Sergeant Walter DRAGE

Royal Engineers
37th Division Signal Company
[Formerly: 31st Division Signal Company]
Service Number:
Date of Death:
2 January 1919 - Died (Home)
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Reference:
West of the Church
Queen's South Africa Medal.
King's South Africa Medal.
Military Medal.

Personal History:

According to his Attestation Papers, Walter was born on 8th December 1881 at Wollaston, Wellingborough, Northants. He was the fourth child of John (Ironstone Labourer) and Sarah Ann (nee Brawn) Drage. Walter had three older siblings, Ada, John and Lily, and four younger, Horace, Bertie, William and Ralph (1891 Census RG 12/1216 & 1901 Census RG 13/1449).
The 1901 Census (RG 13/794) shows he was serving with the 19th Hussars as a regular soldier, stationed at their Barracks, Canterbury, Kent.  In 1911 (Census RG 14/30779) he was employed as an "Electric Linesman", boarding witht the German family at Longbenton, Northumberland.

In July 1918 Walter married Mary Elizabeth Taylor, the daughter of Robert and Lizzie Taylor of "Lyndhurst," Fairfield, Buxton. (1911 Census RG 14/21234) It appears there were no children of the marriage. When reporting their marriage 'The Buxton Advertiser' noted that "...  the bridegroom Sergeant Walter Drage , of the Royal Engineers, at one time stationed in this town, [was] son of Mr John Drage." In the same report it was stated that: "Mr Ralph Drage (late of the Army) was best man."
At his funeral two other brothers attended, Sapper Horace Drage and Sergeant 'Bertie', with their families. Walter's mother also attended, along with sisters, Ethel, Emily and Florrie, and brother Robert. [See Footnote below.]

Probate Records listed Walter's address as 15 Fuller Street, Kettering, Northants, and his effects, left to his widow, amounted to 352 17s 3d [353.86]. (This represnts a relative value of about 14,190.00 today - 2014.)  However, a month after Walter's death Mary was back living with her parents at Lyndhurst, Buxton.

N.B. On the reverse of the photo above was the address of his wife (as above) suggesting that the photo/
postcard was taken in late 1918. [Mary might have re-married in the September quarter 1920, to George H.
Martin, in Rugby, Warwickshire. Or - to Herbert Donald in the June quarter 1925, in Sculcoates, East Yorks.
Either of which might go to explain why she is not buried with Walter in Fairfield Churchyard.]

Military History:
Walter attested into the Royal Engineers at Biggleswade on 22nd October 1914, aged 32 years 10 months. At the time he gave his occupation as "Unskilled workman".

He had previously served in the South African Campaign (Boer War) with the 19th Hussars who were in Ladysmith during the siege. [The Regiment had arrived in South Africa in September 1899 and the last Squadron arrived in Ladysmith on 10th October 1899. They comprised 29 officers, 538 men, 508 horses, 179 mules and 70 attendants and remained with the besieged. Casualties at the end of the siege were listed as 13 wounded, 2 died of wounds and 50 died of disease.] Census Returns for 1901, however, (see above) show that Walter and his Regiment were back in England, at its Barracks in Canterbury by then (April 1901).

After his re-enlistment in 1914, Walter was posted to 31st Signal Company on the 13th November and progressed through the ranks quickly - probably due to previous experience - being promoted to Lance Corporal on 1st December 1914, progressing to Corporal on 22nd February 1915 and Sergeant a month later. A note on his Service Papers from 2/Lt. H.A.J. Parsons, 31st Coy., R.E., Buxton, and dated 22 April 1915, states that Walter: "... is a good working member in  a cable detachment and should prove a good commander. Has a fair knowledge of instruments and the signal office. Rides well." His Medal Index Card and Service Record indicate that Walter was posted to the B.E.F. in France on the 29th July 1915, and transferred to the 37th Company, attached to the 37th Division.

In April 1915 the 37th Division had formed up at Cholderton on Salisbury Plain and was in Second New Army. On the 25th June the units were inspected by King George V at Sidbury Hill, and on the 22nd July 1915 the Division began to cross the English Channel.By the 2nd August all units were concentrated near Tilques, so clearly Walter went out with the Division's original draft.

