In 1911, William lived with his widower father, John who was a farm labourer, a brother George, also a labourer, along with a Mr and Miss Hayes. Mr Hayes was a grave-digger and listed as a nephew of John, though he was only 3 years younger. Grace Hayes was listed as niece aged 26, the same age as William, whose job before the war was a bricklayer.
William was a private in the 5th (Pioneer) Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment (who served in France and Belgium from 30th May 1915 onwards) but had previously served in the Bedfordshire Regiment.
The role of the Pioneer Battalions was to assist the Royal Engineers to build roads, bridges, trench systems and to modify captured enemy trenches to face in the right direction. They also often had the unenviable task of making graveyards and burying the dead that could be found.
Throughout, the Pioneers maintained their other role of infantrymen often fighting in the pure infantry role. A pioneer company could be attached to an infantry battalion in the line and regularly found itself staying in the front line when the infantry were relieved, due to a shortage of pioneers.
The 5th Northamptons fought at Loos, the Somme, Arras, Cambrai and in the retreats and advances of 1918. On the day Herbert Seekings died, 3rd July 1918, on the Bouzincourt Spur the 5th Northamptons were still in support of the 6th Queens and also of the Buffs (William Turner’s and Ernest Seekings’ Regiment).
By the day of William Walton’s death, 19th September 1918, the British had advanced 25 miles or so from the start line of August 8th. The 5th Northamptons were acting in both the infantry and pioneer roles in an attack on enemy trenches to the east of Epehy.
‘A’ and ‘C’ companies were in the assault and ‘D’ company moved up once the objectives had been taken. They were to join together in consolidating the posts in the new front line and building communication trenches between the old and new lines. When the work was done ‘D’ company returned to billets, the rest of the battalion remained in the front line. The battalion had 128 casualties that day, mainly in the assault forces which probably numbered only around 400.
William Walton died with 2 more months of savage fighting to pass before the armistice, our last fatality of the Great War.
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