Walter Rowland Heath was born c. 1879 in Strood, Kent, the youngest son of Richard Heath and his wife Jane Elizabeth (née Waller). He attended Hatfield Hall with a Lightfoot Scholarship from 1898, and was granted a B.A. in 1901 and a M.A. in 1904. Walter won many academic prizes and also excelled at sport, being President of the University Boat Club in 1900, a member of the Cricket Club and the Rugby Club, which he captained in 1900, and also played Football, Fives and Chess.
He became Assistant Master at Bloxham All Saints’ School, Oxfordshire for a short time. From 1903 until the war he worked for the Education Department of the Egyptian Government in Cairo.
In July 1915 he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 1/1st Buckinghamshire Battalion of the Oxford & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, and for a time held a staff appointment with a temporary rank of Captain as an Inspector of Physical Training and Bayonet Drill. He was promoted to temporary lieutenant on 8 June 1916. After only a month at the front he was killed in action 23 August 1916. His battalion was in trenches between Ovillers and Thiepval that afternoon, and two companies were tasked with an attack, Heath in command of A Company. The regiment’s annual chronicle makes clear the scale of the disaster.
"From 1 p.m. to 2.45 p.m. the heavy artillery carried out a bombardment which not only had no effect on the enemy trenches, but in fact served to define the precise limits of the objective. At 3 p.m. an intense bombardment was put down for five minutes by the Field Artillery, under cover of which the assault was launched. The barrage was good, but evidently short, as, when it lifted, the attacking troops had still some way to go, and the enemy was manning the trenches thickly, apparently very little affected by it, and firing hard on our men. In addition, the enemy barrage came down immediately after our own. The result of this was that casualties were very heavy and progress impossible. 2nd Lieut. Bates, who was commanding C Company, ran forward to try and push the position, but was instantly killed. ... On the left A Company's fate was much the same, 2nd Lieut. Heath being killed. ... The result was that the remnants of the two companies had to lie where they were until dark. ... The losses in the two companies ... were irreparable, and in 2nd Lieuts. Bates and Heath the Battalion lost two very able and gallant officers."
The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle 1916-1917
Having no known grave Walter Heath’s sacrifice is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. He is also remembered on a memorial plaque at Hatfield College, and on the Bloxham School Roll of Honour. Heath’s posthumous war decorations came up for auction in 2011.