Walter was born in Wolverhampton in 1877 (although his birth registration has him as James Walter Tomkins). He was the son of James and Frances Emma Tomkins. In 1911, he was living with his parents at 71 Allen Road, Wolverhampton, along with his sisters Lillian Helen and Dorothy May. His trade was given as Officer on Royal Mail boat.
He was awarded the following certificates:
- Certificate of Competency as Second Mate of a Foreign-Going Ship on 25 January 1900
- Certificate of Competency as First Mate of a Foreign-Going Ship on 15 November 1901.
- Certificate of Competency as Master of a Foreign-Going Ship on 21 September 1903
During the First World War, he was commander of a mine-sweeping flotilla in the Royal Navy. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1917. He was also mentioned in despatches on 7 August 1918. He was featured in the Express & Star on 15 June 1918, when his address was given as 17 Avondale Road, Wolverhampton. This article mentioned that, in 1913, he was rewarded with a gold watch and £100 “for bringing a damaged vessel home from Calais practically under water all the way.” Tomkins had also (with the permission of the Admiralty) handed over a German mine to the Mayor of Wolverhampton (then Councillor J. F. Myatt), in order to explain its construction to Wolverhampton residents.
I have not been able to confirm further details of his life beyond his service during the First World War.