Text Box: December 2015

Many soldiers during World War 1 were sent back to the UK as a result of wounds or illness. Some never recovered and are buried in cemeteries all over the country. Jane Veevers has been researching the life of one of these men.

Walter Kimberley was the second child of Charles and Myra Kimberley.  He was born in 1884 when the family were living at 4 Berkley Place, Angelina Street, Highgate, Birmingham.

Walter began playing football for a local amateur team, Tower Unity, and in 1903 and went on to play for Aston Manor.  Walter enlisted in the Coldstream Guards on the 5th March 1904, aged 19 and in March 1907 he was transferred to the Army Reserve following completion of a period of Army Service.  He had played football for the Army during this period, and then in 1907 joined professional team Aston Villa as a full-back.  He made his debut for Villa on the 8th February 1908 against Arsenal (Villa won 1-0) and made a total of 7 appearances for them.

In 1912 Walter transferred to Coventry City, where he played 23 matches and scored his only league goal.    Walter then went to play for Walsall in 1914, although the family were still living in Coventry.

On the 6th August 1914, after the outbreak of the 1st World War, Private Walter Kimberley was mobilised and posted to the 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards, ending his football career with Walsall.  He was appointed Lance Corporal on the 9th August 1914, and posted to France with his Battalion as part of the British Expeditionary Force on the 13th August 1914. 

The 1st Coldstream Guards were part of the 1st Guards Brigade 1st Division.  In 1914 approximately 60 percent of the soldiers were reservists like Walter Kimberley.  The 1st Coldstream Guards took part in the Battle and subsequent retreat from Mons.   After arriving in France the British Expeditionary Force advanced through northern France and Belgium, arriving at Mons on the 22nd August 1914 to support the French Army.  The Battle of Mons took place on 23rd August when the Germans launched an attack.  The British were heavily outnumbered but held their positions during the day.  The realisation of the size of the German Army and the already retreating French Army meant that by the 24th August the British retreat from Mons was ordered.  With the Germans rapidly advancing, the British had to fight during their withdrawal.

 The 5th September 1914 marked the start of the battle of the Marne, which lasted until 12th September.  At this early stage in the war the fighting was not typical of the 1st World War as the British chased the Germans back over the Marne, the Germans blowing up the bridges as they went.  On the 9th September, in one of these actions, Lance Corporal Walter Kimberley was taken prisoner by the Germans.  The records indicate that he was captured with a group of men from various regiments after the French surrender of Maubeuge.

Lance Corporal Kimberley was reported by his Battalion as missing in the field and nine weeks later it was discovered that he had been taken as a Prisoner of War to Germany.

In August 1916 Lance Corporal Walter Kimberley was repatriated as part of a group of exchanged prisoners.  Repatriation of prisoners was unusual and it was commonly only men who were sick or unlikely to be fit for military service again who were sent home in this way.  On arrival in London Walter was admitted to the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital, Millbank, suffering from Pulmonary Tuberculosis and had completely lost his voice.  After leaving hospital he was transferred to the 5th (Reserve) Battalion Coldstream Guards.   On the 1st September 1916 he was discharged as no longer physically fit for War Service.  His illness was deemed to be wholly due to the conditions of his imprisonment in Germany.  Lance Corporal Kimberley was discharged after 12 years and 181 days service and was awarded the Silver War Badge, which was awarded to men who were honourably discharged due to wounds or sickness during WW1.  It was worn on civilian, not military dress and indicated that the man had done his duty for his country.  Walter Kimberley died at home in Aston on the 22nd April 1917 from tuberculosis, and after a military funeral he was buried at Witton Cemetery, Birmingham.  Lance-Corporal Kimberley was posthumously awarded the 1914 Star, Allied Victory and British War medals. www.veeversresearch.co.uk

Christmas 1915

In December 1915 the delivery of mail to the Western Front stretched the Army Postal Service to the limit. There were many hundreds of tons of mail, mostly parcels of Christmas gifts.

The G.O.C. however was more concerned that there should be no repeat of the ‘unauthorised truce which occurred on Christmas Day at one or two places in the line last year’.  The Artillery was to maintain slow fire on the enemy’s trenches all day and any of the enemy appearing above the trenches were to be fired upon. The Germans apparently had issued similar orders.

On Christmas Eve, the traditional night of celebration for the Germans, a Christmas tree appeared above the parapet near Wulverghem, but the tiny flickers from the candles were extinguished by British rapid fire. 

Christmas Day for the most part was like any other with the usual amount of sniping and shelling, but there is evidence of fraternisation by men of the 2nd and 3rd Guards Brigade. The junior officer concerned was sent home in disgrace and attempts were made to ensure as few as possible were aware of what had happened.  After the horrors and misery of 1915 there was little room for peace and goodwill.

Richard Lloyd


Christmas Quiz

The first letter of each of the answers (in order of the questions) will spell out a Christmas Message.

1.  British expression used to describe the German Hand Grenade introduced in 1915

2.  The surname of the Welsh poet known as Hedd Wyn killed in July 1917

3.  French town with the Golden Statue of the Madonna on The Basilica

4.  Created in 1917, it owed much of its existence to Fabian Ware

5.  Author of ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’

6.  British prime Minister whose son was killed fighting with 3rd Grenadier Guards

7.  The first British offensive of 1915

8.  Site of the South African Memorial in France

9.  Kipling’s Boy

10.  Popular character created by Bairnsfather

11.  Known to British soldiers as Wipers

12.  This memorial lists the names of over 72,000 men with No Known Grave

13.  The room where the Treaty of Versailles was signed

14.  An outbreak of which illness reached the Western Front in April 1918

15.  Site of much visited preserved trenches and museum on the Ypres Salient

16.  Site of Railway Carriage where Armistice signed

17.  German defensive position to which they retreated in March 1917

18.  Known as Staufen Riegel by the Germans

19.  Ship lost at Jutland, with all but 2 of crew lost

20.  He wrote ‘Anthem of Doomed Youth’

21.  Organisation established by Tubby Clayton at Poperinghe

22.  British Grenade manufactured in Birmingham from 1915

23.  French town where the Wellington Quarries are now a big attraction

24.  Much praised French 75mm artillery piece

(Answers and prizes at our 19th December  Meeting)

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Text Box: The Bulletin of the Birmingham Branch of the WFA
December 2015
Compiled by Richard Lloyd