Walter was the son of John Henry and Eliza Hopwood of 6 Church Street, Marple and the brother of Fred (also commemorated on the Marple Memorial). To further his education, Walter had attended the Sunday school at St Mark’s Church and, like many local people, went to work at Hollins Mill.
He probably enlisted into the army in 1916, when he became 18 and was assigned to the 1/5th (Territorial) Battalion. Territorial soldiers were not issued with six-digit service numbers until the beginning of 1917, confirming he didn’t go abroad on active service until at least then.
On 7 June 1917, he was taken ill in the trenches and was evacuated to a military field hospital in France where he diagnosed as having peritonitis and pleurisy. On the 9th, he was evacuated to England where he spent time at Wall Hall Auxiliary Military Hospital in Watford.
On 21 March 1918, the German army launched a massive and overwhelming attack on British forces on the Somme along a 40 mile front. Within hours, the British Army was in headlong retreat and, over the coming days, all the gains of the previous two years had been wiped out. However, by the end of March, the attack was starting to peter out as the German supply lines became over-stretched. The German High Command was realising that the strategic aim of encircling the British Army and forcing a surrender, was not going to happen. 5 April would see the last serious attack in this sector – although the Germans would launch their second phase north of there, in Flanders on 9 April.
On the morning of 5 April, Walter and his mates were in support trenches near the village of Bucquoy (half way between the French towns of Albert and Arras). At 10am, a message was received that the enemy had captured the front line trench held by the 1/8th Battalion. Within minutes the men had “stood to” and moved to their battle positions ready to counter-attack.
Communication with other units, particularly those in front, was very confused and the men of the 1/5th held their position until, at 12.30, the 1/8th Battalion specifically requested re-enforcements. Two platoons of “C” Company were sent forward.
Just over an hour later, the 1/8th asked for two whole companies to support a counter-attack as they had now been forced from their ground. “C” and “D” Companies, led by Major Castle, went forward at 4.30 and, at 5pm,, the counter –attack went in. It met with little initial resistance until they reached the Bucquoy – Ablainzevelle road where they came under machine gun and artillery fire. They pressed forward into Bucquoy and took up a defensive position for the night. They continued to be subject to machine gun fire and very hostile enemy sniping.
Some time during the day, Walter was wounded. He would have received treatment from the Battalion’s own medical officer, just behind the front line. This would have been little more than first aid and he would then have been evacuated away from the battlefield to a field hospital (then called a casualty clearing station) where military surgeons would have stabilised his condition. He was then transferred to one of the four Canadian military hospitals at Etaples on the Channel coast, where he died five days later.
On 21 April, a memorial service was held for Walter at St Martin’s Church. Buglers from the 5th Cheshires sounded the Last Post.
Further information about Walter, including a photograph, can be found in the book “Remembered” by P Clarke, A Cook and J Bintliff.