Two local men died on 4th March 1917 as a result of their war service. Private Ernest William Clifford, 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, and Private Walter James Painting, 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment.
Although Soldiers Died in the Great War gives Ernest William Clifford‘s birthplace as Bath, records show he was actually born in Birmingham in 1896. He was the second child of parents, William (a general labourer from Bath) and Nellie (née Snow) who had married at Bath Register Office in June 1892. The couple’s eldest child, Leila Helena (1892-1903), was born in Solihull and died as a child. Ernest’s four other siblings – Barbara Janet (born 1900), Sydney George (born 1904), Dora Beatrice (born 1906) and Joan (born 1909) – were all born in Solihull. At the time of Leila’s burial in 1903, the family was living in Elmdon Heath.
By the time of the 1911 census, Ernest was 14 years old and working as a grocer’s errand boy. He was living in Warwick Road, Solihull with his parents and siblings. Ernest’s service record seems not to have survived, so we don’t know when he enlisted, although he does not appear to have served overseas prior to 1916.
Ernest’s father, William, enlisted in the Army in June 1915, giving his age as 44, the same age that he gave on the 1911 census! Prior to enlistment, William was working as a horse driver for furniture remover and haulage contractor, R. Neale, Solihull High Street. The firm gave him a testimonial, commending him to the Army as suitable to take charge of horses, and as a competent driver with a single or pair of horses. William joined the Army Service Corps, and served overseas with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force from November 1915, returning home in May 1917, two months after the death of his son, Ernest.
Ernest was killed in action in France and is buried at Sailly-Saillisel British Cemetery. He is also commemorated locally on the Solihull war memorial.
Walter James Painting was born in Bentley Heath in 1878 and was baptised at St Alphege Church, Solihull on 3rd November 1878. He was the youngest of the ten children (seven sons, three daughters) of parents, James (an agricultural labourer) and Louisa (née Barnes) who were both from Hook Norton, Oxfordshire. The couple seem to have moved to Warwickshire from Oxfordshire sometime between 1868-1871, and were living in Hockley Heath at the time of the 1871 census, moving to Bentley Heath by 1873, Stechford by 1881, and Acocks Green by 1901.
James died in 1902, aged 65, and Louisa died in 1910, aged 73, so both were spared the knowledge of the death in action of their youngest son.
Walter became an annealer at a wire works in Birmingham, and married Rose Finch at SS Peter and Paul’s Church, Aston in 1899. The couple went on to have five children: Walter James (1899-1959); Sidney Alfred (1900-1966); Leonard (1902-1954); Winifred Rose (1906-1960) and Eva Emily Louisa (1912-1992).
We don’t know when Walter joined the Army, but it appears that he didn’t serve overseas before 1916, as his medal index card shows no entitlement to a 1914 or 1914/15 Star. Walter was killed in action in France on 4th March 1917 and has no known grave. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, as well as locally on the memorial in the Soldiers’ Chapel at Knowle parish church.
Walter’s widow, Rose, died in 1966, aged 89.
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Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
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