Walter Kimberley's World War One Prisoner Experience, and Beyond

A Coventry City footballer's memory

We have seen in the previous article that Walter’s war experiences had seen him endure great hardship. Alas, that was not to improve. With the conditions in the camp, it was hardly surprising that in December 1914 Walter was admitted to the Robeck Hospital where he was treated for tonsillitis, which turned out to be laryngitis and bronchitis. He remained there until May 1915.

Could barely speak anymore

In November 1915 Walter was moved to Dyrotz, a working camp (typically men were sent to work in mines, forests, factories and farms. As well as housing prisoners these camps were also the ‘fixed’ address of men sent to work amongst the local civilians).  for the English, French and Russians. He was quite well apart from his voice – he had hardly spoken since being in hospital in Doberitz, however Walter could not work, and after two weeks was moved to Cottbus in Brandenburg. Once again, arrival at his destination did not bring comfort to Walter. On arriving at the station Walter and the others were made to walk the three miles to the camp in the snow, and although he had a German Military overcoat and his boots were in fair condition, on arrival he then had to sleep in his wet clothes, on the bare floor of his hut with no blanket. From this day Walter suffered from ill health. He avoided going into hospital for as long as possible due to concerns about the conditions, but in May 1916 he was carried there as he was too weak to walk.

Walter was eventually repatriated as part of a prisoner exchange1 and returned to London in August 1916, where he was admitted to the Alexandra Military Hospital, Millbank. On 16th August 1916 he was discharged from the Army as ‘Medically unfit with Pulmonary Tuberculosis’ Unfortunately Walter would never recover and he died on 22nd April 1917. According to a newspaper report in the Coventry Telegraph, dated 23rd April 1917, Walter had returned to Birmingham ‘a physical wreck from the hardships he suffered in Germany.’ He left behind a wife, Ada and a son Charles.

A benefit match

On Tuesday 10th April 1917 the Kimberley Benefit Match was played at Villa Park (organised by a committee of members of the General Electric Company (GEC) and the Ordnance Athletic Clubs) to help both Walter and his family. Kimberley was clearly gravely ill at this stage, as a reporter for the Sports Argus remarked that ‘never in my memory has football been put to better use.’ According to the article, ‘as a result of this  enterprise a former playing favourite and a broken soldier hero has been saved from a pauper’s grave, and his little son will be given the opportunity of starting life properly equipped.’

Walter Kimberley, then, had shown determination and spirit in his short life. That his memory lived on was shown by the benefit match, but it is only recently that he has gained commemoration as one of the war dead. He was overlooked for some time because he died of illness away from the front line, but this was rectified when researchers identified 2,000 ‘forgotten’ servicemen in 2012-2013. It is only fitting that his tale should be told here, too.

1 As mentioned in his war service record.

Walter’s experiences as a PoW are now available on find my past.

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