Walter Heslop was born in 1891 and was raised at 1 Coronation Street, Barnard Castle, with his father William and brothers, Albert and John. After war broke out, he and his brothers joined the Durham Light Infantry and Walter was sent to the Aegean port of Salonika to help the Serbs fight Bulgaria. Walter later transferred to the South Wales Borderers to become a Lieutenant and was about to be sent to the Indian Army when he contracted malarial fever in 1918. He was then sent to Alexandria. From Egypt he was shipped home to recover, and to marry his fiancée in her hometown of Darlington. However, despite plans to get married on Easter Monday, Walter died on Easter Sunday and was buried in Darlington a week later.
I was born over 100 years after Walter, so naturally feel detached and distant from the events of the First World War. However, Walter’s story is particularly poignant for me because Walter lived in the very house where I grew up and still live today. The idea of me and my brother having to make a similar journey or sacrifice now would be unthinkable, and highlights the bravery that Walter displayed during the great war. Knowing that a young man like myself paved the ultimate price a hundred years ago makes me appreciate the country and world I live in today. It also affirms my belief that it is crucial for us to record and memorialise those who fought in World War 1.
Along with a team of volunteers, I have been responsible for compiling a database of the information about all the men from Teesdale who went to war. Sifting through the details of soldiers like Walter helps paint a picture of the life they lived, which makes their bloody deaths even more upsetting. The little details of these men, their lives recorded in ledgers and articles make you realise that WW1 was not just an event, or even just a tragedy. It was an appalling waste of human life.
The lives of Walter and many others who he fought alongside have been forgotten as communities and society change, so it is up to us now to preserve and remember the sacrifices of those who fought. Walter’s fascinating and tragic life is similar to the experience of thousands from Teesdale and millions more from all across the World who went to war a century ago. By acknowledging those who now recognise the effects of the war uniting and working together we help preserve the dead and ensure the Walters of today face a far brighter future.
By Jake Madgwick Lawton