LIEUTENANT LEONARD COMER WALL
ROYAL FIELD ARTILLERY
9TH JUNE 1917 AGE 20
BURIED: LIJSSENTHOEK MILITARY CEMETERY, BELGIUM
"We live or die who wear the rose of Lancaster" is the motto of the 55th (West Lancashire Division), which they adopted from a poem that Leonard Comer Wall had himself written.
It was during the First World War that the 55th Division took the red rose of the House of Lancaster as their emblem. This apparently prompted Wall, a young officer serving with the Division, to write a poem, which was published on 13 April 1917 in the Liverpool Daily Post. It's actually more a piece of patriotic verse promoting Lancashire than a poem:
When Princes fought for England's crown,
The House that won the most renown,
And struck the sullen Yorkists down,
Her blood-red emblem stricken sore,
Yet steeped her pallid foe in gore,
Still stands for England evermore,
Now England's blood like water flows,
Full many a lusty German knows,
We win or die - who wear the rose
Wall was killed two months later, on 9 June 1917, and the following announcement appeared in the Liverpool Daily Post on the 14th:
"WALL - June 9 killed in action in his 21st year, Leonard Comer Wall (Lieutenant R.F.A.) only and most-beloved child of Charles Comer and Kate Wall, Hill Top, West Kirby, and the affianced husband of Irene Dorothy Bryan, Braxted Rectory, Sevenoaks, Kent. (We win or die who wear the rose of Lancaster)
Either the death announcement or the original poem came to the attention of General Jeudwine, the 55th's Divisional Commander, who ordered that the final words should become the Division's motto, which they did. And at the end of the war all 55th Division graves had an enamel badge, with the rose and the motto, attached to their wooden cross. When the time came for Mr and Mrs Wall to chose an inscription for their son's permanent headstone, they chose the last line of his poem, having changed the word "we" to "they".
There is another lovely story associated with Lieutenant Wall, an officer in the Royal Field Artillery. Wall was killed by shrapnel, which injured his horse, 'Blackie', and killed his groom. After the war, "Blackie' returned to England and when he eventually died in 1942 this notice appeared in the 14 December edition of the Liverpool Daily Post:
"At the Horses' Rest (R.S.P.C.A.), Hunts Cross, on December 10, BLACKIE, truest comrade in England, France and Flanders (1915-1917), of the late Leonard Comer-Wall, Lieutenant, A Battery, 275th Brigade, RFA, 55th Division, and the late Driver Frank Wilkinson, his groom. Ubique."
This was twenty-five years after the death of Blackie's rider and groom. I wonder who inserted it? Leonard Wall's father died in 1928 but his mother was still alive. Two days later, the 'Gloucester Citizen' elaborated on the story reporting that, Blackie, "was buried with the medals of his master, Lieut. Leonard Comer Wall ... who while riding 'Blackie' was killed in France." The story is repeated several times on the Internet but I haven't discovered whether it is true or not.
Blackie has a headstone, which reads:
Aged 35 years
A Battery - 275th Brigade R.F.A. 55th Division
France and Flanders 1915-1918
Does this tell us anything else? Yes, that although his rider and groom were killed in 1917, someone in the Wall or Wilkinson family kept track of the horse and brought him home to England in 1918 to live out his days in peace. Someone who cared enough to insert a notice of his death in the local paper and to erect a headstone for him. My money would be on Leonard's mother, who died in 1954.