Watching the ceremony at the Menin Gate tonight to commemorate 100 years since the start of one of the bloodiest battles of WW1 brings back emotional memories of my visit to the area in 2002. During my trip to many of the war graves I was privileged to lay five poppy wreaths at the various sites to thank and acknowledge various ancestors who gave up their young lives for our future.
This article is about two of the soldiers I laid wreaths for, John William Whitfield, my late husband’s Great Uncle, and Walter James Keevill, my Great Uncle. They both died during the Battle of Passchendale (Third Battle of Ypres) – John dying on 9th October and Walter on the 10th October 1917. I have no knowledge if they met. They have no known graves and are commemorated with honour at the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing alongside another 35,000 soldiers. Tyne Cot also has 11,961 graves, of which 8,373 contain unidentified soldiers.
The month of July this year has brought a lot of rain, which in my mind is very fitting as our lads had to contend with very wet weather and lots and lots of mud. Please take a moment to read through the war diaries (link below) of the 42nd Battalion (Walter James Keevill) which mentions the weather several times.
JOHN WILLIAM WHITFIELD Private 15182, 10th Battalion Duke of Welligton (West Riding division). Killed in action 9th October, 1917, near Passchendaele aged 26. Remembered with honour on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing.
Initially his parents, Thomas and Sarah Whitfield, were informed he was wounded and missing on 9th October 1917.
Heartbreakingly a month later they place a newspaper advert asking for information.
Mr and Mrs T Whitfield, of Linton, inform us that their son, Private John William Whitfield, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, was officially reported wounded in France on October 9th last, and that they have heard no further news of him. If any of his comrades see this announcement and can throw any light on this matter, they would be doing a kindly act if they will communicate with the anxious parents.
In September 1918, nearly a year after he was reported wounded and missing the family receive news that he was officially killed on that date.
War Records – There appears to be some confusion in that although John was in the 10th Battalion, Duke of Wellington (West Riding division), his death certificate states he was in the 8th Battalion.
The 10th Battalion were in the 69th Brigade, 23rd Division. They were not involved in the fighting of 9th October 1917 – The Battle of Poelcapelle (a ‘battle’ within the ‘Battle of Passchendaele’ as the Third Ypres came to be called.
The 8th Battalion were involved that day, as part of the 3nd Brigade, 11th Division.
On Tuesday 9th October 1917 ( a clear day, no rainfall, temperature 53 degrees (F), the 11th Division attacked at 5.20a.m. with one brigade.
With the 6th Green Howards (32 Brigade) and the 9th West Yorkshire Regiment – advancing to the left of the village of Poelkapelle. The Green Howards initially met little resistance in the village but on nearing the fork in the road opposite the Brewery, they came under heavy fire from Meunier House and from the direction of Stirling House. They cleared a number of pillboxes northwest of the Brewery. These could not be held and a line was established a short distance in the rear.
At 11.15 a.m. the 8th Duke of Wellington’s were brought up in close support.
The West Yorks encountered enfilade* fire from the village and took severe casualties. Seeing the Green Howards pulling back, they too fell back and eventually established a line near their assembly position. The 6th Lincolns were brought in line between Pheasant Farm and Retour Crossroads.
On Wednesday, 10th October, 1917, the 11th Division were relieved by the 18th Division. Too late for John who had died the day before.
*enfilade – a volley of gunfire directed along a line from end to end.
LINTON SOLDIER’S SACRIFICE (extract from local newspaper 6th September 1918) News has been received from the record Office, York, by Mr. & Mrs. T. W. Whitfield, Linton, that their son, Sapper J.W. Whitfield, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, reported wounded and missing on the 9th October, 1917 is now officially stated to have been killed on that date. He voluntarily enlisted, thinking it his duty to fight for his Country, in January 1915. After being trained at different camps in England, he was, in August, 1915, drafted to France. After serving in the trenches for some months he was transferred to the Engineers (as platelayer) where he remained until taken back to his old regiment in September 1917. He was 25 years of age, and a genial disposition which made him a great favourite in the village, where he will be much missed. His letters home were always bright and cheerful. Great sympathy is felt for the parents and family. Previous to joining the Army he was employed on the Yorkshire Dales Railway as a platelayer on the Rylstone section. WW1 Commemorative Scroll He whom this scroll commemorates was numbered among those who, at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom. Let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten. Pte. John William Whitfield W. Riding Regt.
On 10 October 1919 – amongst 4 memorial notices in the paper, one reads as follows: WHITFIELD – In memory of a dear comrade, Private J. W. Whitfield, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, who fell in action on October 9th 1917. You did your duty nobly well and glad the price did pay; And in the years that are to be Your memory will remain. Inserted by Sapper P. Heyburn (on Service)
A year later the wording has changed to
WHITFIELD – In loving memory of a dear comrade, Private J. W. Whitfield, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, who was reported wounded and missing October 9th, 1917, later reported killed on that date. The peaceful sleep of Death is his in battlefields afar; with his young life he dearly paid The dreadful toll of war. Inserted by P. Hepburn, Longstone, Slateford, Midlothian
There is also a photograph and entry in the book Craven’s Roll of Honour page 288 – copy of the book is in my possession.