On 4th December 1915 he was rated as: "Recommended for Skilled Rating as Telegraphist" and a reference in his records speaks of him laying and erecting telegraph and telephone lines, probably in the front line communication trenches, and so was qualified to be rated "Telegraphist, field line".

Walter was awarded the Military Medal on the 11th November 1916. (Edinburgh Gazette, 14th November 1916) The award was possibly following his actions during the Division's participation in The Battle of the Ancre Heights (1st October - 11th November, 1916), or for earlier bravery at The Battle of Albert, 1st - 13th July, both battles during the overall Battles of the Somme. Walter did not actually receive his medal until 20th February 1918.

Walter was allowed some leave back to the U.K. between the 24th January and 3rd February 1917, and transferred back to the 37th Signal Company on the 14th July 1917, but was posted back to England on the 16th October 1917. (He married his wife, Mary in the September quarter 1918 at a time when he must have already been suffering some illness, indeed when reporting the wedding 'The Buxton Advertiser' had: "... been located at Kettering Military Hospital. It is hoped he will quite soon recover.").

Walter transferred to the S.S.T.C. (Signal Service Training Centre, which was the Depot for the RE Signal Service and located at Biggleswade, Bedfordshire. Biggleswade was originally the Northern Signal Service Training Centre, created from the former Northern Command (Army Troops) Signal Companies, RE (TF). They moved south upon mobilisation.)

His Service Papers show that Walter was eventually discharged as "No longer physically fit for War service" on 7th November 1918 under Para 392 XVI Kings Regulations, and admitted to Nottingham City Asylum, Mapperley Hill, Nottingham.

His 'Military Character' was described as "Very Good". In all he had served 4 years 17 days with the Colours. However, the reason for his discharge was listed as "Paralysis of the Insane" - a disease of the central nervous system. It was stated that his disability was "Aggravated by War Strain", but "Not permanent" and, though "Not suicidal, was unable to care for himself" and also "Mental derangement following stress of War". [No doubt these days would be subject to PTSD or 'Shellshock' as it came to be known.] Quite possibly long periods in the front line, under shell fire, laying telephone lines had taken its toll.

After producing her marriage certificate, Walter's wife, Mary, was awarded a pension of 32s. 6d. (1.62) per week (to be reviewed after 6 months) and 15s. 0d. (75p) separation allowance. No allowance was made for any children. Bearing in mind the severity of his illness, Walter died in Hospital in Nottingham on the 2nd January 1919 and was buried in a family grave in the Churchyard near to his home in Fairfield, although, as stated above his address for Probate was given as 15 Fuller Street, Kettering, Northants, and his occupation still given as "Sergeant, R.E.".

Walter's funeral took place at St Peter's Church on the 6th January 1919, conducted by Rev. E. Law Harkness. When reporting the details 'The Buxton Advertiser' (11th January 1919) reiterated that: "Sergt. Drage was in Buxton with the first contingent Royal Engineers, and was only married last July. The greatest sympathy is felt for his young widow." He was buried with full Military Honours, as: "By the kindness of Col Henson, the N.C.O. and the firing party, and the Bugler who played the Last Post, were provided."

Walter was clearly a very brave and patriotic man, having served with distinction in South Africa, he was quick to re-enlist at the start of the Great War. His grave is currently in poor condition and it would be good to see it renovated to give him the recognition he deserves.

· I am grateful to Paul McAllister for the notes on the S.S.T.C
· I am also grateful to Chris Pye for sending me the photo of Walter
· 'The Buxton Advertiser' - 11 January 1919

· Walter's brother and best man at his wedding - see above - served as Pt. 8839 Ralph DRAGE, 2nd Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment.
   Another brother, Spr. 528464 Horace E. DRAGE served with the Royal Engineers and was awarded the D.C.M. The account of Walter's funeral
   suggests a third brother. 'Bertie', also served - although there are a number of possible men named "Albert Drage".

Link to CWGC Record
The inscription on Sgt Drage's grave
Sgt Drage's grave in Fairfield churchyard
The Military Medal
Boer War Medals
William in 1918