Francis Walton, Private 2331, 1/7th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment
Died of wounds 5th September 1915 in Devonport, England, aged 20
Francis Walton was born on 25th January 1895 and baptised on 13th February at St Alban’s Church, Macclesfield, son of Innkeeper James and Mary Angela Walton, of the Bull and Gate Hotel, Chestergate. In 1901, Francis was living at The Bull and Gate Hotel at 32 Chestergate with his parents and older siblings Mary and James.
Francis was educated first at St Alban’s School, and then the Modern School. He and his brother James enlisted in the 1st/7th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment during the last week of September 1914. Francis was more commonly known as Frank in the army’s records. Frank was noted for sending letters home about life in the Army whilst training in Bedford, printed in the Macclesfield Courier under the pen name of ‘Peeping Tom’.
Frank was amongst the first contingent that sailed from Devonport in Devon in July 1915, bound for Alexandria in Egypt. From here they sailed to the Greek island of Lemnos, and then took part in the Gallipoli landings at Suvla Bay on 9th August. The following day, Frank was hit by a shrapnel shell, resulting in a fractured skull. He was evacuated to hospital in the Mediterranean and later shipped home, but died at the Military Hospital in Devonport on 5th September 1915, at the age of 20.
The Macclesfield Courier of 11th September 1915 printed a report of his death and funeral – the first casualty of the war to be buried in Macclesfield:
Much sympathy will be felt with Mr and Mrs J. Walton, of the Bull and Gate Inn, Chestergate, whose son Francis died on Sunday morning at the military hospital, Devonport, of wounds received in the Dardanelles. Whilst in training Private Walton wrote letters to “The Courier” under the “nom de plume” of “Peeping Tom”.
A telegram arrived last Friday night to say he was in hospital at Devonport in a very serious condition. At the time his mother was away in Ireland and his father at Bournemouth. Mr Walton went at once to Devonport Hospital, but was too late to see his son alive.
The body was brought home for burial at Macclesfield Cemetery on Wednesday. Walton being the first victim of the war to be laid to rest in the town, he was given a military funeral: a firing party of twelve was sent from the 2/7 Battalion at Oswestry, and a large number of men on furlough in the town attended the funeral, in addition to about eighty members of the local Volunteer Battalion. The whole length of Chestergate was lined with spectators and every house along the route had the blinds drawn, whilst the licensed houses closed their doors.
A band composed of members of the Borough Reed Band and the Town Silver Band played Beethoven’s ‘Marche Funebre’ and the ‘Dead March’. The impressive procession and awe-inspiring solemn music moved people to tears.
Private Francis Walton is buried in grave ref. J. 8453 in Macclesfield Cemetery, in a grave with a private family headstone. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Private Francis Walton, and he is listed on the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.
The inscription on the base of the memorial in Macclesfield Cemetery reads:
WHO DIED AT THE MILITARY HOSPITAL
DEVONPORT SEPT 5TH 1915,
FROM WOUNDS RECEIVED IN
GALLIPOLI, AGE 20 YEARS.
“GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS THAT
A MAN LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS.”
Frank’s brother James also served and was shot at Gallipoli, but fortunately the bullet was deflected by his regimental badge and he was hit in the shoulder. He survived the war and returned to Macclesfield.