This biography was written by Victoria Doran
Walter Riley was a young man from Nantwich who died less than 3 months after he landed in France.
Nantwich War Memorial
Walter Riley was born in the summer of 1895 in Willaston, Cheshire and was baptised in St Mary, Nantwich on 15 September. For those of us from Wirral, the existence of a second village of Willaston in Cheshire comes as a surprise. This Willaston is a village near Nantwich, of which it was a township until it became a civil parish in its own right in 1866.
Walter was the youngest of the 4 children (2 daughters followed by 2 sons) of Henry Riley (1860-1934) and Fanny Green (1858-1898). Henry Riley worked as a tanner all his life, with some success as he left the 2016 equivalent of £180,000 when he died in 1934.
It is not surprising to find that the Riley family has Irish origins. Walter’s great grandparents Terence Riley (1808-1866) and his wife Catherine (1815-???) brought their first child Andrew Riley (1833-1912) from Dublin to Birkenhead by 1838, where Andrew’s brother John was born. About 1841 the growing family moved to Stapely, another township near Nantwich, and by 1851 they were living in Hospital Street in the centre of Nantwich. Terence Riley was an agricultural labourer. He and Catherine were Roman Catholic and had 5 children. After Terence’s death Catherine worked variously as a seamstress and a laundress, so the family were not well off.
However Andrew Riley, Walter’s grandfather, was apprenticed to a cabinet maker and became a joiner in Nantwich. His marriage to Mary (1834-1902) has not been found, and may have been as a Roman Catholic. Andrew and Mary had 9 children, and Henry, Walter’s father was one of the middle ones. The extended Riley clan was large, and they tended to use the same first names for their children, so it is at times difficult to sort out.
In October 1881 Henry Riley married Fanny Green in Nantwich. Her father George Green (1824-1899) was a blacksmith born in Nantwich. George was the son of a cordwainer, Joseph Green (1789-1832) whose origins are unknown, though he probably married Walter’s great grandmother Ann at St Anne, Liverpool on 4 Mar 1819. They must have moved to Nantwich immediately as George’s older brother Joseph was born there in time to be baptised at St Mary on 18 November 1819.
On 4 October 1847 George Green married Dinah Heath (1828-1899). Dinah was born and brought up in Nantwich. No father’s name was given at her baptism but she was recorded as Dinah Heath Evans, so probably her spinster mother, Mary Heath believed the father was one Evans. George and Dinah had 10 children, and Walter’s mother Fanny was one of the middle ones. Fanny lived in Pillory Street, again in the centre of Nantwich, and worked as a machinist in a boot shop before her marriage.
Fanny died aged 40 before Walter’s 3rd birthday, so he is unlikely to have remembered her. By 1901 the family were living at 32 Millstone Lane, Willaston. Though described as a tailoress, probably Walter’s elder sister, 17 year old Emily Jane Riley (1883-1966) was also acting as housekeeper .
At the 1911 census Walter was still living in Willaston and working as a tanner. He must have moved to north west Wirral soon after.
Birkenhead News 9 February 1916
This is all we know of Walter’s connection with north west Wirral. Certainly his father remained in Millstone Lane, Willaston all his life. There is no record of any Riley connected to Walter living in the area at either 1911 or 1914, so the family connection is possibly to his younger sister Maggie Riley (1886-???) who has not been found after 1901. However she was not living in the area at 1911. The family must actually have been living in West Kirby after the war as Walter is commemorated at St Bridget and St Andrew in West Kirby, but not at Holy Trinity, Hoylake, where this newspaper cutting might suggest.
The cutting is actually incorrect as Walter enlisted in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in April 1915, not the King’s Liverpool Regiment. He was posted as Rifleman C/1240 to the 16th Battalion.
King’s Royal Rifle Brigade cap badge
This battalion was raised in September 1914 in Buckinghamshire mainly from members of the Church Lads Brigade, so it was really a ‘Pals’ battalion. Presumably by the time Walter enlisted, some of the Church Lads had failed during training and extra men were needed to bring the battalion to full strength. He will have trained at Rayleigh, Essex; Denham, Buckinghamshire; Clipstone Camp, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire and finally at Perham Down on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire during his 7 months training. The battalion first landed at Le Havre, France on 16 November 1915 as part of the 100th Brigade of the 33rd Division of the 4th Army.
They assembled at Morbecque near the French / Belgian border by 21 November, before moving to about 20 miles south east to positions in the front line near La Bassée. This is south of Ypres and west of Armentières.
La Bassée is at the centre of this map of the front line
No doubt they followed the usual rotations of time in the trenches and time a little further back for rest and recuperation. There will have been shelling and German snipers and a steady attrition of casualties. Sadly on 29 January 1916, Walter was wounded. He was taken to a hospital at Bethune but died 2 hours after he arrived there.
He was buried in Bethune Town Cemetery.
Bethune Town Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France
He is also commemorated on Grange Hill War Memorial at the Rolls of Honour at St Andrew & St Bridget churches, all in West Kirby, and on Nantwich War Memorial
His soldiers effects of £6/11/- were sent to his father Henry. It is not known if his older brother Henry Riley (1890-???) served during the war, but he survived to .execute his father’s will in 1934.
Birth: Jul 1895 at Nantwich, Cheshire
Death: 29 Jan 1916 of wounds in hospital at Bethune, Nord, France
Address: 32 Millstone Lane, Willaston by Nantwich, Cheshire (95) (01) (11);
Occupation: worked for Hoylake & West Kirby Gas & Water Company
Unit: 16th (Church Lads) Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps
Number and Rank: C/1240; Rifleman
Medals: 15 Star, Victory & British War
Buried & Commemorated: Bethune Town Cemetery, Bethune, Pas de Calais, France; Grange Hill War Memorial, West Kirby; St Bridget & St Andrew churches, West Kirby; Nantwich War Memorial
Sources: CWGC, MC, BN, DA, Census: 01, 11, BR, PR, RSE