Plans to restore Birkenhead WWI Captain’s memorial in French village

A fundraiser has been launched to restore a memorial to a WWI Captain from Birkenhead.

Captain Houston Stewart Hamilton Wallace was killed in action trying to capture a German machine gun post on 22 July 1916 in the French village of Bazentin-le-Petit.

The plan for restoration involves more than just returning the private First World War Memorial to its original state, complete with a fresh plaque. It will also improve the site by installing additional steps for accessibility and creating a levelled area featuring an information board detailing Houston’s story.

Houston Stewart Hamilton Wallace was born in Birkenhead on 22 June 1892; the only child of William Hamilton and Emily Constance (nee Heap), of the Nook, Shrewsbury Road, Birkenhead.

H. S. H. Wallace was educated at Fettes College, Edinburgh, from 1906 to 1912 and then at Merton College, Oxford.

He gained a commission into the 10th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment and went to France on 1 August 1915.

Both his parents had died by 1914, his father in a tragic accident in 1912. After playing golf at Wallasey, he returned home and had to post a letter. On returning home, the gate to his drive was jammed and he stepped onto a ledge and leaned over, attempting to release it from the opposite side. Whilst reaching, he slipped and impaled his arm on one of the railings. It severed an artery and he died shortly after from the loss of blood.

Houston’s mother, Emily, passed away in April 1914 in North Wales. Both Emily and William were buried at Flaybrick Cemetery, now known as Flaybrick Memorial Gardens.

As both his parents had passed away, his aunt Beatrice was listed as his next of kin. After the war, Beatrice searched for Houston’s grave, but sadly the location was lost.

Beatrice at the memorial in the early 1920’s

However, she had received a letter from his Commanding Officer, in which he stated that Houston was buried near to a calvary (an open-air representation of the crucifixion of Jesus) at Bazentin. She identified the location of where the calvary had been and had a replacement made and dedicated it to Houston. As Houston has no known grave he is named on Thiepval Memorial.

In the early 1920’s the then International War Graves Commission took care of the memorial on an agreed 20-year plan, whereby Beatrice paid them to maintain it. That took the maintenance up to the eve of WWII.

In February 1940, Beatrice died aged 83, and after the war care of the memorial was discontinued. In the early 1990’s the Western Front Association (WFA) started a project to identify private memorials, asking historian Paul Reed to help.

The calvary at Bazentin

Paul found the stone cairn base location and then eventually talking to local villagers found the original wooden calvary in a garage in the village.

In 1994 with support from the WFA, the memorial was restored and rededicated. Sadly, over the last twenty-nine years, it has once again fallen into disrepair.

In October 2023, a closer inspection and survey was carried out. The plan is to clear and level the ground in front of the memorial, construct some steps up to it and have a stone levelled area with a border and an information board about Houston and the fighting that took place there in 1916. This board will be written in English, French, and German.

The survey also revealed the current state of the memorial, the pictures below show that work is urgently required.

Additionally, this project will also support the cleaning and some minor repairs to a second memorial just a few hundred metres away. This memorial is dedicated to nine Royal Engineers killed a week after Houston. This memorial requires the brickwork cleaning and some repointing. The lettering on the plaque requires a little work and the base requires a new layer of chippings.

You can donate to the fundraiser at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/HSHWallace

Lead image: HSW Wallace, from a team photo of the Merton College (Oxford) 1914 hockey XI; © The Warden and Fellows of Merton College (source: http://share.merton.ox.ac.uk/items/show/438.html )

Why not follow birkenhead.news on Facebook, Twitter, and Threads? You can also send story ideas or letters to the editor to news@birkenhead.news