Morpeth School pays tribute to Walter Gillings, killed at Passendaele in 1917
- Credit: Archant
Youngsters commemorated a pupil from their school on Armistice Day who was killed on the Western Front nearly 100 years ago.
Head teacher Jemima Reilly unveiled a memorial plaque in the playground at Bethnal Green’s Morpeth Secondary last week in tribute to Walter Gillings.
The plaque replaces one lost in the Second World War when the school was badly damaged in the Blitz 25 years after the 1914-18 war.
It was unveiled at 11am to mark Armistice Day in 1918, when the guns fell silent at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month.
Walter Gillings was just 20 when he was killed at Passendaele on June 7, 1917, a lance corporal in the London Regiment, 10th Company Machine Gun Corps.
He was born in 1896 in Mile End to John and Alice Gillings and went to Portman Place Boys’ school, now part of Morpeth, and left at 14. His father was a fish curer at Billingsgate Market, an occupation which had been in the family for several generations.
History GCSE students at the school went on a trip at the weekend to Passendaele in southern Belgium, where Walter was killed 96 years ago.
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“Walter was in the elite 10th company Machine Gun Corps,” Morpeth’s Head of History Tom Smith told them.
“He was killed in action at Ypres on the first day of the Battle of Messines when the British were trying to retake the high ground held by the German invaders and force them out of Belgium.
“Walter would likely have been sent forward to capture the German machine guns.”
But the Machine Gun Corp suffered appalling casualties during the Great War, with 12,500 killed and earning the nickname the ‘suicide club’.
Walter’s body was never found. He is commemorated on Belgium’s Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres, which has nearly 55,000 names inscribed.
“Ypres didn’t fall to the Germans, thanks to men like Walter,” Tom added. “British and Empire forces defending Ypres prevented the Germans conquering the whole of Belgium, leaving a small corner free of Occupation.”
Morpeth pupils also read out memorial poems at Monday’s unveiling, including ‘Known Unto God’ by 16-year-old Sandy Elliot who got an A* in History GCSE when he was just 14. His poem is about unknown fallen worriers like Walter Gillings who have no grave.