Countdown to armistice (6) - Ernest Walters
Ernest Walters was 19 years old when he enlisted in the regular Army at Wolverhampton, on the 3rd February 1904. He requested to be posted to the artillery and became Gunner 33467 - a rank and number which stayed with him throughout his service. He was already serving with the 3rd Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment, a part-time militia unit. Born in Wolverhampton, he was a brass dresser prior to enlisting. His parents were dead by this point but he had four elder brothers: Joseph, Albert, Edward and Frank.
Ernest married Ellen Howe in February 1906 and the couple had five children, the youngest of whom (Donald) was born in Birmingham in November 1917.
Normal conditions of service were for an individual to serve seven years with the colours and then five years on reserve, however Ernest's service was terminated three years after enlistment and he was then placed on the reserve list for emergency call-up, continuing to undertake 12 days training a year. It is recorded at this time that he desired a job in the police service.
Ernest joined Birmingham City Police on the 8th July 1907, aged 22. His record is brief but it states he was cautioned in January 1908 for not checking premises which had been broken into on his beat, and he was also disciplined for being under the influence of drink and using obscene language in June 1912. In September 1913 Ernest was cautioned for being in a coffee house on Summer Lane whilst on duty a couple of months prior - which could be said was understandable at 4:16am! His last entry before the outbreak of war was January 1914 when he was severely cautioned for being drunk on duty and assaulting his acting sergeant.
Ernest was recalled to the Army in August 1914, so it would appear his reserve time period was extended to make up for his short service period.
On 2nd June 1915 Ernest was sentenced to Field Punishment Number 1 after being found guilty of drunkenness. This punishment is regulated by the Army and there are strict rules around how it is carried out, but it basically consists of the individual being tied to a fixed object (e.g. a fence post) for a set time period.
In 1916 Ernest's service was extended under the Military Service Act. He had various postings, but was posted to B Battery of 150 Brigade RFA when he was injured (presumably by shellfire) on the 21st March 1918, suffering injuries to his face, hand, right leg and knee.
Ernest landed back in England on the 1st April 1918 and presumably spent some time recovering from his injuries, before being demobilised in February 1919. His military character was noted as 'very good'.
Ernest immediately re-joined the Birmingham Police and his record has no further entries until August 1919, when he took part in the police strike that saw all participants dismissed from the force. The strike was organised by the Police and Prison Officers Union - a body that was not recognised by the Home Office - and the main body of participants came from Birmingham and Liverpool. Whilst those who participated were sacked with no mercy being given and no officer was allowed to re-join the force, it did eventually lead to the formation of the Police Authority and an eventual doubling of wages and significant improvements to working conditions.
It would no doubt have been difficult for Ernest to adjust to re-joining the police after experiencing fighting on the Front and recovering from his injury. Potentially suffering from PTSD and presumably he knew several of the 56 officers from Birmingham City Police who died as a result of WWI.
Ernest is believed to have returned to some form of metal working trade, but he is recorded as being a 'gatekeeper' when his son Ernest was married in the 1930s.