Laurence Whiteley was born c. 1885 in Sheffield, the third child and first son of Seth Whiteley, and his wife Anne. Seth Whitely taught shorthand, and in 1911 was headmaster of Whiteley’s Commercial College in Sheffield, by then a very family-run institution, with three of his children on the staff!
Laurence Whiteley attended Sheffield Grammar School, before coming up to Durham University at Michaelmas 1904 to read for Mathematical Honours, joining University College. He achieved his B.A. in 1907 (M.A. 1910). His time at Durham was marked by a serious pursuit of rowing. He was featured as a ‘Man of Mark’ in The Sphinx magazine in March 1907 (vol. 3, no.1), when he was President of the Durham University Boat Club, elected October 1906. Among other achievements on the water, he stroked the winning boat in the Challenge Pairs in the Michaelmas term of 1906, and his crew won the Senate Cup for their college in both 1906 and 1907. He also played fives and tennis, was the President of his College Debating Society, and enjoyed singing in the Choral Society.
Following his graduation, from 1907 until December 1914, he acted as Vice-Principal of Whiteley’s College, under his father, and with his elder sisters Frances and Gertrude alongside him. The 1911 census finds them all living at 30 Collegiate Crescent in Sheffield, where his family still remained after Laurence Whiteley’s death.
After the outbreak of war Whiteley first joined the Royal Sussex Regiment as a private. On 15 August 1915 he received a commission, as a second lieutenant in the 5th (Angus and Dundee) Battalion, The Black Watch: he is reported to have been rejected five times, probably on account of his eyesight. He was seconded for duty with the Machine Gun Corps on 7 August 1916, and entered France on 16 December. He would therefore have been present for the Battle of Arras in April. He was promoted to temporary lieutenant on 1 March 1917, and which was confirmed on 1 July, though published in the London Gazette only after his death.
Whiteley was killed on 31 July 1917, the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele. During this action the 4/5 Battalion, The Black Watch was reduced to company strength, with 374 casualties over that week. The unit’s war diary contains a detailed account, and Whiteley would have been among 36 men of the battalion identified there as attached to the M.G.C. and Trench Mortar Battery and “not in the fighting ranks of the Battalion” (WO 95/2591/3). The war diary also contains two interesting battle reports by the battalion’s commanding officer, Lt.-Col. G. McL. Sceales, in which he highlights various challenges the men faced in the battle, particularly under-manning, communications, modalities of attack, failure of tanks to reach the area of operations, insufficient barrage, lack of air-cover, overloaded troops in difficult conditions, ammunition re-supply; he does praise the model practice trench training and the introduction of panorama sketches which aided the troops’ advance.
Lieutenant Whiteley was buried at Wieltje Farm Cemetery. His sacrifice is commemorated on a war memorial and individual plaque at St Mary’s Bramall Lane, Sheffield, and on Durham University’s Roll of Service (1920).