Walter Frederick GOMERY
Walter Frederick Gomery was the eldest son of Frederick Gomery, a collier in South Elmsall, Yorkshire, England and his wife Emma Jane Lloyd. Frederick and Emma had a family of seven children:-
Walter Frederick enlisted at Doncaster in the Tyne Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as an Able Seaman (no. TZ 4396) on 5 May 1915. He seems to have increased his age on enlistment by one year, from 19 years to 20 years - having been born in the first quarter of 1896, he gave his date of birth as the 6 February 1895 to the enlisting officer. At the time he was employed as a miner at the Frickley Colliery, living at 17 Cambridge Street, South Elmsall, Yorkshire. He gave his next of kin as his father Frederick Gomery at 141 Arrow Street, South Elmsall. Walter's younger brother, Percy, enlisted at the same time in May 1915 (they had consecutive service numbers, Percy's being TZ 4395) although he would have been three months short of his 18th birthday, which was the minimum age of enlistment. Percy was retained in England until he was aged 18 years.
Walter went through the basic training program which was to last no less than 35 working days, firstly at the depot for new recruits at Crystal Palace in London, then training at Blandford Camp on Salisbury Plain in Dorset; after which he was drafted into the Nelson Battalion of the Royal Naval Division in August 1915.
The Royal Naval Division
The Royal Naval Division was very unusual in that it served on land, but maintained the traditions and customs of the navy - they grew beards, worked naval watches, flew the white ensign in their camps, used nautical language, adopted naval ranks, were subject to naval pay and discipline, went "ashore" and not "on leave". It was formed by Churchill in August 1914, when he realised there would be 20-30,000 naval reservists who would have no places at sea, into a Division for emergency deployment. The Division was formed around officers and NCO's from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, plus some retired officers from the Brigade of Guards. Many of the naval reservists were miners from the north of England, or from Scotland and Northern Ireland, and this trend continued during the lifetime of the RND. Because it was not part of the War Office, the Admiralty set up a committee under Winston Churchill for the administration of the RND. It was organised into two Naval Brigades of four battalions each - Benbow, Collingwood, Drake and Hawke formed the 1st RN Brigade, and Anson, Howe, Hood and Nelson the 2nd.
Later, in April 1916, administration of the Royal Naval Division was transferred from the Admiralty to the War Office, and was re-designated the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division. Despite the Division's notable achievements during the First World War their record was omitted from the official listings published by the War Office just after the war. Over forty percent of the total Royal Navy casualties in the First World War were suffered not at sea, but on the battlefields of Gallipoli, Salonika, France and Belgium by the Royal Naval Division. Total casualties of the division were nearly 45,000. More Royal Navy personnel were killed and wounded in action in the RND than in the sea-going arm of the service. The Royal Naval Division was disbanded in June 1919 but the spirit was kept alive at many reunions and at annual dinners until 1976 when only eight men were able to attend.
After his basic training Walter was posted to the Nelson Battalion who were serving in Gallipoli at the time. His battalion sailed from Plymouth on 1st August 1915 on board the H.M. Transport Royal George, via Malta and Alexandria, arriving at Mudros on the 20 August 1915.
The Division had been heavily involved in the Gallipoli landing and the fighting that followed, until they were relieved and sent to rest on 25 July 1915. The future of the Division did not look good with the Admiralty recalling all stokers for sea duty, thereby removing the hardened core of trained and disciplined men remaining from the earliest days; and the War Office refusing to provide reinforcements. There was always a certain amount of antipathy from the Army towards the Royal Naval Division. Because Divisional numbers had been heavily reduced by casualties in the first part of the Gallipoli campaign, and by the recalling of the stokers, this meant they were only able for garrison service for the remainder of the Gallipoli campaign. It appeared the Division would be broken up but was instead reorganised into two brigades - the 1st with Drake, Nelson, Hawke and Hood battalions, and the 2nd with the 1st and 2nd Royal Marines, Anson and Howe. Both Brigades served in the front line for the remainder of the Gallipoli campaign taking casualties from the Turks and from illness, and were among the last to be evacuated in 1916.
