Pte. W. H. Kitchen

Pte. W. H. Kitchen

69665 Private Walter Hamilton Kitchen, 
Royal Army Medical Corps

Walter Kitchen was the son of George and Mary Kitchen. George and Mary had both been married before marrying each other, and both had had children from their previous marriages.

George Kitchen had married Fanny Hamilton in 1869, and together, they had Florence, born in 1874, and Hamilton, born in 1876. Fanny Hamilton also died in 1876, and that invites the assumption that she may have died from complications of childbirth. Hamilton, himself, died in 1880.

Mary, née Broadbelt, married Thomas Milner in September 1866, but was widowed the following year. Then in 1869, she married Thomas Brumfield, but he died in 1870. Charles Welfitt Nicholls was Mary’s third husband, and he became the third husband to leave her as a widow after only a year of marriage, when he died in 1872.

Mary’s first child was Amy who was born in 1877. Amy’s father was George; however, he and Mary did not marry until February 1879. Eva was born and died in 1880. Walter Hamilton Kitchen was born in February 1881, followed at the end of the same year by Maggie, who died soon after birth. The final child was Wilfred Waldo Kitchen, but he too died soon after his birth in 1884.

When Walter Kitchen was 16 years old, his father was admitted to the Menston Asylum, but after less than three weeks in the hospital, he died on 12th May 1897. Admitted as a pauper, it was a sad demise for a man who had worked as a grocer’s agent and refreshment contractor, which had enabled him and his family to live to a reasonable standard and be comfortable enough to be able to employ a domestic servant.

A Queen's South Africa Medal and Cape Colony Clasp (Dix Noonan Webb)

Florence Kitchen left home to go into domestic service in Bradford, giving up her previous job as a dressmaker, and Amy Kitchen Nicholls got married, leaving only Walter at home with his mother at 28 Woodsley View in Burley.

Walter Kitchen was a member of the Leeds Corps of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade, based in Armley. In late 1899, after the outbreak of the Second Boer War, he volunteered to serve with the Brigade in South Africa in support of the Army Medical Services. He served for a year in South Africa, dividing his time between No. 4 General Hospital in Mooi River, and No. 13 General Hospital in the Wynberg district of Johannesburg. For his Service in South Africa, he received the Queen’s South Africa Medal with Cape Colony clasp, and the St John's Ambulance Brigade South Africa Medal.

Blenheim Square, Leeds (Leeds Library & Information Services)

On his return from South Africa, Walter Kitchen secured a position as an assistant schoolmaster at Blenheim Board Boys School, quickly followed by a move to Woodhouse Board Boys School, where he stayed until he left to become a supply teacher in 1902. Over the next three years, he would teach at Little Holbeck, Saville Green and Victoria Schools before returning to a permanent job at Saville Green School in 1905.

He married Edith Cripps at Leeds Register Office in 1902, and the couple set up home at 29 Nowell Crescent in Harehills. Together, Walter and Edith Kitchen would have eight children between 1904 and 1920.

Walter Kitchen was released from Saville Green School in 1915 to join the army, and in October that year, he volunteered in Leeds for the Royal Army Medical Corps and joined in Aldershot. The family had moved to Scholes in about May that year. Their son, John Roland Hamilton Kitchen, four years old, had not been well in the early part of the year, requiring the attention of the family doctor, but after the move to Badger Terrace, on Main Street in Scholes, the child’s health appeared to improve somewhat. In August, young John’s health deteriorated once more, and he sadly died. An inquest was held into the circumstances of the young boy’s death, but the coroner, after considering evidence and statements returned a verdict of ‘Death from Natural Causes’.

Brassard issued to Group System Recruits © IWM INS 8066

The decision for Walter Kitchen to join the army when he did cannot have been an easy one, however the progress of the war, now a year old, was forcing the British Government to consider measures designed to address the waning and unpredictable rate at which recruits were volunteering for service. It was reluctantly decided that men would need to be compelled to serve through general conscription, something that was completely new in the British experience, and deeply unpopular.

