Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War

At the outbreak of the Great War the Royal Navy was almost fully manned. Had they not been then Walter Sperring may well have joined the navy rather than the army as prior to the war he was working as a mariner.
A connection between ships and the Sperring family existed well before Walter was born; his father, Walter, and grandfather, Walter, both worked as marine engineers, which is slightly odd since both were born far from the sea at Frome in Somerset. The 1871 census recorded both the elder Walters in Frome when the elder was married to Mary and the younger being their first born child.
Grandfather Walter must have recognised that as an engine fitter there were better places to find work than Frome and so moved his growing family to Gosport and then Portsmouth sometime in the 1870s. Their home as recorded in the 1881 census was at 47 Prospect Road, close to the north side of the Dockyard but by 1891 they had moved to 82 Kilmiston Road, possibly in order to accommodate a family of 10 children.
Their eldest child Walter was working as a greengroceer at the 1891 census but soon after switched to engine driver/fitter, around the same time he got married to his wife Mary J., and by 1901 they were living in their own home at 32 Baker Street with their first two children - Walter John Thomas (b. 1895) and Annie (b. 1899). The elder Walter was working as a Marine Engineer in 1911 whilst Walter JT was a mariner, though only 15 years of age. The family had moved to 2 Oyster Street and three more children had been born William (b. 1901), Nellie (b. 1903) and Dorothy (b. 1910).
At the outbreak of the Great War Walter JT was 18 years old and could have enlisted in the first wave of enthusiasm, but the CWGC list him with the 2nd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment which was in India until December 1914 when they returned to England. March 1915 saw them posted to Gallipoli before transferring to the Western Front in March 1916. On 9 August 1916, as the Somme offensive raged further south, the first and second battalions of the Hampshire Regiment spent ten days in trenches just east of Potijze Chateau. As they were preparing to leave the Germans staged a surprise attack using a potent form of phosgene gas. Both units were caught unawares and although no ground was conceded the regiment suffered over 240 casualties, about half of whom were killed. One of them was Walter Sperring.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) list Private Walter John Thomas Sperring, (13922), 2nd Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, died 09/08/1916. Buried at the Potijze Chateau Wood Cemetery (Grave Ref: A.27.). Eldest son of Walter J. T. and Mary J. Sperring, of 10, East St. Point, Portsmouth.
Walter Sperring is commemorated on the Anglican Cathedral WW1 Memorial Cross and the Cenotaph. He is not listed in "The National Roll of the Great War", Section X.
No marriage registration for (father) Walter and Mary J. has been found as yet.
Tim Backhouse
October 2014