Nel settembre del 2017 ho avuto l’onore di accompagnare Susan e David Walker nella visita alla tomba del nonno di Susan, Walter Richardson presso il Giavera British Cemetery.
Susan mi ha raccontato che quando suo nonno è morto in guerra in Italia suo padre Albert aveva solo sette anni. Lei ricorda bene che per tutta la sua vita Albert non ha mai voluto parlare di questo né ha mai visto un film di guerra al cinema o in televisione. Mi ha detto anche che lei è stata la prima componente di tutta la famiglia Richardson a visitare la tomba di Walter, 100 anni dopo la sua morte. Assieme abbiamo visitato anche Crocetta del Montello, dove Walter è morto e dove si trovava la sua sepoltura provvisoria, prima del trasferimento della sua salma al Giavera British Cemetery. Qualche mese dopo mi ha inviato la storia di suo nonno, corredata di foto e documenti, che pubblico qui in versione originale, ma che voglio brevemente riassumere per i lettori che non hanno grande dimestichezza con la lingua inglese.
Walter è nato nel gennaio del 1890 a Swinefleet, nello Yorkshire, sesto figlio di Walter Edwin e Mary Ann Richardson. Nel 1912 sposò Eva Annie Ibbetson dalla quale ebbe quattro figli: Albert, Tom, Sid e Fred, concepito durante una licenza, che nacque appena una settimana prima della morte di Walter. Nel 1916 fu arruolato nel reggimento dei Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Combattè nelle Fiandre, in Francia e infine in Italia dove morì l’8 dicembre 1917
WALTER RICHARDSON (By Susan Walker)
Walter was born in January 1890 on High Street, Swinefleet, the fourth of 6 children of Walter Edwin and Mary Ann Richardson, four of whom were boys all destined to serve in the Forces in the Great War when the time came. He was christened on 13 February 1890 at Swinefleet Methodist Chapel. In the 1891 Census he lived at 57 High Street, Swinefleet aged 1 with his parents Walter Edwin, (32), a hairdresser and fruiterer, his mother Mary Ann, (30), the fruit shopkeeper, and his siblings Charles Edwin (3), Mary E(10) and George (11). By 1901 he was 11 and had acquired 2 more siblings, Harold (9) and Hilda Cecilia (6). His father was now a hairdresser and big brother George was the Greengrocer. Mary was also working – as a general domestic servant.
In 1911 he was 21, a farm labourer, his father was now the Postman and Rural Messenger, his mother was a housewife, Charles was a labourer, Harold an apprentice blacksmith, and Hilda a housemaid at home. George and Mary had left home. There had been 11 children born alive to the Richardsons, of whom sadly only 6 were still living.
Unfortunately this was to be the last census Walter was recorded in. A year later on 12 October 1912 he married Eva Annie Ibbetson who lived at Cavil’s yard further along the High Street with her parents and baby Albert, my father, born 1910. In 1913, Tom was born, followed by Sid in 1915. Later that year, on17 December, he enlisted with the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry at Goole, and joined the colours in March 1916, his rank being a Private and his Service No. 28103. He served with the 7th, 8th and 9th Battalions. His service record hasn’t been found but he appears to have survived active service in France and Flanders and then in November 1917 the 8th Battalion was transferred to northern Italy to help defend the Italian front near the Austrian border. On 4 December the XI and XIV Corps relieved the Italians on the Montello sector of the Piave front. The Montello sector acted as a hinge to the whole Italian line, joining the portion facing north from Mount Tomba to Lake Garda with the defensive line of the River Piave. The Commonwealth troops, although not involved in any large operations, had to carry out continuous patrol work across the River Piave, as well as much successful counter battery work later on. Italy must have seemed like a welcome relief to the British, compared with the Western Front. However, Italy was not without its dangers and on 8th December, after only 4 days, Walter lost his life.
Back at Swinefleet, his mother had a premonition of his death when a picture fell off the wall. Shortly afterwards his widow received 2 letters on the same day, one from him to say he was fine and the other from his Commanding Officer to say he had been killed. An article in the Goole Times records the dreaded letter: “Dear Madame, It is with regret I write this letter, informing you of your husband’s death. I am sorry to say he was killed outright on December 8th. I have taken the liberty of taking two cards and a cap badge from his pocket, as I thought you would like them as mementos. Please accept this letter as a token of respect from his platoon and myself. If I can give you any more details I should be only too pleased. H G Houchin, Capt. C. O. A. Company”.
One of his pals who later returned to Swinefleet told them Walter had been wounded in the neck. Tragically four young boys under 7 had to grow up without a father and Walter never got to see his fourth son Fred who was only a week old when he was killed.
My father was just 7 when it happened and he could never talk about it or watch a war film for the rest of his life.
The Richardsons were a religious family and a memorial service was held for him in Swinefleet Church. They had some Bible bookmarks in white satin printed for loved ones to keep in his memory. The service was reported in the Goole Times on 25 January 1918:
“A memorial service was held in Swinefleet Parish Church on Sunday last for Pte. Walter Richardson. The deceased was killed in action whilst fighting in Italy. There was a large congregation present including a detachment of the Swinefleet Volunteers. Amongst the chief mourners were:- Mrs W Richardson, wife of the deceased, Mr and Mrs W E Richardson, Mr na Mrs J B Ibbetson, Miss H Richardson and company of members of the club that the deceased belonged tol The Rev. G H Newton BA officiated at the service and chose for his text St. Paul’s epistle to the Thessalonians, chapter 4 verses 14 and 18.”
Walter’s death is recorded on a Brass Memorial inside Swinefleet church, on Swinefleet War Memorial and also on his parents’ grave in Swinefleet cemetery.
On 20 June 1917, while in actual service, he had handwritten and signed a will leaving everything to his wife in the event of his death.
The following year Eva was granted a payment from the Army of £4.15.1 and on 19 November 1919, a War Gratuity of £7. Walter was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal posthumously
In July 1918, Eva, my grandmother had received a letter from the War Office in reply to her query, telling her that Walter was buried in Old Farm British Cemetery, Crocetta Trevigiana, Italy and that his grave was marked by a durable wooden cross bearing his name, rank, regiment and date of death, of which a photo would be sent as soon as possible. The village of Crocetta Trevigiana changed its name in 1928 to Crocetta del Montello on orders of Mussolini to honour the soldiers who died there. From 1919 his grave is in Giavera British Cemetery, Arcade, Plot 1, Row E, Grave 2. The headstone was inscribed with a text suggested by his widow: “Gone from a world of sorrow to a home of perfect peace” in answer to a request by letter from the War Office. I visited the beautiful little cemetery in late September 2017 and found it to be indeed “a home of perfect peace”. The Piave river is now a sacred river in Italy in memory of those who died there.