Walter Taylor – an Aberdeen hero!
Walter Taylor, an Aberdeen soldier of the 1st Highland Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, never reached the Front, never received medals for war service and does not have a distinctive Commonwealth War Grave Memorial, but he paid the ultimate sacrifice by giving his life for another. So, why did he not receive medals or have a special War Grave and why has his grave been visited every year on the anniversary of his death for 100 years?
Seventeen year old Walter arrived with his regiment in the small market town of St Neots in Huntingdonshire in the middle of August 1914. The soldiers were to train and prepare for the journey to the Front but, it was here, a few days later, that he drowned in the River Great Ouse while saving the life of sixteen year old Maud Andrew, a local girl who got into difficulties while swimming with some friends.
The inquest into his death and the circumstances leading to it is written in the local newspaper in great detail, explaining how Walter and two of his friends tried to rescue the girls. His regiment and the townspeople were so affected by the bravery of Walter that a fund was started and a special Celtic Cross of Aberdeen granite was placed over his grave, standing just over seven feet high.
Maud honoured the life of Walter by visiting his grave on the anniversary of his death every year until her untimely death in August 1948 at the age of 50 years. On her deathbed she made her daughter Rosemary promise that she would never forget the soldier who saved her life.
Rosemary kept the promise - she did not leave flowers at the graveside or any indication of her presence, but she would just stand in quiet reflection and then return to her home on the south coast of England. As the years passed the large granite cross fell and lay neglected and forgotten but Rosemary continued her yearly visit.
In January 2004 the memorial was restored and later that year Rosemary paid her last visit, 90 years after Walter’s death. She was seen standing quietly beside the newly restored gravestone and her family’s story was retold. Since then, Rosemary has not visited the grave but local people honour the young soldier and his gift of life.
On 31 August 2014 he will once again be remembered – 100 years after his death. He was the first soldier to be buried in the town after war began and he is the only one to have had a yearly visit since his death. He is truly an Aberdeen hero!
Sources: Sue Jarrett and Rodney Todman, St Neots Local History Society. Photos from the collection of Rodney Todman.