A face has been put to the war grave of a Warrington soldier killed attempting to liberate a Dutch village, while the hunt continues for members of his family, thanks to the granddaughter of a former comrade.
As Dutchman Jürgen Beekers, who helps care for war graves in a village in the Netherlands embarked on his bid to trace the family of Warrington soldier Rifleman Walter Senior, who was killed in action during the Second World War, he came into contact with Jill Fox, a member of the Facebook group Warrington Family tree & Genealogy pages, who is part of a local annual poppy appeal fundraising team.
Jill said; “Myself, my sister and our friend created a fundraising Facebook group a few years ago. Each year we raise funds for the Royal British Legion during October/November by having the residents of our local area sponsor large event poppies with dedications to fallen soldiers/serving or past military/loved ones. We then place these poppies along a one-mile stretch of road in Remembrance”.
Jürgen’s search for information caught her attention because she’s part of the local annual poppy appeal fundraising team and also her grandfather Sgt. John R. Middleton was born the same year as Walter and lived just a few streets away.
Her grandfather also served in WWII in 7th Armoured Division (The Desert Rats) and the 146th medium Regiment Royal Artillery.
Jill’s parents also remember the greengrocers on 25 Mill Street (near Wellfield Street), Walter’s address in 1939.
Because of the above, she started to inquire more with her parents and “something miraculous happened”. It turns out that Jill’s grandfather was friends with Walter Senior.
Jill added: “The past few days have been quite eye-opening for me, seeing many photographs of my grandfather in WWII that I didn’t actually know existed. My grandfather died in 1988 and my father thought he had shown these photos to me previously however I have absolutely no recollection of them and as a keen amateur genealogist, I told him how amazed I was to know of them (as I am constantly talking to them about my latest family discovery whilst carrying out my family history research).”
She then provided the photograph Jürgen had been searching for and on the reverse was written, in her grandfather’s handwriting, “Walter Senior Border Regt 1939 K/A October 1944.”
Jill added: “Our understanding of the relationship between Walter and my Grandfather, Sgt John R Middleton, is that they were good pals and joined up together.
My grandfather lived maybe two/three streets away from Mill Lane (where Walter Senior lived). They were born in the same year, we suspect they will have been educated together”.
Jürgen added: “So Jill’s parents, unknowingly, were in possession of a photograph of Walter Senior! I now have this photo in my possession and I am very pleased with it.”
Jill also forwarded Jürgen the War-Diary of the 146th medium Regiment Royal Artillery in the period October – November 1944. This shows that Walter was killed near (± 10 miles) the gun emplacement of his friend Sgt. John R. Middleton – Namely, the 146th Medium Regiment Royal Artillery supported the attack of the 9th Battalion Cameronians (of which Walter was a part) in which Walter was killed.
Jürgen added: “So now I hope to get in touch with Walter’s family in the hope of getting more information about Walter himself and perhaps some extra photos.”
Meanwhile, the details of the battle Sgt. Middleton and Walter were involved is detailed below.
Sgt. John R. Middleton served with the 146th medium Regiment Royal Artillery. This Regiment became part of the 8th Army Group Royal Artillery after D-Day.
This meant that the Regiment was deployed as needed. So one time with the 7th Armoured Division, the other time with the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division and the other time with the 11th Armoured Division.
On October 16, 1944, the Regiment was placed under command of the 11th Armoured Division. The 146th medium Regiment was moved on 17 October 1944 to the village of Deurne. On 18 October 1944, the Regiment was moved again to Ijstelsteijn (a village near Deurne).
In the early morning of October 27, 1944 the Germans launched a counter-attack at the villages of Ospel, Meijel, Neerkant and Liessel with the aim of capturing Asten and, if all went according to plan, the capture of Helmond. The main objective, however, was to lure Allied troops away from West and Central Brabant (Brabant is the province in the Netherlands to which Liessel and Neerkant belongs) in order to give the German troops in the province of Zeeland and the west-side of the Province of Noord-Brabant the opportunity to withdraw in an orderly manner beyond the major rivers (the rivers Maas and Waal).
The counter-attack was mainly carried out by units of the 9th Panzer Division, 15th Panzer Grenadier Division and Fallschirmjäger Regiment 24 (part of Fallschirmjäger-Division Erdmann).
The Americans were slowly but surely pushed back at Meijel, Neerkant and Liessel by the German attack towards Deurne and Asten. To reinforce the American 7th Armored Division, the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division and the 6th Guards Tank Brigade were sent from the city of Tilburg in the direction of the villages Deurne and Asten to relieve the Americans here.
The 9th Battalion Cameronians (the battalion in which Walter served) left Tilburg in the morning of 29 October in the direction of Deurne. After consolidating the newly formed defence-line on 29 and 30 October 1944, in the morning of 31 October 1944, the counter-attack of the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division started to recapture the village of Liessel from the Germans.
The 9th Battalion Cameronians attacked from the village of Deurne towards the village of Liessel. During this attack the battalion came under heavy artillery and mortar fire and suffered heavy casualties. In the battalion, 17 soldiers died on this day, including Walter.
One battery of the 146th Regiment was moved to support the counterattack of the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division from Deurne towards Liessel. Because Sgt. John R. Middleton mentioned that he was close to Walter when he was killed, it is likely that John served with this battery.
Jürgen added: “I am really very pleased to have the photo in my possession. I’m going to put all the obtained information into a file and forward it to the school that adopted Walter’s grave.
I am also very pleased that Walter’s grave now has a face, which I think is very important, especially for the empathy of the children.
“The grave instantly becomes more human through the photo and is no longer just a headstone with a name on it.
The Foundation for Adoption Graves Nederweert War Cemetery is setting up a school project for primary schools in the municipality of Nederweert. This will certainly include the story of Walter.
Rifleman Senior, who was born in Warrington and worked as a fruit seller, was killed in action aged 26, serving with the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division during the liberation of Neerkant and is one of 363 war graves being cared for by local villagers.
Due to his knowledge of the events during the Second World War in the Meijel/Neerkant/Liessel region Jürgen, who was born and grew up in Neerkant, a small village near Meijel, has now been tasked with helping put faces to those who sacrificed their lives to help liberate the Netherlands.
Anyone with information on Walter Senior’s family can contact firstname.lastname@example.org