Rank: Major
Date of Death: 23 November 1916
Age: 36
Cemetery: Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France

Walter Merryweather was born on 31 May 1880 at Retford, Nottinghamshire, where his mother, Emily, still lived at 19 The Square. His father, Charles J Merryweather, had died some time earlier. Before his death, Mr Merryweather had been a successful businessman, owning an outfitters shop in the town. It enabled the family to employ two live-in servants at the time of the 1901 Census.

He was educated at Retford Grammar School and spent a short period in France and Germany learning the languages.  He later attended Trinity College, Cambridge, where he had been a member of the University Rifle Corps.  He graduated with an honours degree in modern languages. He was a teacher at Manchester Grammar School. Locally, he lived with his friend and colleague, Charles Fry at Hill Top Avenue, Cheadle Hulme. Charles is also remembered on the Memorial. Merrweather's service papers describe him as being 70.5 inches tall with a weight of 161lbs.

He had been commissioned in November 1914 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 16th Battalion (the second of the Salford Pals Battalions), quickly being promoted on the 18th of the month to temporary Lieutenant. He was again promoted on 20 January 1915 to Captain. He went overseas on active service on 22 November 1915 in command of "A" Company. He is recorded by the War Graves Commission as holding the rank of Major, although there is no confirmation of this in the London Gazette and the Regimental records show him as a Captain.

On 4 January 1916, Walter was in the front line at Authuile when he received a gunshot or shrapnel wound to the right thigh. The bullet was removed at a Casualty Clearing Station the same day and he was then sent to No. 2 Red Cross Hospital at Rouen. He was back in England within a couple of weeks and spent further time in various hospitals. In May, 1916, a medical review said "He does not appear to have improved. He cannot march more than 3 or 4 miles. He should go through a course of graduated physical training with a view to restore the loss of muscular power and energy". This was successful as, by the following month, Walter was fit enough to return to his Battalion.

On 18 November, the final attack in the Battle of the Somme was launched in weather that changed between snow, sleet and rain. It was not a success and most troops withdrew back to their own lines. A small party of the Border Regiment and the Highland Light Infantry had been unable to escape and was cut-off in Frankfort Trench, with German troops surrounding them. On the night of 20/21 November, two soldiers from this party managed to escape and brought news that they were still holding out, but were running short of food and water.

It was decided to make a concerted effort to try and rescue them. A group of some 320 men from the Lancashire Fusiliers and Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers was assembled, under the command of Walter Merryweather. They would seize a section of the closer Munich Trench and hold this whilst a small group dashed on to Frankfort Trench.

There was a brief artillery barrage and, at 3.30 pm on the 23rd, the British troops stormed across No Man's Land to take Munich Trench. But they had not been able to capture all of the anticipated length. This meant they were open to grenade attack from both sides, from Germans who had come out of their dugouts. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting was also taking place within the trench and this allowed some German prisoners to escape. However, about 20 Germans were bayoneted to death.

Meanwhile, the small group, under Lt Higginson, had pushed on towards Frankfort Trench. They were lying on the ground, waiting for the artillery barrage to lift off the trench, when Higginson was shot. 2nd Lt Rylands was then sent forward to take command but he was also shot. When the barrage lifted, there were only about 10 men left in the party and they were pinned down and unable to move forward. They could not see any the party still thought to be in Frankfort Trench and, so, withdrew back to Munich Trench. It was reported that Walter was standing on the parapet of Munich Trench directing operations and encouraging the raiding party to return, when he was shot.

The troops now withdrew back to the British line about 4.15 pm. Half the party had been killed or wounded. The troops still in Frankfort Trench held on for some while longer in the hope that another rescue attempt would be made but, out of water and ammunition, they were forced to surrender.

It would be a further six days before Walter's mother received a telegram informing her of his death. Walter is also commemorated on the memorial in his native Retford.

(Original research by John Hartley for the Cheadle & Gatley War Memorial website)

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