During the Dardanelles Expedition of the 16,000 men who passed through the Division, over 13,000 became casualties or were sent to hospital through illness. Walters service record shows that he was taken to hospital on 30 November 1915; then on 1 December 1915 he was transferred to the 18th Stationary Hospital at Mudros, on the island of Lemnos, with an undiagnosed ailment which was later diagnosed as dysentery. He wasn't fit to rejoin his unit until 22 December 1915. During December the Division held part of the front line trenches and often came under heavy fire. In early January the decision was made to evacuate the entire peninsula and this was accomplished with very few casualties. What remained of the RND were taken to the island of Lemnos for garrison duty, and camp was pitched near the west shore of Mudros Bay. Here they could go about the routine of camp life without fear of death in the scenic environment of a Greek island, and settled down to a period of light training which must have come as a relief after the fighting and conditions on the Gallipoli peninsula.
Detention at Mudros
It would appear that Walter was not always willing to follow every order given to him. A field hearing was held on 26 February 1916 :-
Whereas it has been represented to me by Sub Lieutenant Cyril Truscott, RNVR that on the 23rd day of February 1916 Walter Frederick Gomery, Able Seaman, Tyne Z4396 (Character, not including this offence: very good) did refuse to obey an order, given by TZ3833 Leading Seaman E. Howard, to remove his gear to enable other men to occupy the place.
I do hereby adjudge him the said Tyne Z4396 Walter Frederick Gomery to be kept in detention for 14 days.
Before awarding the foregoing punishment, I did, on the 26th day of February 1916, personally and publicly, in the presence of the accuser and accused, investigate the matter, and having heard the evidence of Sub Lieutenant Cyril Truscott RNVR and Tyne Z3833 Leading Seaman E Howard in support of the charge, as well as what the Accused had to offer in his defense, and he calling no one on his behalf, I consider the charge to be substantiated against him, and [taking into consideration that this is the first offence registered against him in the Conduct Book], I adjudge him to be punished as before stated.
Nelson Battalion, RND, In the Field, the 26th day of February 1916. Signed H.R.Robson, Lieutenant Commander, RNVR
For this refusal to obey an order Walter was awarded 14 days Field Punishment No.1. to be served in cells at Mudros. Field Punishment No.1 is described as "The offender may, unless the court-martial or CO otherwise directs: (a) Be kept in irons. (b) Be attached by straps, irons or ropes for not more than 2 hours in 1 day to a fixed object. Must not be attached for more than 3 out of 4 consecutive days, or for more than 21 days in all. (c) Be made to labour as if he were undergoing imprisonment with hard labour."
Walter rejoined his unit from the cells at Mudros on 13 March 1916. Just over a month later on 25 April 1916 he was again in trouble for using insolent and abusive language to P.O. Furmark, and for refusing to pipe down (those nautical terms again!) when ordered to do so by C.P.O. F.Jones. For these misdemeanors he was awarded 14 days Field Punishment, from which he was released on 10 May 1916.
Walter's younger brother, Percy, had disembarked for Gallipoli on board the H.M. Transport Olympic, departing from Southampton on 16 February 1916 with a large RND draft, arriving at the RND Base Depot on Mudros on 26 February 1916 - the same day Walter was sentenced to 14 days field punishment to be served in cells at Mudros. Percy remained at the RND Base Depot at Mudros until 25 April 1916 when he joined the Nelson Battalion.
The Somme Campaign, France
Walter was off field punishment in time to embark with the rest of the Nelson Battalion on the Ionian on 16 May 1916, arriving in Marseille on 22 May, and in the area north west of Arras in northern France, in June. The men arrived in France very dispirited. Having fought with distinction on Gallipoli they had been hoping for leave in England, and every man was hoping this would happen as they made their way by train up through France, but it was not to be. It was an additional blow to learn that the officers who had served for some time on Gallipoli had been given home leave.
