On a recent visit to Walthamstow I took a look at the Vestry House Museum. A former workhouse – built in 1730 – it has a chilling message over the front door: If any would not work neither should he eat. Well, it was chilling for this retired gentleman! Anyway, the building has changed use many times since then – including a spell as the armoury for the local volunteers – but is now the museum for the local area, under the care of Waltham Forest Council, for which it is also the archive and local study area.
In a case upstairs is Walthamstow’s Great War Roll of Honour and at the bottom of the open page I spotted a soldier who had died in Salonika: William Alexander Hernaman.
Hernaman, William Alexander 12903 (Private), enlisted August 1914; Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, formerly of Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. Killed in action Salonica, 11th September 1916.
Both the DCLI and the RIF seem odd choices for a lad from Walthamstow, but men ended up in all sorts and maybe he wasn’t given a choice. His medal index card at The National Archives makes no mention of the DCLI and tells us little more than his eligibility for the British War and Victory Medals. His service reminds me of that of Albert Perkins in my previous post, who was with the DCLI and ended up in a draft of reinforcements for the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 10th (Irish) Division, arriving just in time for the Battle of Kosturino and the subsequent retreat. 6/Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were also with 10th (Irish) Division at Kosturino but, unless the information about William’s arrival in theatre in 1915 has been missed off, it seems likely he was a later arrival in 1916.
The date of William’s death – 11th September 1916 – is the day after 6/RIF’s participation in 10th (Irish) Division’s operation to capture the villages of Karajaköi Bala, Karajaköi Zir and Yeniköi in the Struma valley, as part of 31st Brigade. The attack is described in the Official History (Vol. 1 p.164) thus:
On the front of the 10th Division the whole of the 31st Brigade … crossed the Struma by a hastily-thrown footbridge, ferries, and fords, and by 2.30pm was established in a wood on the left bank, covered by three battalions of the 30th Brigade, which had crossed without opposition the previous night and dug themselves in. The advance began at 3pm, one battalion attacking each village, and was supported by four batteries of the 10th Divisional Artillery, as well as by the heavy artillery and certain batteries of the neighbouring 28th Division. All three battalions were held up short of their objectives by heavy fire, and were withdrawn to the fords after dark, unobserved by the enemy, having suffered 129 casualties. This was the first test of the reorganized 10th Division, and, so far as the battalions engaged were concerned, gave satisfactory proof of steadiness and discipline.
The roll of honour says that William was ‘killed in action’, but the CWGC record simply says ‘died’, which could, of course, mean from disease or accident. It seems likely to me, though – and this is just conjecture – that he was wounded during the attack on the 10th, evacuated to the casualty clearing station at Lahana and died the following day. Several other men from 6/RIF who died in subsequent days are also buried there. The designation ‘died of wounds’ – which I have seen elsewhere – would be more conclusive, but the implication from the roll of honour that he died as a result of enemy action must have come from somewhere. Incidentally, nearly 40 men – including some from 6/RIF – who died on the 10th are buried in the Struma Cemetery.
Whatever the exact circumstances of his end, it is good to be able to remember William who died at the age of 23 and still lies in Lahana Military Cemetery (II.A.4.). He was mourned by his parents – Alexander and Marie Hernaman of Walthamstow – who had these words put on his headstone:
Our love to his memory like ivy clings