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War Major’s grave identified at Dewsbury Minster

The suspected grave of Major Chalkley (who was a Chief Army Ordnance Officer and conducted the Royal party to the Army Clothing Depot). He died from sickness on 17/08/1918 aged 49. Recently his grave has been found outside the Dewsbury Minister but there is no headstone so the aim is to try and get the grave suitably marked as soon as possible. Rev Kevin Partington and Richard Middleton (church warden) next to Major Francis Chalkley's grave. (D523C404)

The suspected grave of Major Chalkley (who was a Chief Army Ordnance Officer and conducted the Royal party to the Army Clothing Depot). He died from sickness on 17/08/1918 aged 49. Recently his grave has been found outside the Dewsbury Minister but there is no headstone so the aim is to try and get the grave suitably marked as soon as possible. Rev Kevin Partington and Richard Middleton (church warden) next to Major Francis Chalkley's grave. (D523C404)

  • by Jonathan Reddick
 

The search for the long-lost grave of a First World War Army Major is finally over - after it was unearthed in the grounds of Dewsbury Minster.

Major Francis Henry Chalkley was head of the Army Ordnance Depot (AOD), based in Dewsbury, and famously escorted King George and Queen Mary around the town’s Depot in July 1918.

He died aged 49 on August 17, 1918 in Llandudno, Wales, just weeks after the Royal visit.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have been looking to locate and mark his grave for the last few years, as they are responsible for the commemoration of members of the Commonwealth Forces who died during both world wars.

Although it was widely known that Major Chalkley’s funeral was held at the Minster, the exact location of his final resting place had got lost over the years.

Now it has been discovered in section D of the churchyard towards the end of the pathway, parallel with Rishworth Road.

The appearance of the grave is marked only by a fluted rope edging with no marker or headstone, but all evidence and records lead to this grave.

Churchwarden and Church Archivist Richard Middleton discovered the location in the Minster’s burial register.

The entry reads: ‘Francis Henry Chalkley, The Hydro, Neville Cresent, Llandudno, 21.08.18, Head of Army Clothing Department at Dewsbury during the Great War’ - Reg. No. 180 Section D grave 217.

The Vicar Dewsbury, Reverend F Wolde, who conducted Major Chalkleys funeral, wrote in the burial register: ‘This was a great military funeral.’

Surrounding graves include section D218 of former Churchwarden Joseph Watts, who has a plaque on the south aisle wall, D217 which is the grave of Reverend Wolde’s wife, Eliza Wolde, and section D211 of WW Yates, a former editor at the Dewsbury Reporter.

They range from 1914 to 1918 and do not seem to be in chronological order, but it provides additional evidence and support for the positive identification of Major Chalkleys grave.

The Rev Canon Kevin Partington now plans to mark the grave as part of the centenary of the start of the First World War.

He said: “We just need to ensure the grave is suitably marked, as it would be a fitting contribution to the towns commemoration of the First World War.

“It’s been a substantial development and I’m glad we can help.”

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is now working on putting together an inscription for a new headstone to mark Major Chalkley’s grave,

It is looking for any relatives of the Major to contact them via www.cwgc.org/about-us/contact-us to choose the wording for a personal inscription.

Town turned out to remember Major

Since its formation in 1915, Major Chalkley, MBE, was in charge of supervising the recovery of millions of discarded uniforms collected on various fronts.

And he had the task of escorting the Royal party around the depot in July 1918.

But just a few weeks later, he fell ill, and died while convalescing in Wales.

The news of his death came as a great shock, and large amounts of public sympathy was felt, especially for his widow and two children back in Dewsbury.

It appeared that Major Chalkley had retired to rest on the Friday evening not feeling very well and the morning after, he was found dead in bed, and it was said he passed away peacefully.

He was living in Batley at the time, but was interred at Dewsbury Parish Church on August 21, with full military honours and amid many manifestations of grief.

The Major’s body was brought from Llandudno by train, and the officers of the AOD were waiting on the platform to receive it as they were the coffin bearers. The coffin was enshrouded with the Union Flag, and was carried to the gun carriage, drawn by a team of six magnificent bay horses.

The cortege was headed by a firing party of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry from Pontefract, and they moved off from the Station at a slow pace with reversed arms, down Wellington Road, and the band of the York and Lancaster Regiment struck up the Dead March and played other funeral marches from the station to the church, through streets lined with mourners.

The coffin bore the sword, cap and spurs of the deceased Major and was followed by his widow, son and daughter. A detachment of men from the Army Ordnance Corps carried the numerous wreaths and other floral tributes, followed by 200 other rank and file members of the Corps, senior officers, and the Mayor of Dewsbury, Alderman Walter France. A large number of local businessmen and friends followed, and 400 female employees of the Army Ordnance Depot, brought up the rear.

The service in church was conducted by Reverend F Wolde who said although the work Major Chalkley had been doing in Dewsbury was service of a very essential and necessary character, and formed part of the great military machine, giving his life in the service of his country.

 

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