Commemorations around the centenary of World War I have given a boost to communities and families wanting to research their history.

Sadly, the passage of time has left many families with only the vaguest recollections of relatives who served – or died – in the bloodiest of conflicts.

Many of those who survived saw such horror that they simply couldn’t describe it to their loved ones.

Others wanted to bury the memory deep into their subconscious and never speak of it again.

But historians want to record in detail what happened, charting the human tragedy as well as the military method and political machinations.

Families, too, want to know more about the distant echo of a hero relative they heard mentioned long ago but who is in danger of being forgotten forever.

Several local churches have war memorials listing the fallen. But often they are just names. Not quite Unknown Soldiers but almost.

One church where efforts have been made to research names on a memorial is Kirkheaton Parish Church.

The church teamed up with Kirkheaton Family History Group and the result of their work is a special 100th anniversary exhibition.

The exhibition opened on Monday (Aug 4) and runs until August 25.

 

Following an earlier article in the Examiner, Kirkheaton Family History Group was contacted by Carol Ronayne, a member of the Huddersfield Military History Society.

Carol was able to provide a copy of the Kirklees War Memorial Survey which was carried out in 1987.

This revealed more local men who died in the war but were not listed on the memorial.

Several of the men were either buried at Laneside Cemetery or in the churchyard or were mentioned on a relative’s gravestone.

One of the names was Walter Stericker Wilkinson, mentioned on his father’s headstone at Laneside Cemetery.

According to the inscription Walter was “accidentally killed January 1st 1917 aged 31 years, whilst serving with the A.S.C. in France and was interred at Heilly.”

The group was able to make contact with Walter’s grandson, Andy Wilkinson, who was able to provide some history and photographs for the exhibition.

Walter Stericker Wilkinson was born on February 15, 1885. He was a member of Moldgreen Congregational Church in common with all his family.

In 1902 he began a ‘Premium Apprenticeship’ in textile manufacturing with Dyson-Hall Ltd at Greenside Mills at Moldgreen.

Walter Stericker Wilkinson, of Kirkheaton, who was accidentally killed January 1st 1917 aged 31 years, whilst serving with the A.S.C. in France and was interred at Heilly."
 

From 1901 until 1914 he obtained first class City & Guilds qualifications in textile manufacturing including jute, linen and cotton, as well as all grades of woollens.

In 1911, he married Ethel Beaumont at Moldgreen and they immediately moved to Stroud in Gloucestershire, where Walter had obtained the position of textiles manufacturing instructor.

Mr Wilkinson wrote: “Gloucestershire in 1915 was a much more ‘class-conscious’ locality than the industrial West Riding and the local gentry pressurised Walter to ‘join the colours’ as one of Kitchener’s ‘volunteers’.

“Because he was a married family man, he was allowed to volunteer in a non-combat role.

“He joined the Army Service Corps and by October 1916 he was training as a motor transport driver with ‘13 Coy. MT. ASC’ at Osterley Park Camp Motor Training Depot in Middlesex.

“He was accidentally killed on the Somme, in France, on January 1, 1917 (three days after his only child’s 4th birthday).

“My father told me that Walter and a colleague were suffocated when a recently dug trench collapsed on them.”

Walter is buried at Heilly War Cemetery in France.

Mr Wilkinson added: “My grandmother and my father moved back to Huddersfield.

“Grandmother’s hair turned white within six weeks of hearing that she was a widow.

“She never re-married and brought up my father alone. Father went to university and became a teacher in Shrewsbury.

“I am Walter’s only grandson. New Year’s Day was never a celebration in our household.

“I was born in Shrewsbury but after working in Cheshire and Manchester, my wife and I came to settle in Almondbury in 1997.

“As a cousin of my father’s said, I was a Wilkinson returning to his roots!”

The Kirkheaton exhibition will be officially opened on Saturday, August 9 (11am) by Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at Bradford University. World War I historian Richard Wimpenny will give a talk afterwards.

Items on display will include a notebook still encrusted with trench mud.