Wallace Anstey (1897-1917)

by Gary. M. Ansteychief researcher of the Anstey story project.

Wallace Anstey, a member of the Bradninch Ansteys, was born in 1897 in Topsham to parents Samuel Anstey and Emma Murphy. He was the brother of fellow Anstey Heroes Edgar Hubert Anstey, Robert Warwick Anstey, and Ralph Stanley Anstey. He grew up in Topsham, attending Topsham First School from age two, and living in White Street with his family.

In 1910 Wallace was already showing signs of his heroic nature when, according to the ‘Western Times‘ 21 September 1910 edition “The inhabitants of Topsham were shocked at about 8am yesterday to hear that a serious burning accident had happened to Dorothy Harris aged 17, servant at Mr W. Robjohns, Grocer of Fore Street. It is surmised that the poor girl, whilst preparing breakfast with the gas stove, and through the oven door being open, in some way caught her clothes on fire…Two boys named Wallace Anstey and Harry Choat, who happened to be outside the shop at the time, were attracted by the shrieking and ongoing inside and upstairs, saw the girl in a mass of flames running aimlessly about. Anstey took off his coat and endeavoured to catch the girl…

Unfortunately the girl died from her burns, but by the 1911 Census Wallace had become an errand boy for the very same store, Robjohns the Grocers, making deliveries in Topsham.

Wallace signed up for active service during World War One. Unfortunately we cannot locate any enlightening documentation, and currently all we know of the specifics of his war story is some scant details of his death.

All we can be certain of in fact is that Wallace was a Private with the 8th Service Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment (Service Number: 290541) and that he was “killed in action” on 4 October 1917 during the Third Battle of Ypres (aka the Battle of Passchendaele).

From the above meagre snippets, we can be very confident indeed that he died during the Battle Of Broodseinde (part of the Third Battle of Ypres ) which took place on the date he was killed. We know that the 8th Service Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment was at the time located “near Passchendaele, enduring the worst of the Third Battle of Ypres” and thus Wallace would have died during efforts to “hold onto Gheluvelt Plateau which, by capturing Broodseinde Ridge and Gravenstafel Spur, would secure a line between Noordernhoek and In de Ster Cabaret and thus afford the British lines southern flank some protection, opening up a route to the Passchendaele Ridge“.

[Note: the 8th Service Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment from 1916 onwards also took part in the Battle of Albert (1916); the Battle of Bazentin (1916); the Battle of Delville Wood (1916); the Battle of Guillemont (1916); Operations on the Ancre (1916); the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line (1917); the Arras Offensive (1917); and the Battle of Polygon Wood (1917). However, as we do not know when Wallace signed up for active service, we do not know in which of these other battles he may have fought.] 

Wallace’s demise was reported a month later in the ‘Western Times‘ 09 November 1917 edition, in an article commencing “Topsham Men Sacrificed in War“. Below that headline appears a photo of Wallace and three other fallen soldiers, with caption “The above are Topsham lads, the sad news of whose deaths in action was announced a few days ago…Pte W. Anstey belonged to the Devons

His death was also reported in the ‘Weekly Casualty List (War Office & Air Ministry)‘ on 13 November 1917 “KILLED: Devonshire Regiment: ANSTEY 290541 W (Topsham)…”

For his sacrifice, Wallace was posthumously awarded the Victory and British War Medals. He is commemorated on Tyne Cot Memorial Zonnebeke, West Vlaanderen, Belgium (Panel 38-40), where he was buried.

Wallace is also commemorated on the War Memorial Cross (reference: ‘WMR 25421’) situated outside the Parish Church in Fore Street, Topsham, where his name is inscribed underneath the words “Their Names Liveth For Evermore 1914-1918“. According to the ‘Western Times‘ 30 November 1920 edition, the War Memorial Cross was unveiled in November 1920 by the vicar in a ceremony where “Topsham people assembled in large numbers” to commemorate their war dead. Wallace’s name is one of those listed in the article, which also gives much more detail regarding the unveiling ceremony.

A photo of Wallace can be also found on the Devon Heritage website.

Anybody who would like to add anything to this biography, please contact us at research@theansteystory.com.

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