Walter Bancroft, Private 21213, “A” Coy. 1st Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers
Killed in action 20th October 1915 in Suvla, Gallipoli, aged 18
Walter Bancroft was born on 15th February and baptised on 21st March 1897 at St George’s Church, south Macclesfield, the eldest son of Mary Ann and Edward Bancroft, a cork cutter of Goodall Street, Macclesfield.
In 1901, four year old Walter was living at 68 Daybrook St with his parents and younger sister, 9 month old Edith. Another sister, Alice, was born in 1899 but died later the same year, and Edith died in 1907.
By 1911 the family had moved to 18, The Old Barracks, Macclesfield and included two more children, Gertie (7) and Lizzie (4). Another child, Joseph, was born during the summer of 1915, and between 1911 and 1915 the family moved to 14 Cumberland Street.
Walter was educated at Daybrook Street School, attended Hurdsfield Sunday School and was well-known locally as a footballer. After leaving school, Walter was employed by his uncle, Walter Naden, a fishmonger at 27 Park Lane.
The family later moved to 39 St. George’s Street, Macclesfield.
Walter attested at Chester in 1915 and was sent to Sutton-on-Sea in Yorkshire for training. Some of Walter’s letters home have been kept by the family.
An undated letter, thought to have been written on Saturday 31st July 1915 – the day before ‘Minden Day’ referred to in the letter.
“My dearest Mother and Father,
Hoping you are both well and in the best of health. I am very very sorry to have kept you so long in waiting but when I tell you all about it I hope you will forgive me for keeping you so long in waiting.
Well, when we got back from Strensall last Tuesday morning we were told that we had to go to the service company, another camp about a mile away. It is the camp that all the drafts go to the front from. So when we got here we were warned by the commanding officer for a draft to Egypt next Wednesday, but when we told him that we had not had a pass home yet he cancelled it and I shall be home a week next Saturday for a few days.
I do have some bad luck here. I have drawn no pay this week – none of our company has. It is Minden Day here tomorrow, Sunday. This is like a big day for us, the Lancs Fus. There will be sports on Monday – it will be a holiday for us next Monday but you couldn’t enjoy yourself without money. We have been confined to camp for five days because there has gone from here four battalions to the front. We were not allowed out of camp.
I received your parcel today Saturday and I thank you very much for it. There were a book and biscuits in it. I have had two letters from Bill Barlow. He is at Bedford, and I sent him one back last week….”
Assuming Walter went home for a few days leave on Saturday 14th August, as suggested by his first letter, he says in his next letter that he returned to camp on Wednesday which would be 18th August. He goes on to say he will be leaving to go overseas a week next Wednesday, which would be 1st September. This letter was possibly written on Monday 23rd August.
“My Dear Mother and Father
Just a few lines hoping you are well and in the best of health. I am sorry I could not write before now as I have not had time since I have been back. When I left home on Wednesday I went to Stockport, changed there, and then I had to change again at Leeds and at Church Fenton and Hull, but I arrived safe. I got to camp about half past three on Thursday morning and on Thursday night we had to go trench digging and on Saturday they put me on guard. The guard here is a twentyfour hours guard. It is awful here – talking about working – no it is not in it. Never mind, we shall get over it some time or other.
I think I told you that we have been changed from the Dardanelles to France. I would rather go to the Dardanelles. I would not be surprised if they don’t change us back to the Dardanelles because … they have not took our equipment from us that we were going to the Dardanelles with but anyhow we are leaving here a week next Wednesday for one of the two places but I must hear from you before I go. … Tell my father that I am sending him my gansey and one or two more things before I go out. I will send then this weekend all being well so you must expect them.
With best love from your soldier son Walter”
This letter was possibly written on Saturday 28th August 1915.
“My dear Mother and Father,
Just a few lines hoping you are in the best of health. I sent you a letter about two days ago and I hope you have received it by now. I am not going out with this draft – none of us [are] as there are about twenty-five of the lads have got the fever, so we cannot go till they have got alright again.
It might be three weeks or a month before we go and then we are going to the Dardanelles. It was changed to France but they have changed it again.
I hope mother is going on alright, and Lizzie and Gert, and also you Dad.
We have got plenty to do now, what with kit inspections and route marches. They never take us less than twelve miles a day so we are knocked up when we get to camp and they only give us ten minutes every hour to talk about everything. I want a clean shirt every time I come off a route march. You know that shirt I gave you Dad, well, at kit inspection we had to show three shirts. Well, I had only got two with giving you one so I had to buy another one. And you know when I came over [to] you, the trousers I had on, those tight ones? Well I had to buy a pair of trousers because they were took in. And I bought a razor because I thought you told me if I could get one will I send it. So you can have my razor, I will send it next week, so you must expect it Dad – and there is that jersey I have on, I shall not want that as we are going to the Dardanelles. And two pairs of under pants. But I don’t know how I am going to get them out of camp to send them to you; anyway, I will try my best. But I will send you that razor next week.