A major reorganisation took place when they reached France and the Division was, for the first time, complemented with field artillery, heavy and medium trench mortar companies, machine gun units, and allocated an ammunition column. In mid-June the Division received a number and became known as the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division consisting of three brigades - the 188th with Howe and Anson plus two Royal Marine battalions; Hood, Hawke, Drake and Nelson battalions the 189th; and the 190th an army brigade. This marked the end of a chapter of the RND as a purely naval division.
In mid-June they were moved forward from the Army concentration area to join the IVth Corps which held the line between Lens and Vimy Ridge, and were encamped around the village of Dieval, a few miles north west of Arras, in the Angres - Souchez sector. From here they could clearly hear the noise of the guns, and occasionally shrapnel and dud anti-aircraft shells fell nearby. The RND battalions had to be trained in the different style of trench warfare needed in France, the use of machine and Lewis guns, and Stokes mortars, plus there was the usual rear line work of digging, road building, and moving stores and ammunition. They underwent a period of training in army ways, during which various units were attached to the 47th Division in the Angres - Souchez sector of the line for preliminary tours of duty in the trenches. The Angres - Souchez sector was considered to be a relatively quiet part of the front line, but it was here that Walter Frederick Gomery was wounded in action, and was taken to the O.C. 6th Casualty Clearing Station at Barlin where he died on Tuesday the 4th July 1916. He must have been one of the first casualties of the Nelson Battalion to have died in France.
There is a family story, passed down from Walter's brother Percy to his son, then to his grandson that "Percy was too young for active combat, so he was given the job of carrying messages back and forth and other errands. Percy remembers riding past his brother, Walter, while delivering messages. Walter laughed and smiled, and asked him what on earth was he doing here? Walter was waiting to go over the top, the big push.When Percy returned from his errand he found Walter in the trench with his head blown off. Apparently Walter's companion in the trench had just reached out for some cigarettes, then turned back to find Walter severely wounded, a bomb having virtually landed on top of him."
Walter was buried in Barlin Communal Cemetery Extension which lies about 11 kilometres south west of Bethune. The cemetery is situated to the north of the village on the D171 road to Houchin. The cemetery extension is entered from the road by six steps, leading through a small building into a grassed area, surrounded by Canadian maple trees and containing the Cross and the War Stone. On the far side of this "green church" are the graves. They are bounded on the two open sides by a low rubble wall.
Percy Gomery remained with the Nelson Battlion after his brother's death. He was hospitalised with trench fever on 6 November 1916, thereby missing the Battle of Ancre on the 13-15 November in which the Nelson Battalion suffered heavy losses. After recovering in hospital, and a short spell at the RND Base Depot at Calais, he rejoined the Nelson Battalion on 12 December 1916. Percy was again hospitalised, this time with trench foot, on 24 January 1917 and was invalided home on 27 January 1917, missing the RND action at the Battle of Miraumont on the 17-19 February 1917 and their terrible battering at Gavrelle 23-29 April 1917. It wasn't until the 30 August 1917 that Percy left England and rejoined the Nelson Battalion in northern France. He served through the RND action at Passchendaele 26 October 1917 - 6 November 1917; and at Welch Ridge, Cambrai 30-31 December 1917.
Percy was again stricken with trench foot on 22 January 1918 and invalided back to England on 27 January 1918. Trench foot was a fungal infection of the foot caused by continual exposure to the cold and wet conditions often found in the trenches, if untreated it could become gangrenous, sometimes resulting in the loss of the foot. While Percy was recovering the use of his foot, the Germans were mounting their spring offensive in March 1918, where the RND suffered terribly. The Nelson Battalion was disbanded on 6 February 1918, and when Percy returned to France he was posted to the Drake Battalion RND, on 26 July 1918.
Percy was wounded on 4 September 1918 with a gun-shot wound to the right leg, just after the RND action "Battle and Breaching of the Drocourt-Queant line 2-3 September 1918, and was invalided home for the last time on 7 September 1918. He was discharged to his civil employment as a miner at the South Kirkby Colliery, Doncaster on 6 January 1919.
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