Two local men died on 29th September 1917 whilst on active service with the Royal Field Artillery. Corporal Harry Proctor, 94th Battery, 18th Brigade, died of wounds and Second Lieutenant Walter Sutton Rotherham MM, A Battery, 83rd Brigade, was killed in action.
Harry Proctor was born in Berkswell and baptised at St John Baptist Church on 30th March 1890. He was the youngest of the seven children (four sons, three daughters) of parents George (a labourer) and Jane (née Turner) who had married at Temple Balsall in 1875. The family moved to Dockers Lane, Berkswell between 1887-1890 and then stayed in the village until at least 1917.
Harry became a regular soldier c. 1905. At the time of the 1911 census, he was in India and was a Gunner with the 12th Battery Royal Garrison Artillery. His medal index card shows that he was mobilised soon after the outbreak of the First World War, first entering a Theatre of War on 27th September 1914. He was one of 13 men from Berkswell named in the Coventry Standard 2nd April 1915 as being at the Front, with around 70 men from the village having enlisted in the armed forces.
It’s not known whether any of Harry’s older brothers served in the First World War: George (1874-1940); William (1879-1961); and Tom (1883-1961).
The Coventry Evening Telegraph 8th November 1917 reported on Harry’s death, which had been mentioned in Berkswell Parish Magazine:
Harry Proctor R.F.A., killed in action in France, date as yet unknown. He had served 12 years in the Army and had been fighting in France for just three years, and in spite of being constantly in action during the greater part of that time had never previously been wounded.
Corporal Harry Proctor is buried at Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord. He is also commemorated locally on Berkswell War Memorial.
Walter Sutton Rotherham was born in Olton on 2nd December 1889 at baptised at St Margaret’s Church on 19th January 1890.
His mother, Ada Alice (née Sutton) died shortly after his birth and was buried at St Alphege Churchyard on 10th December 1889, aged just 25. Walter’s father, William James Rotherham, a railway platelayer, finding himself widowed and with a small baby to care for, soon remarried. He married Julia Annie Collins at Solihull on 16th March 1891 and they went on to have two sons – Ernest William (born 1891) and Albert Arthur (1893-1971), who was known as Arthur. Arthur also served in the First World War, joining the Royal Navy on 25th April 1917, giving his previous occupation as a relief porter on the Great Western Railway.
Walter also spent a few years with the Great Western Railway, working as a Lad Porter at Acocks Green station between November 1905 and April 1909. By 1911, Walter seems to have changed career and was working as a gardener at Gloddaeth Hall, Llandudno, although his age is incorrectly recorded as 30 (he would actually have been 21). His father, stepmother, and two half-brothers, were still living in Olton, with all the men listed as working on the railways.
On the outbreak of war, Walter Rotherham volunteered for service with the Royal Horse Artillery, joining the ranks as a Bombardier. He was Mentioned in Despatches on 1st June 1915, and awarded the Military Medal in October 1916, being promoted to the rank of Sergeant at the same time. The London Gazette of 25th August 1917 included the name of Sergeant Walter S. Rotherham as one of the warrant and non-commissioned officers “to be 2nd Lieutenants for service in the field”, effective 9th July 1917.
He was killed in action on 29th September, together with another officer, Major Lesser Joseph Samuels, and five other ranks. The battalion war diary notes the batteries taking over guns in the line on 27th September and undertaking bursts of fire and harrassing fire over the next three days, with “enemy artillery very active.”
Walter Rotherham has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. He is also commemorated locally on war memorials at St Margaret’s Church, Olton and Olton United Reformed Church.
If you have any further information about either of these men, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977