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Walter Hanson

Walter HansonPrivate Walter Hanson, 29973, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 2nd Battalion

Walter Hanson was born in Ossett in 1897, the youngest child of Walter Hanson and his wife, Priscilla (nee Pollard) who were married in 1879. They had seven children from their marriage, but sadly two children had died before April 1911. All of the children were born in Ossett.

In 1901 Walter Hanson senior, a teamer at a rag warehouse, and Priscilla were living with their five children on Healey Road. Walter Hanson senior died in 1904 aged 48 years, and in 1911, his widow Priscilla was living in the family home with three of her children including Walter, aged 13, who was now working as an errand boy.

Walter Hanson’s army service record has not survived but it is known that He enlisted at Dewsbury and that he was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals, but not the 1914/15 Star, which indicates that he did not serve overseas before 31st December 1915.

The 2nd Battalion of KOYLI was a regular army battalion and in August 1914 was based in Dublin as part of the 13th Brigade in 5th Division. On the 16th August 1914, the Battalion landed at Le Havre and on the 28th December 1915 the battalion transferred to 97th Brigade in 32nd Division.

2nd Battalion, KOYLI had been in France with 13th Brigade, 5th Division, since August 1914, participating in Mons and the subsequent retreat, Battle of the Marne, Battle of the Aisne, the La Basee front, moving north to participate in the First Battle of Ypres.

The Third Battle of Ypres was officially terminated by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig with the opening of the Battle of Cambrai on the 20 November 1917. Nevertheless, a comparatively unknown set-piece attack, the only large-scale night operation carried out on the Flanders front during the campaign, was launched twelve days later on the 2nd December.1

At 01.55 hours on the bright, moonlit night of the 2nd December 1917, the 2nd Battalion of The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry launched an attack as part of the only large-scale night offensive during the entire Passchendaele campaign. The men moved out towards the German front from positions some 500 yards off into the fields north of the current Passchendaele New British Cemetery wall, moving diagonally cross country towards the north-east.

Silhouetted by the moonlight, the men were seen immediately as soon as they rose to the attack and were scythed down by a murderous cross fire from German machine-guns sited in a string of shell holes and the rubble of several farm buildings. The battalions on either side of the KOYLI: 2nd Rifle Brigade to the right and 16th Highland Light Infantry to the left, lost direction and everyone cut across each other's axis as they all struggled forward into the swamp.

Absolute chaos reigned. The attack failed with very heavy losses. Almost all the battalion's officers and senior NCOs became casualties. Six officers and twenty-three men were killed with 120 men wounded and forty-one missing.2

Private Walter Hanson was one of the forty-one missing soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of KOYLI. He has no marked grave, but his name is on the memorial at Tyne Cot Cemetery near Passchendaele.

The "Ossett Observer" 3 had this obituary for Private Walter Hanson:

"Official news has been received that Private Walter Hanson (20), the son of Mrs. Walter Hanson, a widow, of 27, George-street, Healey-road, Ossett, met with his death in the war on December 3rd. Deceased who used to be a clerk in the education office at Batley joined the army in May 1916 and went out to France fourteen months ago. He was connected with the Ossett Green Congregational Sunday School and was well-known."

Passchendaele 1917

Above: The mud and the blood at Passchendaele in late 1917

Private Walter Hanson died on the 3rd December 1917, aged 20 years, the son of Priscilla Hanson, of 27, George St., Healey Road, Ossett, and is remembered Panels 108 to 111 at the Tyne Cot Memorial,4 Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. The Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing forms the north-eastern boundary of Tyne Cot Cemetery, which is located 9 kilometres north east of Ieper town centre, on the Tynecotstraat, a road leading from the Zonnebeekseweg (N332). The names of those from United Kingdom units are inscribed on Panels arranged by Regiment under their respective Ranks. The names of those from New Zealand units are inscribed on panels within the New Zealand Memorial Apse located at the centre of the Memorial.

The Tyne Cot Memorial is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient. Broadly speaking, the Salient stretched from Langemarck in the north to the northern edge in Ploegsteert Wood in the south, but it varied in area and shape throughout the war.

The Salient was formed during the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914, when a small British Expeditionary Force succeeded in securing the town before the onset of winter, pushing the German forces back to the Passchendaele Ridge. The Second Battle of Ypres began in April 1915 when the Germans released poison gas into the Allied lines north of Ypres. This was the first time gas had been used by either side and the violence of the attack forced an Allied withdrawal and a shortening of the line of defence.

There was little more significant activity on this front until 1917, when in the Third Battle of Ypres an offensive was mounted by Commonwealth forces to divert German attention from a weakened French front further south. The initial attempt in June to dislodge the Germans from the Messines Ridge was a complete success, but the main assault north-eastward, which began at the end of July, quickly became a dogged struggle against determined opposition and the rapidly deteriorating weather. The campaign finally came to a close in November with the capture of Passchendaele.

The German offensive of March 1918 met with some initial success, but was eventually checked and repulsed in a combined effort by the Allies in September. The battles of the Ypres Salient claimed many lives on both sides and it quickly became clear that the commemoration of members of the Commonwealth forces with no known grave would have to be divided between several different sites.

The site of the Menin Gate was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through it on their way to the battlefields. It commemorates those of all Commonwealth nations, except New Zealand, who died in the Salient, in the case of United Kingdom casualties before 16 August 1917 (with some exceptions). Those United Kingdom and New Zealand servicemen who died after that date are named on the memorial at Tyne Cot, a site which marks the furthest point reached by Commonwealth forces in Belgium until nearly the end of the war. Other New Zealand casualties are commemorated on memorials at Buttes New British Cemetery and Messines Ridge British Cemetery.

The Tyne Cot Memorial now bears the names of almost 35,000 officers and men whose graves are not known. The memorial, designed by Sir Herbert Baker with sculpture by Joseph Armitage and F.V. Blundstone, was unveiled by Sir Gilbert Dyett on 20 June 1927.

The memorial forms the north-eastern boundary of Tyne Cot Cemetery, which was established around a captured German blockhouse or pill-box used as an advanced dressing station. The original battlefield cemetery of 343 graves was greatly enlarged after the Armistice when remains were brought in from the battlefields of Passchendaele and Langemarck, and from a few small burial grounds. It is now the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world in terms of burials. At the suggestion of King George V, who visited the cemetery in 1922, the Cross of Sacrifice was placed on the original large pill-box. There are three other pill-boxes in the cemetery.

There are now 11,956 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in Tyne Cot Cemetery, 8,369 of these are unidentified.

References:

1. "A Moonlight Massacre: The Night Operation on the Passchendaele Ridge, 2nd December 1917" PhD thesis by Michael Stephen LoCicero

2. "2 December 1917, Pte. Albert Cooksey"

3. "Ossett Observer", 5th January 1918

3. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site