Matthew James Walton DSM of Belle Vue Zoo, fireworks and the Battle of the Falklands 8 December 1914.

The 8th December 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the 1914 Naval Battle of the Falklands.

Belle Vue zoo's sadly vandalised war memorial, Gorton Cemetery. Manchester lists their First World War dead - a tiny glimpse of the losses of men from zoos on active service in both world wars.  Image:

Belle Vue zoo’s sadly vandalised war memorial, Gorton Cemetery. Manchester lists their First World War dead – a tiny glimpse of the losses of men from zoos on active service in both world wars. Image:

At the base of the battered Belle Vue Zoo staff war memorial in Gorton Cemetery, Manchester under the section ‘Died From Effects of War Service’ is  an interesting link to this far off naval battle, the name Petty Officer Matthew James Walton DSM.

Belle Vue Zoo's now vandalised war memorial - luckily the names, although hard to read,  are inscribed in stone as the brass statue has been stolen. Image:

Belle Vue Zoo’s now vandalised war memorial – luckily the names of Matthew James Walton and others, although hard to read, are inscribed in stone as the brass statue has been stolen. Image:

Walton  died in the same year that the Belle Vue Zoo staff war memorial was erected in November 1926: the service was attended by former colleagues and managers  including the “Seawolves of Birkenhead, the latter in honour of Boatswain Walton, who fought at the Falkland Islands and died later.” I’m not sure who the Seawolves of Birkenhead were, possibly sea scouts?

The Battle of the Falklands 1914

The Falklands 1914 was an early British victory after the naval defeat at the Battle of the Coronel in the Western Pacific near South America weeks earlier on 1st November 1914. Two old British naval ships HMS Monmouth and HMS Good Hope were surprised and  sunk by German Admiral Graf Von Spee’s squadron of warships with the loss of 1570 British sailors. No survivors could be picked up with the threat of the other German ships around.

HMS Kent 1901-1920 Source: Wikipedia

HMS Kent 1901-1920 Source: Wikipedia

Walton won his Distinguished Service Medal on board HMS Kent, a Monmouth Class Armoured Cruiser which successfully pursued and  sank one of the German ships from the Coronel battle, the cruiser Nurnberg.

Five survivors from the Nurnberg’s crew of 332 were rescued and eight British sailors and marines were killed. Their memorial is appropriately for HMS Kent in Canterbury Cathedral and the ship’s bell will be rung at a memorial service at 11 a.m. on the 8th December 2014. For more details of this service, an exhibition  and the battle, see

By the end of the Battle of The Falklands 1914, two of the eight German ships had escaped, the Seydlitz and the Dresden. 1871 German sailors including Admiral Spee and his two sons. 215 German sailors survived from the sunken ships.

The Dresden did not survive for long, as Walton was on HMS Kent when it sank the Dresden at the Battle of Mas A Tierra on 14 March 1915.

“Nurnberg finishing off of Kent’s sister ship the Monmouth had been avenged” as it is deftly put in Adrian Beaumont’s book.

HMS Kent sustained some damage including damage to gun turrets and the ship’s wireless and signals room. The Imperial War Museum holds diaries or accounts of the battle  from a fellow Petty Officer  P.O. H.S.Welch and also Lieutenant V.H. Danckwerts from HMS Kent. There is much more in Adrian Beaumont’s excellent booklet which can be downloaded from the Canterbury Cathedral website.


Matthew Walton is one of the older  sailors somewhere amongst HMS Kent ship's company photo, taken during refit late 1915 after the Battle of the Falklands (Photo from Adrian Beaumont)

Matthew Walton is one of the older sailors somewhere amongst HMS Kent ship’s company photo, taken during refit late 1915 after the Battle of the Falklands (Photo from Adrian Beaumont)

Clues to Matthew Walton’s naval career

In the National Roll of The Great War XI Manchester, Walton has his wartime naval service summarised thus:

“Walton, M.J. DSM P.O. 1st Class, Royal Navy mobilised at the commencement of hostilities, he was posted to HMS Kent and proceeded to the South Atlantic, was in action at the Battle of the Falkand Islands. He was awarded the DSM for gallantry and devotion to duty and also took part in the sinking of the Dresden off Juan Fernandez Islands.

In January 1917 he returned home and until 1919 was engaged as Captain’s Coxswain of the Signal School Boat and then was sent to Russia where he saw much service.