I had a letter from my Uncle Walter this week, with some money in ….”
[remainder of letter lost]
The next letter is dated 3 August but Walter is clearly overseas, possibly at Alexandria in Egypt or on Lemnos Island, since he does not mention being in the firing line. The correct date is likely to be mid September, as Walter landed at Gallipoli on 26th September.
“Dear Mother and Father and sisters
Just a few lines to let you know that I am going on quite well at present, I have sent you a few letters while I have been out here, hoping you have received them. I am sorry that I cannot let you know the place that we are staying at as we are not allowed to say where we are.
The 7th Cheshires are out here – I saw Jim Plant the other day – there are a great lot of Macclesfield lads out here.
I hope Gerty and Lizey and also Joe are going on well and also Gramother.
We get no news from France out here. I was wondering how George Barton was going on out there, you might write and let me know in your next letter.
I hope Dad has got plenty of work now. I suppose the old shop is going on alright in Park Lane.
You might let me know how Billy Barlow is going on. I suppose he has gone to France. Well never mind, we are all eager to get this war to an end and I hope I shall soon be seeing you and all. So I think this is all at present.
From your son Walter xxxxxx
Ptw W Bancroft 21213
1st Lancashire Fusiliers
British Mediterranean Exped Force
Care of PO London.”
The 1st Lancashire Fusiliers arrived at Suvla Bay on the evening of 21st September, and were joined by a draft of 150 men on 25th, probably including Walter. The Battalion relieved the 8th Cheshire Regiment in the trenches on 30th September.
On 9th and 10th October several bombs were dropped into the trenches containing a gas which made the eyes water, but fortunately did not appear to have any other effect.
Occasional enemy sniping and bombing with trench mortar bombs and shells took place during the afternoon of 19th October, and the next day the men worked on improvements to the trenches.
If the next letter is dated correctly (ignoring the year), it was written on the day Walter died. It is written on paper headed with a picture of ‘SS Orama’, but this vessel did not enter the Mediterranean during WW1 so the paper must have been obtained other than by Walter being on board that ship.
“My Dear Mother and Father Sisters and Brother
Just a few lines hoping it will find you in the best of health as it leaves me at present. I am going on very well at present only the nights here are very cold and in the day time you cannot stir for flies, they are a pest out here. I hope Dad has got plenty of work to do as I believe food has gone very much dearer in England. I hope you are still getting my money. I suppose Gert is still working.
I should be very glad if you would send me some fags and the book I used to read when I was at home, but if you send anything pack it well as they get knocked about a great deal; and try and register it as there are a great deal out here that never get their parcels so if I do not get it, you can claim for it there. I should like to be having a line from you as I have not heard nothing from you since I left England.
We have just come out of the trenches for a rest, I have had some narrow escapes since I have been here; so have a good many more, what with bombs and shells they are worse than hail storms some days. The reason that I am asking for some fags is because we only get one issue a week so please try and send me those as quick as you can.
I hope the war will soon be over and peace retained. So I think this is all at present and let me know something as soon as you can. I have sent three letters since I have been here hoping you have received them so good bye for the present.
From your son Walter xxxx
Remember me to Granma and all xxx”
Walter was killed in action on 20 October 1915, aged 18. His death was reported in the Macclesfield Times on 12 November, 1915:
SUNDAY SCHOOL SCHOLAR – YOUTH OF EIGHTEEN SACRIFICES HIS LIFE
Mr Edward Bancroft, 14 Cumberland Street, Macclesfield, received the sad intelligence on Tuesday that his only son, Private Walter Bancroft, Lancashire Fusiliers, had been killed in action in the Dardanelles. The deceased was only 18 years of age. He was a native of Macclesfield and was educated at the Daybrook Street School. Private Bancroft was a scholar at the Hurdsfield Sunday School and was in the employ of his uncle, Mr Walter Naden, fishmonger, Park Lane. Joining the Lancashire Fusiliers last May, he put in his training at Sutton-on-Sea and was drafted to the Dardanelles in September. His parents have only received postcards from him. Private Bancroft was a well-known local footballer.
Private Walter Bancroft is buried in grave ref. II. F. 16. in Azmak Cemetery, Suvla, Turkey. His mother asked for the inscription “Gone but not forgotten” to be added to his memorial.
GRO (England & Wales) Index: Births
Cheshire Parish Baptism Registers: St George’s Church, Sutton, Macclesfield
Census (England & Wales): 1901, 1911
WWI British Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects
WWI British Army Medal Rolls Index Cards
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Lives of the First World War website
Macclesfield Times: 12 November 1915
With grateful thanks to Mr G Bancroft for permission to reproduce Walter’s letters and the photograph of Azmak Cemetery.