Walter Topham

Name: Walter Topham

1894 -27th August 1917

Place of Birth: Arlesey

Occupation: Bookbinder

Division: 16th Battalion

Regiment: Welsh Regiment

Rank: Private

Commemorated: Panel 93 to 94, Tyne Cot Memorial, Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium


Person(s) placing the cross on behalf of the Arlesey Remembers You Project: Clive Middleditch

Private Walter Topham 55274 - By Sam Ward

Walter’s birth was registered in Biggleswade in the 2nd quarter of 1894. He was the son of Fred and Clara (nee Street), who lived in Albert Road, Arlesey at the time of the 1901 census. Fred and Clara had 5 children: sons Frank (born 1888), Walter (born 1894) and Arthur (born 1905): daughters, Alexie (born 1891) and Nora (born 1899). Fred was a stationary engine driver.

In the 1911 census the family were living on Hitchin Road, Arlesey – Fred was an engine driver, Frank was a Grocer’s assistant, Alexie a Draper’s assistant and Walter a Book Binder.

In 1913 Walter entered a local cycling race called the Novices ‘50’. He was not a member of a cycling club but lined up alongside 94 entrants for a race that took place on local roads, bordered by Henlow in the South, Buckden in the north and Willingdon in the west. The total distance of the race was 50 miles. Walter was in the lead as the race reached Buckden and held on to his lead to finish the race in 2 hours, 41 minutes and 19 seconds. Walter was awarded a key chain fob to commemorate his victory. This is now in the possession of Walter’s great nephew, Richard Fryer.

Walter enlisted in the Bedfordshire Regiment (service number 31746) in the summer of 1916 (probably in the Reserve 3rd Battalion) before transferring to the 16th Battalion of the Welsh Regiment.

The 16th Battalion were a service battalion formed in Cardiff in November 1914 by the Lord Mayor and Corporation. They joined the 130th Brigade in 43rd  Division and trained at Colwyn Bay. On the 28th April 1915 the brigade was renamed 38th (Welsh) Division. They moved to Winchester for final training in August 1915 and proceeded to France, landing at Le Harve in December. They were in action at Mamtez Wood on the Somme in July 1916, suffering severe casualties and not returning to major action for 12 months. In 1917 they were involved in the Third Battle of Ypres (Battle of Passchendaele) between July & November 1917. In early 1918, 16th Battalion were reorganised and on 27th February 1918 the Battalion were disbanded, with troops transferring to other units.

Walter was killed in action on 27th August 1917 in France & Flanders. He is commemorated at the Tyne Cot Memorial Cemetery in Zonnebeke, Belgium. He was awarded the Victory & British medals for his service in WW1. Sadly Walter’s brothers, Frank & Albert, also died serving their Country. 


Walter Topham

by Graham Thompson

Richard Fryer writing from Edinburgh has contacted the Club seeking information about his great uncle Walter Topham who was killed in the First World War. He has a key chain fob which was presented to him in 1913 for winning the novices ’50’ in 2.41.19 – he would like to have a go at equalling his time on the original course. He adds that an attempt would be a challenge for him even on a modern machine and that it would be fun!

I referred to the Minute Books, The History of the First Fifty Years and the bound copies of the Gazette and ‘Cycling’ as I had not heard of this event until now. The value of keeping old records proved its worth as it provided a fascinating story. Anyone seeking information a century from now would probably have an impossible task as so much is passed along by ephemeral and instant means of communication, being lost for future generations.

Walter Topham was not a member of the North Road but was a local man from Arlesey. The conditions of entry stated that the rider must be an amateur, never had won a prize in a cycle race and not be a member of any cycling club apart from the CTC. 300 enquiries, 95 Entries, 77 starters and 58 finishers justified the Club in promoting this event. The course was based on the roads often used by the Club, bounded by Henlow in the south and Buckden in the north with a leg to Willingdon in the west to make up the distance to 50 miles. Topham led the field at Buckden and held his lead to finish first in 2: 41 :19, a time which compared favourably with times recorded in club and open events. 38 riders beat three hours and the slowest took over three and half hours.  

The thinking behind the event was to attract new members to the Club but this was a singular failure although the event was repeated in 1914. One comment in the Gazette was that probably every man amongst them wondered at some time or other what he was doing it for! The weather was reported to be good for the 1913 event but the 1914 event was run off in poor conditions. 56 had entered but 20 elected not to face the timekeeper.

One rider who packed at Biggleswade regarded his experience as a nightmare and was quite certain that he would never do anything so foolish again as to start in a cycle race. The winner took 2: 38: 03 and was just under four minutes faster than the second rider. Only 21 finished.

One rider in both events was R W Gammon from Billinghurst in Sussex who finished 10th in 1913 and 4th in 1914.    This name may not mean much to current members but those of us past a certain  three score years and ten should recall the name. He is Reg Gammon who was articled to his uncle, Frank Patterson, who had a small farm at Billinghurst. We are all familiar with the Patterson pen and ink drawings and sketches which graced the pages of Cycling and the CTC Gazette. Reg learnt much of his art from Frank and other things about country life, not least the benefits of poaching! Reg wrote and sketched for cycling and other magazines, and I recall his work in the CTC Gazette. He died in 1997 aged 103 and exhibited regularly and had a retrospective show in 1994 to mark his 100th birthday. His painting heroes were colourists and above all, Gauguin. Reg Gammon was an artist, writer and countryman. His life story, One Man's Furrow, is worth seeking out to read.

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