Two men who died on Sunday 25th October 1914 are commemorated locally. Private Alfred Hector Rowland Gwinnett is believed to have been killed by a sniper whilst serving with the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He is commemorated locally at Solihull and Knowle.
Captain Sir Francis Ernest Waller Bt. died on the same day, serving with the Royal Fusiliers (6th Battalion, but attached to the 4th Battalion). The Evening Despatch 25 November 1914 reported that Sir Francis had been ordered to take some lost trenches and guns, which he did successfully. However, when he was rising to urge his men to the final charge, he was severely wounded and died a few hours later. He is commemorated locally at Forest Hall, Meriden (home to the Woodmen of Arden).
Alfred Gwinnett’s family was led to believe that he was shot by a sniper whilst getting water for some wounded men (The Price a Parish Paid: Knowle and Dorridge in the Great War by Michael Harrison). The family also understood that he enlisted at the age of 17, two years younger than the permitted age for overseas service, and that his mother’s letter requesting his release arrived just a few days after his death. Knowle Parish Magazine, December 1914 recorded that he was “buried in a French garden”.
However, the General Register Office birth indexes show the birth of Alfred Hector Rowland Gwinnett registered in Solihull between April-June 1895 which, assuming this is the correct person, would have made him old enough to enlist and serve overseas by the outbreak of the war. Unfortunately, his service record appears not to have survived. He was apparently born in Tanworth-in-Arden and was living in Knowle at the time he enlisted. His medal index card records that he first entered a Theatre of War on 22nd August 1914.
He is commemorated on Solihull War Memorial and in the Soldiers’ Chapel, Knowle, as well as on the Ploegsteert memorial in Belgium.
Captain Sir Francis Waller was the 4th Baronet Waller of Braywick Lodge, Berkshire. He inherited the title at the age of 11 after the death of his father, aged 54, on 9th February 1892. His father, Major-General Sir George Henry Waller, had held the title for less than two weeks, following the death of his own father, the 2nd Baronet, on 29th January 1892.
Sir Francis’s father had inherited Woodcote House, Leek Wootton from his cousin, George Wise, in 1888 (information from Leek Wootton History Group website). Following his education at Harrow (Headmaster’s House, 1894-8) and Sandhurst, Sir Francis was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant with the Royal Fusiliers in August 1899, and served in South Africa during the Boer War. He retired from the Regular Army in January 1908, feeling it was his duty to return to live in Leek Wootton, where he was principal landowner, Patron of the living of Lillington Church, and Lord of the Manor. He rejoined the Royal Fusiliers on the outbreak of war in 1914, and was posted to the 4th Battalion.
According to an article in the Leamington Spa Courier 14 June 1901 marking his coming of age, he was a keen cricketer, having his own private ground at Woodcote and being President and ground-landlord of the Leamington Cricket Club. He is also known to have been a member of the Warwickshire Polo Club in Leamington Spa, winning the Warwickshire Challenge Cup in 1912 with the Friz Hill team. He must also have been a member of the exclusive Woodmen of Arden archery club, as he is commemorated on an oak plaque on the wall of the club’s home at Forest Hall, Meriden. Founded in 1795 with the Earl of Aylsford as Lord Warden, membership of the club is limited to a maximum of 80, and is by invitation only. Club members still shoot with the 6ft-longbow, made of yew, of the style used at the Battle of Agincourt. The four-day Great Warmote contest takes place in 18th-century clothes of Lincoln Green coats and hats, and white trousers.
Following Sir Francis’s death, memorial services were held in November 1914 at churches in Leek Wootton and Lillington. The vicar of Leek Wootton, Rev. E. Riley, paid a fulsome tribute to Sir Francis in the parish magazine:
On Sunday, October 25th, Captain Sir Francis Waller, Bart., D.L., gave his life for his country and for those principles of honour and freedom which have made that country great. His death was noble, and his whole life harmonised with it. He has gone from our sight, but he still lives in the hearts of all who ever had the privilege of his acquaintance, and especially will his name be cherished by the people of this parish, to whom he was the embodiment of many virtues. While others talked, Sir Francis quietly worked, wherever there was good to be done. No thought of selfish ease ever clouded the horizon of his life, and thus, while we mourn his departure from among us, we thank God for the beautiful and inspiring record of his life, whether as loyal Churchman, brave soldier, considerate and benevolent Squire, and last, but not least, so lovable in his home.
The baronetcy was inherited by Sir Francis’s brother, Sir Wathen Arthur Waller, who lived at Leek Wootton until the outbreak of the Second World War, when he loaned the house to the Red Cross for use as a convalescent hospital. Sir Wathen died suddenly in 1947, as he was preparing to return to the refurbished house. His widow sold the house in 1948 to Warwickshire County Council and it became the headquarters of the Warwickshire County Constabulary (later Warwickshire Police).
Waller family papers dating from 1291 until 1937 are held at Warwickshire County Record Office (ref.: CR 341).
If you have any more information about Private Gwinnett or Captain Sir Francis Waller, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
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