It is with great sadness that the family of local historian and author Walter Holmes announce his passing after a brief illness, on 2 January 2024, at the grand age of 92.
Well known local historian Walter started his working career at 14 in one of Accrington’s mills, Lang Bridge & Co on Exchange Street in Accrington, followed by spells at Howard & Bullough and the Bristol Aircraft Company, before becoming a firefighter at Accrington fire station for 30 years.
He was soon nominated as a Fire Brigade Union rep, a role he carried out for the rest of his long career with the fire service, supporting and campaigning for colleagues. It was during his firefighting that he started his passionate hobby, documenting the history of his beloved Accrington and District. He was a keen collector of lists, and compiled one of every fireman who had ever served in Accrington, from 1853 to the day he retired.
In his younger years Walter was a keen motorcyclist, regularly visiting the Isle of Man TT races. He enjoyed mechanicing on his motorbikes and cars, was a skilled craftsman with wood and metal, was a marksman winning many medals and cups in shooting competitions, and an enthusiastic grower of vegetables especially tomatoes in his garden greenhouse.
Walter’s historical research and writing took him into diverse areas such as an encyclopaedia of Accrington, redrawing maps and translating Church Latin text. He was praised locally for the completion of a 3-decade long project with fellow researcher, the late Bill Turner, to identify 1,698 Accrington townsmen making up the Accrington Pals, and the wider 4,292 men of the 11th Battalion East Lancashire which the Pals regiment became.
The finished 398-page document meant that the identities of the men who enlisted in September 1914 could be more fully honoured at commemorations for the centenary anniversary, which would have brought great comfort to remaining family members. Walter also was able to trace and fully tell the story of many Pals, and their families who searched for them, ensuring that no man who gave their efforts would be lost to history.
Following a Civic trip to Serre, France, 1 July 2016 to commemorate the centenary of the first day of the BattIe of the Somme, a medal was presented for Walter by the Maire de Bapaume, Jean-Jacques Cottel for Walter’s work on the Accrington Pals and 11th (Service) Battalion (Accrington) East Lancashire Regiment . “The honour is presented to a person who has contributed to the town’s reputation or played an important role in the life of the community.”
Walter passed away peacefully at his home in Accrington, just down the road from the fire station he served at for so long. Husband to Alicia, father of Cath, Alison, Adrienne, proud grandad of Luke and father-in-law of Gavin. They would like to thank the many people, some of whom they’ve never met for the numerous messages, emails, phone calls of condolence and remembrance.
The family would like any charitable donations to East Lancashire Hospice and North West Blood Bikes.