Henry Alfred Walsh was born near Taunton, Somerset, in September 1853, the eldest of five children to Theobald and Isabel Walsh. Theobald was a magistrate with some military connections, and it was military service that Henry went into.
While full details aren’t readily available, the 1881 census finds him living in Devon, with his employment simply as “military”. Presumably, he had enrolled in the Somerset Light Infantry, the regiment he had a lifelong commitment to.
By the early 1880s, Henry had married Ann Sparrow. The couple went on to have three children – Theobald, Gwladys and Archibald.
The 1891 finds Henry and his family in the Somerset Light Infantry Barracks at Farnborough. Henry was a Sergeant Major by this time, and was assigned to the 1st Battalion. Also living in the same accommodation – and presumably helping Ann with the running of the household – were a governess and cook.
The census also highlights the transient nature of army life. Henry, as mentioned before, was born in Taunton, while Ann came from Plymouth in Devon. Theobald was born in Taunton, while Gwladys and her younger brother were both born in Devon. Military service brought a sense of stability, but not necessarily geographically.
Henry eventually took a step back from the army; by the time of the 1911 census, he was living back in Bishop’s Hull, the village of his birth in Somerset, and listed as a retired colonel. When war broke out, however, he volunteered his services again, and was appointed the officer commanding the No. 8 District in Exeter.
While Henry came out of retirement to serve his country again, his two sons had also forged their own military careers. Theobald also joined the Somerset Light Infantry, also achieving the rank of Colonel. Archibald joined the Royal Horse Artillery; his story can be found by clicking here.
When Henry passed away in 1918, local newspapers were unanimous in their praise of the long-serving officer, outlining both his military service and his charitable work.
Colonel Walsh had had a distinguished military career, dating from 1870, when he joined the old Somerset Militia at Taunton. [He] was created a CB in 1905, and held the medal and clasp for Zululand, and the medal and two clasps and the Khedive’s Bronze Star for his services in Egypt.
He was a JP for Somerset and a member of the Army and Navy Club. [He] threw himself wholeheartedly into the work of the Boy Scout organisation.
The greatest work in which Colonel Walsh had been identified during the war, however, was undoubtedly that of feeding the Somerset prisoners of war in Germany, and his name will ever be linked in grateful memory with that of his honoured wife for having raised and maintained a fund capable of bearing the strain of over £3,000 expenditure per month to save the Somerset men in Germany from starvation.Well Journal: Friday 29th November 1918
Ironically, for all this exultation, there is no immediate record of the cause of Henry’s death; given his age – he was 65 when he passed – it seems likely that he died following an illness.
Colonel Henry Alfred Walsh lies at rest in St Mary’s Cemetery in Taunton, Somerset. He is buried next to his son, Archibald.