrae had stood in the same cemetery at the burial of a comrade and had been moved to write the immortal lines:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are The Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe.
To you from failing hand we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John Chinnery Walker's headstone at Essex Farm Cemetery - "In Remembrance Of Our Dearly Loved And Only Son"
A gratuity of £5 was sent to 2nd Lt. Walker's mother at 4 South Terrace, Sowerby. Ex Sergt. James Walker died just over two years later aged 73, it was said he had not been the same since the death of his only son. His father's gravestone in St Oswald's churchyard reads:
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
DIED 21 DECEMBER 1917 AGED 70.
ALSO JOHN CHINNERY
BELOVED SON OF THE ABOVE
KILLED IN ACTION 19 DECEMBER 1915
AND RESTS IN THE CEMETERY
ON ESSEX FARM, BOESINGH, BELGIUM
The information on this page was compiled by Steve Billings.
Information about John Chinnery Walker on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Information about John Chinnery Walker on the War Graves Photographic Project website
Part of the St Oswald's Church website