Returning home he was demobilised in March 1920, and in addition to  the DSM, holds the 1914-15 star, the General Service and Victory Medals.  His address was listed as 9 William Street, West Gorton Manchester.”

His Distinguished Service Medal was gazetted on 3 March 1915 and in the Royal Medal Index 118358, RFR A1756, DSM 29087, Navy 29087 – more can be found on It would be interesting to know exactly what it was awarded for.

Histories of HMS Kent suggest that after Falklands and Mas a Tierra, she returned to the China Station in March / April 2015, then back to the UK in May 1915. She was involved in convoy escort duties and the China Station until July 1918. Walton left the ship to serve on HMS Victory I from 1917 to 1919.

In January  1919 HMS Kent was in Vladivostok to support American and Japanese Forces against the Bolsheviks.By this time Walton had moved ship again to HMS Fox, which was also involved in the Russian Campaign against the Bolsheviks. You can read more about this and HMS Fox at:

More clues from Matthew James Walton’s naval records

From what I have deciphered of his Royal Navy Ratings Service record, held in the National Archives ADM/188/151, Matthew James Walton was born in Rotherham, Yorkshire on 12 November 1866. He appears to have joined the Royal Navy around January 1882 where his eyes and hair are recorded as brown. He was recorded as having scanty hair when he was mobilised again in 1914!

With good or very good conduct throughout, Walton (Navy number 118358) worked from his  home port of Portsmouth  on an impressive number of ships in the late Victorian and Edwardian Royal Navy. From 1882 to 1901 he served on the Impregnable, Northumberland, Royal Adelaide, Iron Duke, Sultan, Duke of Wellington, Raleigh, Victory I, Vernon, Boscawen, Howe, Minotaur, Excellent, Penelope, Revenge, Trafalgar and Royal Sovereign.

By 1898 he had been promoted to Leading Seaman and shortly afterwards to Petty Officer. Between 1901 and 1905 when he retired for the first time on pension, he served on Resolution, Formidable, Implacable, FireQueen? and Victory I again.

He may well have been maintained as a naval reservist as his records state that he joined the RFR Ports[mouth?] A 1756 on 13 December 1905.(Walton’s records stretch to two pages, including additions on a conveniently almost empty page of another sailor’s short naval career record). You can read more about the Royal Fleet Reserve here in an original leaflet.

On the outbreak of war 2 August 1914 as a naval reservist or former sailor, he was mobilised as a Petty Officer 2nd Class onto Victory I again until deploying to HMS Kent on 3 October 1914 until 11 January 1917. He achieved Petty Officer 1st Class on 16 September 1916.

After two years on Victory I again from 12 January 1917 to 25 April 1919, he moved to HMS Fox until 31 October 1919 on the Russian campaign against the Bolsheviks. He completed his service on Victory I on 29 March 1920 when he left the Navy. By this time HMS Fox and HMS Kent after Russian campaign service were destined for the scrapyard.

According to Wikipedia’s entry on HMS Victory, Walton may not have been always at sea when listed as part of the Victory I crew, as a “legacy of naval legislation that all naval ratings and officers must be assigned to a ship (which may include a shore establishment – still regarded as Her Majesty’s Ships by the navy). Any navy person allocated to work in a non HMS location (such as the Ministry of Defence in London) is recorded as being a member of the crew of HMS Victory!” This may cover Walton’s time as Boatswain or “Captain’s Coxswain of the Signal School Boat”. There is an interesting WW1 painting in the IWM collection Art.IWM ART 2620 of WRENS valve testing radios in the signal school at Portsmouth 1919.

His Belle Vue Zoo service would appear to have been either from somewhere between 1905 to 1914 or from 1920 to 1926 when he was living in West Gorton. There is mention of the M.Of.P Manchester (Ministry of Pensions?) on 19/8/1924 suggesting he was in this area till he died in Bucklow Cheshire aged 59 c. June 1926.

Walton and The Belle Vue Staff War Memorial

The Belle Vue Staff War Memorial entry on the UKNIWM UK National Inventory of War Memorials  suggests that Walton’s role at Belle Vue was not on the zoo keeping or gardening  side but on one of the many other trades at this early theme park. It is suggested on the UKNIWM site that Walton coordinated or orchestrated the Belle Vue fireworks displays: “The name of Matthew James Walton is commemorated. Walton orchestrated the Belle Vue fireworks displays and was complimented for them by Prince Louis of Battenberg.”

