Remembering Walter Jackson
Walter was born in 1891, the fourth of the six children of James and Emily Mary Jackson. His father, a local Embsay man, worked at the limestone quarry, but died when Walter was 17.
The family moved from Primrose Gill to Rose Terrace, and the widowed Emily, still with an 8 year old daughter to bring up, was supported by two of her teenage children who were still living at home: Ada Ann, who at the tender age of 15 was working as a “nurse girl” (presumably looking after someone’s young children), and Walter, who was a waggoner for Embsay’s wholesale grocer, Arthur Davy.
This life was apparently not exciting enough for young Walter – In January 1912, aged 20, he enlisted in the army, joining the Queen’s Bay’s Dragoon Guards. After training at Aldershot, he was stationed in India, and was still there when war broke out in August 1914. In December 1914 Walter was sent to France with the Inniskilling Dragoons and transferred to the Machine Gun Corps.
The Machine Gun Corps was a newly raised unit, created especially for the duration of the war. Well over 100,000 soldiers served in the Corps, mostly recruited from experienced soldiers who had displayed the necessary shooting skills and an ability to operate the complex Vickers guns. The MGC was often criticised at the time by other units for taking the best and most intelligent soldiers away from other regiments, but it soon proved a vital component of Allied defence. Unfortunately, its official records were destroyed in a fire at its headquarters in 1920, and many of the service records of individual soldiers in the Corps were also destroyed during the Blitz of the Second World War.
We therefore know hardly anything about Walter’s service in France, or that of his brother Willie, also in the MGC, except that in all his 3 years of service on the Western Front, Walter was only able to get home on leave twice – in December 1916 and in August 1917. He finally met his death, aged 26 at the Battle of Cambrai on 1st December 1917. This was a British attack which employed a range of new artillery techniques and massed tanks. Initial success was ultimately reversed by German counter-attack, resulting in 44,000 British and 45,000 German casualties.
His body not found. It took 6 months for the official announcement of his death to be made to his mother. She received the news in a letter from the Red Cross. Walter has no grave, but is commemorated on the Cambrai Memorial in France, the Embsay War cenotaph, and in St Mary’s Church on the brass memorial plaque.
He was remembered at a memorial service in St Mary’s Church, Embsay in June 1918, where the flag was flown at half-mast from the tower. The vicar, Rev. C.V. Brown, made “touching references” to the “noble sacrifice that has been made by our soldiers in the great struggle for Right.”
A year after his death, his grieving family placed their own tribute to him within the “In Memoriam” section of the Craven Herald:
“JACKSON. – In loving memory of Private Walter Jackson, Machine Gun Corps, killed at Cambrai, 1st December, 1917.
For country’s sake your life you gave,
You stood your trials well.
From Mother and Sisters, Embsay, and Brother and Brother-in-law in France.”
Jane Lunnon, Embsay-with-Eastby Historical Research Group. 2017
With thanks to “Craven’s Part in the Great War” website (www.cpgw.org.uk) .