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Walter Earnshaw

Fusilier Walter Earnshaw, 14546062, 1st Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment).

Walter Earnshaw was born on the 10th April 1913, the son of William H. Earnshaw and his wife Ellen (nee Rigg), who married in late 1912 in the Dewsbury area. Walter married Jane Oates in Spring 1936 in the Dewsbury Registration District. There were four sons born to the couple: Barry, born in late 1936; Malcolm, born in 1938; Ronald, born in 1940 and George Earnshaw, born in 1942. In 1939 the couple and their two sons born by that time were living at 36, High Street, Gawthorpe, Ossett and Walter was working as a mechanical coal cutter.

After Walter Earnshaw's death in 1944, his widow Jane Earnshaw subsequently married Mieczyslaw Boryn in Spring 1949 when the marriage was registered in Lower Agbrigg which then included the Ossett area.

During the Second World War, the 1st Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) was part of the 17th Indian Infantry Brigade for the majority of the war and they were attached to the 8th Indian Infantry Division and served with them in the Italian Campaign in 1944.

The four battles for Monte Cassino in Italy took place between January and May 1944. They saw the Allied Forces involved in some of the most bitter fighting of the Second World War, where steep mountain slopes and winter weather were combined with the German defenders’ determination and skill. The battles involved troops from America, Britain, Canada, France, India, New Zealand and Poland in fighting that compared in its intensity and horror with the battles of the Western Front in the First World War.

Trooper Walter Earnshaw was killed in action on the 12th May 1944 during the Fourth Battle of Cassino (11th May – 5th June 1944). The attack began at 11 pm on the 11th May with an artillery barrage along the entire front and an equally savage German response. The Eighth Army divisions fought their way forward in the mist against stubborn defence. Tanks and infantry edged their way forward. In hard fighting the British XIII Corps ruptured the Gustav Line. Tank fought tank as Canadian and British armour broke through. By the dawn on the 12th May some of the Allied units had made significant advances, particularly the success of Indian 8th Division in establishing a bridge over the Rapido River to bring forth tanks of Canadian 1st Armoured Brigade.

Monte Cassino

Above: Monte Cassino monastery 1944.

It took the allies three months to finally take the Monte Cassino monastery, a monastery set in some of the roughest terrain in Europe. Both sides could not adequately evacuate their dead and so both sides frequently fought around the bodies of their decomposing dead friends. The huge causality rate suffered by both sides seems to have more in common with the trench warfare of WW1 rather than any notions of mobile warfare of WW2.

The "Ossett Observer" had this obituary for Trooper Walter Earnshaw:1

"Killed in Central Mediterranean - Fusilier Walter Earnshaw, Gawthorpe - Mrs. Jane Earnshaw, of 95, Ake's Yard, Gawthorpe, has received a communication from the War Office stating that her husband, Fusilier Walter Earnshaw (31), has been killed in action whilst serving in the Central Mediterranean theatre of war.

Fusilier Earnshaw, who was a native of Kirkhamgate and attended the council school, was employed as a dyer by Wilson Brothers, Chickenley. He joined up 15 months ago and went to North Africa last September and subsequently to Italy. Earnshaw was a member of Belmont WMC, Gawthorpe and leaves a widow and four children with whom deepest sympathy is felt."

Fusilier Walter Earnshaw died on the 12th May 1944, aged 31 years and is buried at grave reference XVIII F 13, Cassino War Cemetery, Italy. Cassino War Cemetery lies in the Commune of Cassino, Province of Frosinone, 139 kilometres south-east of Rome.

On the 3rd September 1943 the Allies invaded the Italian mainland, the invasion coinciding with an armistice made with the Italians who then re-entered the war on the Allied side.

Progress through southern Italy was rapid despite stiff resistance, but by the end of October, the Allies were facing the German winter defensive position known as the Gustav Line, which stretched from the river Garigliano in the west to the Sangro in the east. Initial attempts to breach the western end of the line were unsuccessful. Operations in January 1944 landed troops behind the German lines at Anzio, but defences were well organised, and a breakthrough was not actually achieved until 18 May, when Cassino was finally taken.

The site for Cassino War Cemetery was originally selected in January 1944, but the development of the battle during the first five months of that year made it impossible to use it until after the Germans had withdrawn from Cassino. During these early months of 1944, Cassino saw some of the fiercest fighting of the Italian campaign, the town itself and the dominating Monastery Hill proving the most stubborn obstacles encountered in the advance towards Rome. The majority of those buried in the war cemetery died in the battles during these months.

There are now 4,271 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War buried or commemorated at Cassino War Cemetery. 289 of the burials are unidentified. Within the cemetery stands the Cassino Memorial, which commemorates over 4,000 Commonwealth servicemen who took part in the Italian campaign whose graves are not known.2


1. "Ossett Observer", Saturday, 3rd June 1944.

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site