Walter Watson Rourke (1897-1916)
Gunner 1792 3rd South Midlands Brigade
Royal Field Artillery
Walter Rourke’s army file is one of the ‘burnt records’, which remained after enemy bombing during WW2 destroyed most of the information about British army soldiers during the Great War.
The file contains a poignant letter from Walter’s father, William Rourke, sent from the family home of 84 Osborne Road in Sparkbrook.
2nd December 1916 To: Officer Commanding, Warwick
Regret to receive your wire and should certainly prefer if possible for him to be brought here and presume you will arrange with Railway Company.
I am certainly of the opinion (not I suppose that will count for much) that my Son should never have been brought to England so soon considering the nature of his illness. Would it be better for me to come over to Warwick on Monday and see you, on receipt of this please wire me so that I can make necessary arrangements for Funeral.
W. H. Rourke
This letter was written on the same day that Walter, aged 19, died in hospital in Eastbourne, the family having been informed by telegram.
Walter Rourke was the eldest child of druggist and chemist William Henry Rourke, originally from Yorkshire, and of Bertha Holland, originally from Lincolnshire.
In 1914, having briefly worked as a typewriter mechanic, Walter enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery, adding two years to his age (he was only seventeen). He was sent to the Western Front on 11th July 1915.
Walter was originally a Driver, who looked after, rode and cared for the artillery horses which pulled the guns, and became a Gunner in the 3rd South Midlands Brigade, with service number 1892.
In mid-November 1916 the Battle of the Somme, which had lasted for 4½ months, was coming to an end. On 16th November Walter was admitted to a field hospital with an unknown illness or injury – there was a later controversy as to whether he had earlier reported it. His condition was so bad that he was evacuated to England on the 1st December. Walter died the next day at Fairfield Court Red Cross Hospital in Eastbourne. The cause of death was later confirmed as dilatation of the heart and of the stomach. ‘Dilatation of the heart’ (dilated cardiomyopathy) is now known to be an inherited condition in which the heart muscle weakens. There is no cure yet known.
Walter’s grave is in Yardley Cemetery