Pte. M. Whittaker



UNIT: 4th Yorkshire Regiment

NUMBER: 2117

STATUS: Died of Wounds

DATE OF DEATH: 10th July 1916

CEMETERY OR MEMORIAL: Brompton Churchyard

AGE: 25

Maxwell Whittaker was born in Brompton, and he was the fourth son of Mr & Mrs Langdale Whittaker of Amber Terrace, Brompton. He had three elder brothers serving in the Army, Ernest and Edward, both in the Royal Garrison Artillery, and Clayton who was a quartermaster sergeant who had served throughout the Gallipoli campaign and also in France.

He was a member of the Territorials when War broke out in 1914 and sailed to France with the 4th Yorkshires in April 1915. He fought with them during their baptism of fire during the Second Battle of Ypres, when his Battalion was thrown into the line to stem the German attack which had seen the first use of poison gas in the history of warfare.

When the battalion was relieved, after heavy fighting, Maxwell wrote a long letter to his parents, which was published in the local newspaper, The Northallerton & North Riding News:

"I have not had time to write before, we have had a rough time for the last nine days.

You would see in the newspapers about the engagement we were in. Our lads did well that day and it is a wonder that we did not lose more men than we did, what with the guns and maxims, but our men went up just as if it was a "sham" fight. We had the Canadians with us and they are beggars to fight. They called us the Yorkshire Gurkhas! You should have seen the Germans "hop it" when we fixed our bayonets, they did not let us get near enough to use them.

We lost some good officers and men. Our platoon sergeant was killed and one man wounded, so we were lucky. I could just fancy Brompton when you got the news. I'll bet all the newspapers were soon bought up.

You will know by now we have been in the trenches a second time, but we have not been so lucky this time. The Germans used that gas and Joe Burn was killed with it, poor lad and Sep. Garbutt was shot by a sniper.You have to watch out for them chaps, they are such good shots. Our lads would have stuck it to the last man before they would have given in.

I had a lucky escape or two. The trench I was in was blown in by a trench mortar. I and another lad were buried up to the neck and some sand bags on top of us, and if it had not been for Captain Moon and Corporal Bullock we should not have got out alive. Three bombs came through the same place, just over our heads, and the last one caught a Red Cross man and wounded him badly. We would have got that.

We have been moved now to a rest camp, so don't worry. I will keep sending you a few lines. I am alright and in good health. I got the box alright and it was a good change to what we have been getting down here. Don't send any more "fags" as we get some every week. I have been washing my shirts and socks today so I might be able to give you a hand when I get back home!

You should see our men over here if they get wounded - they never make a murmur. A sergeant and other two of us carried a chap four miles. He must have been in agony, but when we asked him how he was getting on he always said he was alright. He was one of ours.

Well I have no more to tell you now. Remember me to all my friends at Brompton."

The exact date is not known, but Maxwell was taking part in a trench raid when a shell burst near him, injuring his spine. He had to lay out in no-man's land for several hours before his comrades were able to bring him back in. He was taken to one of the Base hospitals in Boulougne before being transferred to the King George's Hospital in London. His Mother and Sister were able to visit him in hospital and it is reported that he was in great pain from his injuries.

He died of his wounds, following an operation, aged 25, on 10th July 1916 and was buried in Brompton Churchyard with full Military Honours on 14th July 1916.

A Mrs Daniels, who had visited Maxwell in hospital, wrote to his parents:

"... He suffered terribly, but bore the pain with magnificent courage and always spoke cheerfully, even saying there were hundreds of others worse than he ! Poor lad, they could not have suffered more pain..."