Maybe his naval experience as a Petty Officer allowed him the skill to command the pyrotechnics and the large cast with blank firing rifles that took part in these spectacles?

Under the headline  Fireworks to Firearms, the Liverpool Echo  of Thursday 11 March 1915 reports that Petty Officer Walton “of William Street, West Gorton has been awarded the DSM for naval bravery. The nature of his deed has not yet been disclosed. He was on HMS Kent in the Falkland action. Before the War he was gunner or manipulator of the Belle Vue Gardens war fireworks.”

One of Walton’s zoo colleagues present at the war memorial dedication  was Bernard Hastain, formerly of the Rifle Brigade and Drury Lane Theatre. Hastain painted the massive backdrops for these firework and mass theatrical spectaculars, often with a topical wartime or patriotic battle theme. Hastain’s name was the last name added in 1933 to the memorial section of staff who “Died From The Effects of War Service.”

Further material on has press cuttings about the dedication of the war memorial, where speeches by Angelo Jennison mention that Walton “went off to distinguish himself at the Falklands”, also suggesting his Belle Vue service was pre-WW1. Jennison was one of the owner directors who lost a son and a nephew in the First World War; both their names are on the staff war memorial.

I have previously written a short biography about each of the Belle Vue Zoo casualties, based partly on work by Stephen Cocks. I will shortly be posting an updated blog post about these Belle Vue men with updated information from newly online records.

There is more to be researched and discovered about each of these men, as well as the Belle Vue Zoo service and wartime career of Matthew James Walton.

Family life – a few clues
Matthew James Walton was born in Rotherham, Yorkshire (some records suggest Pontefract). It appears that Matthew James Walton’s father, also Matthew Walton (born 1846, Bockleton, Yorkshire) was a basket maker working in Birmingham when he died young in his late 20s or early 30s between 1871 and 1881. This left his wife Hellenor or Ellen (born Cheltenham, 1838) to make a living with her teenage son Matthew James both as hawkers (1881 census) living in Cheapside, St. Martin’s, Birmingham; Matthew is recorded as ‘James’ in this census entry, as probably Matthew was how his father was regularly known. By the following January 1882, he had joined the Royal Navy.

Matthew James Walton got married in Cheltenham c. July 1900 to an Agnes Philips (b. 1869, also like Matthew’s mother born in Cheltenham) . They had three children by the time of the 1911 census when a Matthew J Walton is listed as a sailor, visiting with an Agnes Walton in Central Drive , Blackpool – was this a holiday? One son James Albert Walton had been born by 1901 when Agnes was living back in Cheltenham with her Philips family – presumably Matthew was at sea or serving away with the Royal Navy.

Belle Vue Zoo itself closed around 1977/8 and the site has now been redeveloped. Many of its records are now held in the Chetham’s Library collections in Manchester.

The Belle Vue Zoo staff memorial is noted as being in poor condition. The HMS Kent memorial is well cared for, despite the ship’s flags having been damaged following an air raid in WW2.

When the HMS Kent ship’s bell rings out at “six bells” or 11a.m. during the centenary memorial service, remember Matthew Walton, his shipmates and all the sailors involved on all sides in the Battle of the Falklands on 8th December 1914.

Any further information about Walton’s life, naval service or Belle Vue Zoo career would be welcome – contact me via the comments page.
Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens project, Newquay Zoo


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3 Responses to “Matthew James Walton DSM of Belle Vue Zoo, fireworks and the Battle of the Falklands 8 December 1914.”

  1. Remembering the lost WW1 staff of Belle Vue Zoo Manchester | Worldwarzoogardener1939's Blog Says:

    […]… […]


  2. David Ingham Says:

    I am the custodian of Walton’s Distinguished Service Medal if you would like a few photographs – sadly I have been unable to trace his other medals.


    • worldwarzoogardener1939 Says:

      Yes I would love to feature a picture of this on the blog, properly credited to yourself.

      Is this a family or an area connection?

      Dear David Ingham

      I haven’t so far found specific mention of what Matthew Walton in particular received his DSM for during the 1914 Falklands sea battle, so if you know more, I’m sure blog readers, zoo historians and the Friends of Gorton cemetery would be fascinated to know. I can be contacted via mark.norris which is @ / at

      Many thanks,
      Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo.


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