Prior to conscription being introduced under the terms of the Military Service Act of 1916, the Director General of Recruiting, the Earl of Derby, devised a scheme whereby men could enlist voluntarily and retain some freedom of choice as to the regiment or corps that they would serve with, which they would not have under conscription. The men who came forward to enlist under the Group System, more commonly known as the ‘Derby Scheme’, could choose to begin their military service immediately, or they could choose to defer the start of their service by transferring to the reserve and awaiting their call up. The men who chose to defer their service were issued with a certificate and a grey armband with a red crown on it, which they could wear to show that they had enlisted and were not ‘shirkers’ and returned to their normal lives until they got their notice papers, giving them two weeks’ notice of their reporting date. The men were divided into groups, hence the name of the system, depending on their year of birth and their marital status. It is almost certain that Walter Kitchen chose to enlist under the Group System and defer his service to await call-up. His age and married status placed him in Group 40 which, being one of the last to be called, was not called forward until the end of May 1916, having been given notice a month earlier.

Gipton Council School, Harehills Road (Leeds Library & Information Services)

Because Walter Kitchen’s service papers have not survived, and there are no details of his specific unit in any other of the military documents relating to him, it is now impossible to say precisely where he served and what his service history was. Aside from illnesses that may have caused him to go to hospital during the war, because Walter Kitchen’s name does not appear in any casualty lists published during the war it is reasonably safe to say that he was not wounded during his service.

Following his demobilisation, Walter Kitchen returned home to Scholes and his family. He also returned to teaching at Saville Green Council School. Throughout his teaching career, Walter Kitchen continued to train and expand his expertise, and by 1920, when he registered at Gipton Council School, he could list the following professional qualifications; Board of Education Certificate (Distinction in Principles of Education), Teachers’ 1st Class Drawing Certificate, Board of Education Certificates in Advanced Physiography and Human Physiology (1st Class), Intermediate Certificate in Tonic Solfa, Leeds School Board Elementary Certificate in Physical Exercises, University of Victoria Extension Course in History Distinction).

In 1929, the Kitchen family moved up the village to Stockheld Grange. They moved into the Grange as Frederick and Annie Kitchen moved out of the property. Despite them having the same surname, it appears that there was no relation between the two Kitchen Families. With eight children in the family, Stockheld Grange was the ideal place to raise them.

Woodhouse Cemetery, with Kingston Place, top right (National Library of Scotland)

With the Second World War looming, the British government rightly predicted that the cities of Britain would become targets for enemy bombers and planned for children to be evacuated to put them out of harm’s way. Barwick and Scholes were thought to be far enough away from the industrial districts of Leeds to be safe from the attention of German bombers, and evacuated children were billeted in both villages. Gipton, where Walter Kitchen taught, was closer to the city centre, and was considered to be at risk, and children there were given the option of being evacuated elsewhere. Walter Kitchen volunteered to be evacuated and was sent to tech evacuee children in East Retford, in North Nottinghamshire. He was billeted in Moorgate Park and, presumably, taught at the school at the end of that road.

The beginning of the Second World War in Britain did not develop as it was expected to, and many parents decided, against government advice, that the evacuation of their children was pointless because few air raids had taken place. By January 1940, almost half of those children who had been evacuated had returned home. The increased numbers in schools at home, meant that some of the teachers who had evacuated with the children returned home too, and it appears that Walter Kitchen returned home.

Home for the Kitchen family was now at 5 Kingston Place, off St Mark’s Road, in Woodhouse. Walter Kitchen died there, suddenly, on 5th November 1942. He was 61 years old and had still been working as a teacher up until the time of his death. He is buried in Leeds General Cemetery at Woodhouse, in the same grave as his father, his half-sister, Florence, and in time, his wife Edith would be buried there too. Woodhouse Cemetery was closed, and almost all the headstones were cleared from the site when it was incorporated into the precincts of Leeds University. It is now an enclosed green space behind the Henry Price Building on Clarendon Road, the former Reservoir Street.