Walter Henderson was born in Carlisle, Cumberland in November 1878, the third child of Thomas Henderson, a painter / compositor by trade, and his wife, Martha, (née Hind). The family lived at 29 Church Street, described as a Public House in the 1881 census, which his parents ran at this time. Walter was educated at Carlisle Grammar School, being awarded the George Moore Scholarship in 1891, worth £7 per annum and attending the Grammar School 1893-1894. At the age of 16, he went on to serve as a pupil teacher at Fawcett Boys’ School, Carlisle. At this time a five-year apprenticeship could be served within a school context and then an examination could be taken which would qualify the student for a place at a recognised teacher training college. It seems likely that Walter entered Bede College in 1899 by this route.
Walter passed his first year courses in 1900, achieving 1st Division in Part 1, and 3rd Division in Part 2 of the certificate. He completed the two year course in 1901, achieving Class 2 overall. He then returned to Carlisle to take up a post as Assistant Schoolmaster in Fawcett School where he remained until the outbreak of war. He enjoyed athletics of all kinds and played football, for several years being Secretary of the Carlisle Schools Football League.
It is reported that Walter Henderson joined the 9th (Glasgow Highlanders) Highland Light Infantry soon after the outbreak of war, in the ranks as Sergeant. While no record has been found, it seems that Walter served at home until he entered France on 28 November 1917, his first service overseas. He was commissioned as Second Lieutenant at this time, and by March 1918 was attached to the 13th Royal Fusiliers as part of the force stationed on the Menin Road. The following report of an action on 8 March is recorded in a history of the Royal Fusiliers:
"On this day the 13th Battalion were in the front line astride the Menin Road … when they were warned by the brigade that the enemy intended to attack during the night to capture the high ground north-west of Gheluvelt, which had been won by a great outpouring of blood in the summer and autumn offensive of 1917. … At 6.30 a.m. the Germans opened a bombardment … which … continued until about 5 p.m. North of the Menin Road the shelling was very severe. … On the front of the 13th Battalion no attack developed; but the bombardment had caused heavy casualties in No. 3 Company, north of the road, and at 6.30 p.m. Sergeant A. Clark sent back a message, ‘Please send as many stretcher-bearers as possible. Only few men left to carry on. Two officers killed, two wounded. Please send reinforcements as soon as possible.’ … Captain F.W. Bower and Second Lieutenant W. Henderson were killed on this occasion; five officers were wounded, and there were 140 other ranks casualties."
The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War by Herbert O’Neill (1922), p.221-222.
His battalion Major wrote:
"He was killed instantly by a trench mortar shell. I cannot speak too highly of the magnificent way he behaved during the very heavy bombardment by the enemy. He was out in the trench with his men the whole time cheering them up and attending to the wounded. By his death the Battalion has lost a very brave and efficient officer. He was very popular with all ranks and his loss is keenly felt."
Letter from the Commanding Officer, 13th Battalion (Glasgow Highlanders) Highland Light Infantry, quoted in war memorial webpage published by Trinity School, Cumbria.
This was a hard winter for his widowed mother: Walter’s younger brother Robert, a pioneer in the Royal Engineers, died in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania (then Tanganyika Territory, formerly German East Africa) in December 1917, where he is buried. Walter was initially buried in Tower Hamlets Small Cemetery, which was between Gheluvelt and Bass Wood, on the west side of a row of pillboxes called “Tower Hamlets”. It contained the graves of 36 soldiers from the UK who fell in the winter of 1917-18. After the Armistice, his body was exhumed and reburied in the Hooge Crater Cemetery. He is commemorated on a cross in Bede College grounds, and in Carlisle in memorials at St Cuthbert’s Church, St Barnabas Church, and Holy Trinity Church, and also at the Trinity School war memorial.