LIEUTENANT WALTER ATHERTON
KING'S SHROPSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY
30TH DECEMBER 1917 AGE 27
BURIED: FIFTEEN RAVINE BRITISH CEMETERY, VILLERS-PLOUICH, FRANCE
This inscription comes from 'To "My People" before the "Great Offensive" a poem written by Captain Eric Fitzwater Wilkinson MC on the eve of the Battle of the Somme and published in 'Soldier Poets - Songs of the Fighting Men' in September 1916. Wilkinson was killed in action on 9 October 1917.
In the poem, Wilkinson attempts to assure 'his people' - a very old fashioned way of referring to one's extended family - that if he is killed they should "mourn not for me too sadly" because he has been for months living the exalted life of a king, and if his crown is to be death they are not to begrudge it because for him it was worth it, because for "those brief months life meant more than selfish pleasures".
Grudge not then the price,
But say, "Our country in the storm of war
Has found him fit to fight and die for her,"
And lift you heads in pride for evermore.
But when the leaves the evening breezes stir
Close not the door.
The poem then moves into the section that Atherton's parents seem to have identified with. Wilkinson says that if death is followed by any form of consciousness, "then in the hush of twilight ... I shall come home",
... listen to the wind that hurries by,
To all the Song of Life for tones you knew.
For in the voice of birds, the scent of flowers,
The evening silence and the falling dew,
Through every throbbing pulse of nature's powers
I'll speak to you.
Walter Atherton was the only son of Samuel and Emma Atherton of Meole Brace, Shewsbury. Samuel Atherton was a colliery owner, Walter, at the time of the 1911 census was a trainee accountant. He served with the 1st/4th Battalion King's Shropshire Light Infantry, which would imply he was a Territorial soldier before the war. The 1st/4th served in India from December 1914, returning to the Western Front in July 1917. Atherton's medal card states that he first entered a theatre of war (France) on 27 July 1917, which would fit. He was killed in action five months later.