WALTER JAMES KEEVILL Staff Sergeant T876 (Armourer) Royal Army Ordnance Corps attached to 42nd Brigade R.F.A. Killed in action on Wednesday 10th October 1917, aged 31. Remembered with honour on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing.
Mentioned in dispatches – unsure as to why and there seems to be no information on his medal record.
War Diaries – link below
Life before the war
John William Whitfield was born 15 June 1891 at Lower Heights, Skyerthorns, North Yorkshire, being baptised a few months later at the Primitive Methodist Church, Grassington. His parents, Thomas William and Sarah Hogg Whitfield had 6 children, with John being 4th in line and the only boy. Florence (know as Flossie and my late husband’s Paternal Grandma) his youngest sister had the same birthday as John, 15th June. Consequently she never liked to celebrate her birthday.
1901 Census – Linton in Craven
• Thomas Whitfield, Head, M, 41, Navvy, Scrafton
• Sarah Ann Whitfield, Wife, M, 38, Scrafton
• Vina Whitfield, Daug, 12, Scrafton
• Elizabeth Whitfield, Daug, 11, Skirethorns
• John William Whitfield, Son, 9, Skirethorns
• Harriet Whitfield, Daug, 4, Linton
RG13 piece 4035 folio 30 page 3
1911 Census – Linton Skipton
• Thomas Whitfield Head 50 Married Railway Fencer M.R.C. worker Yorkshire West Scrafton
• Sarah A Whitfield Wife 49 Married 6 6 Yorkshire Caldberg
• John W Whitfield Son 20 Single Railway Platelayer M. Rly. Co. worker Yorkshire Linton
• Harriet Whitfield Daughter 14 School Yorkshire Linton
• Florence Whitfield Daughter 6 School Yorkshire Linton
Walter James Keevill was born 26th December 1885 at Boston Rod, Hanwell, Middlesex. His parents Henry John and Elizabeth Keevill had 8 children of which Walter was the 5th oldest. My Grandmother Daisy, was his youngest sister.
1891 Census – 44 Maynard Street, Leicester
• Henry Keevill, Head, M, 34, Manager Shoe Mercury, London, Paddington
• Elizabeth J, Keevill, Wife, M, 39, London, Paddington
• Amy E Keevill, Daur, 13, Shoe Fitter, London, Islington
• Alice H Keevill, Daur, 11, scholar(half time) Elastic Web Weaver, London, Paddington
• Henry J Keevill, Son, 9, Scholar, Middlesex, Hanwell
• Herbert E. Keevill, Son, 7, Scholar, Middlesex, Hanwell
• Walter J. Keevill, Son, 5, Scholar, Middlesex, Hanwell
• Elsie A. Keevill, Daur, 3, Scholar, London, Paddington
• Lily E. Keevill, Daur, 1, Leicester
RG12 piece 2527 ecclesiastical parish of St Saviours
1901 Census – 18 Curzon Street, Leicester
• Henry Keevill, Head, M, 45, Cashier Commercial, London, Paddington
• Elizabeth J. Keevill, Wife, M, 48, London Paddington
• Alice H. Keevill, Daug, S, 21, Hosiery Seamer, London, Paddington
• Henry J. Keevill, Son, S, 19, Railway Clerk, Middlesex, Hanwell
• Herbert E. Keevill, Son, S, 17, Cigar Bundler & Sorter, Middlesex, Hanwell
• Walter J. Keevill, Son, S, 15, Hosiery Machinist Fitter, Middlesex, Hanwell
• Elsie A. Keevill, Daug, S, 13, Book Binder, London, Paddington
• Lily E. Keevill, Daug, S, 11, School girl, Leicester
• Daisy E. Keevill, Daug, S, 9, School girl, Leicester
• Priscilla Keevill, Stepmother, W, 68, Pembroke, St. Tissles
RG13 piece 2991, folio 145, page 4, ecclesiastical parish of St. Lukes
In 1909 Walter married a Beatrice Ellen Sharpe. On the 1911 census they are living together at 62 Walton Street, Leicester. Also listed is a Dora Keevill Sharpe, aged 4 and scribbled underneath is the comment ‘commonly known as Dora Keevill’. I believe this may be a child they had out of wedlock some two years before they married. Dora’s birth appears twice in the General Register Office index, once as Dora Sharpe and once as Dora Keevill. Dora went on to marry a Francis Southwell in 1930.
Beatrice, Walters wife, died in 1966, aged 79 having never married again.
For more information on Passchendaele go to