John WILDE was born in about 1882, in Marylebone, Middlesex. He was baptised on 19 March 1882, at Lisson Grove, Westminster, where his parents were living at 21 Boston Street.
His parents were John Wilde senior, born in about 1852 in Fearnall Heath, Worcestershire, and Esther Wilde who was born in about 1849 in Lewisham, Kent. They married in about 1875. In 1882 John senior was a ‘coachman’.
For the 1891 census, the family were living in Harlow, Essex. John junior was nine, with an elder and also a baby brother. His father was a ‘Coachman Domestic Serv’, which had been altered to ‘Groom’. No 1901 census returns have been found for the family, but at some date before 1908, John junior had come to Rugby.
In 1908 John Wilde married in Rugby with Dora Lily Armishaw – she was born in Walsall in about 1886; the marriage was registered in Q2, 1908. Their son, Herbert Arthur WILDE (1910–1998), was born on 8 March 1910 in Rugby.
By 1911, John’s parents were living back in John senior’s home village at Ellerslie Villa, Fearnall Heath, Worcester and his father was now a ‘Retired Groom Domestic’, however, before then, John had moved to Rugby and in 1911, John Wilde, his wife and young son were living in a four room house at 5 Earl Street, Rugby. John was now 29 and a carpenter. Their daughter, Dora Margaret WILDE (1912–2002), was born in Rugby the next year, on 9 August 1912.
John enlisted in Rugby, probably in later 1915 or after, as there is no date of ‘entry to theatre’ on his Medal Card, and he was not eligible for the 1915 Star. He joined up as a Private, No: 20976. His Medal Roll indicates that he first served with the 14th Battalion (Bn.) Royal Warwickshire Regiment (RWR) and then the 11th Bn. RWR. However he was latterly in “C” Company, 1st Bn. RWR.
It is not known when he was transferred between these Battalions. However, the 11th Bn. was disbanded on 7 February 1918 at Wardrecques, France, well before he was killed, and the 14th Bn. spent the winter of 1917-1918 in Italy, coming back into action near Merville and the 1st Bn. RWR’s position in April 1918.
John’s experiences, though not known in detail, would have been similar to those of countless thousands of British and Empire soldiers.
His final unit, the 1st Battalion had started the war stationed at Shorncliffe as part of the 10th Brigade of the 4th Division. On 22 August 1914 they mobilised for war and landed in France and the Division engaged in many actions on the Western Front. Assuming John did not join them in france until at least 1916, he might have taken part with them in the Battle of Albert and the Battle of Le Transloy, and then during 1917: the First and Third Battles of the Scarpe, the Battle of Polygon Wood, the Battle of Broodseinde, the Battle of Poelcapelle, and the First Battle of Passchendaele.
However, on 21 March 1918, the Germans launched a major offensive, Operation Michael, against the British Fifth Army and the right wing of the British Third Army. The German artillery targeted command and communications; then, the destruction of artillery; and then the front-line infantry. The artillery bombardment began at 4.40am on 21 March 1918, and hit targets over an area of 150 square miles, the biggest barrage of the entire war. Over 1,100,000 shells were fired in five hours.
After the initial defence and heavy losses, some of the units, including some RWR Battalions, were transferred north to what was expected to be a quieter part of the line – but proved to be the location of further attacks – and fresher units, such as the 1st Bn. RWR, were brought in to reinforce the area of the first attacks.
John was probably involved in the First Battle of Arras in later March 1918 and then in part of the Battle of Hazebrouck (12–15 April), where the 1st Bn. RWR were on the defensive line south of Merville. The fighting was very hard, but it was the start of the turning point. As more French reinforcements arrived later in April, and with the Germans also suffering many casualties, especially among their key assault troops, and as their supply lines lengthened, the attacks toward Hazebrouck failed. Their second attack, ‘Operation Georgette’, could not achieve its objectives.
The War Diary of the 1st Bn. RWR provides details of the various actions.
From 8 February they were in camp at Arras – and remained there until 20 March when they moved to Gordon Camp. On the key date, 21 March 1918, it was foggy and there was artillery activity from both sides. An order to go into the line on 22 March was cancelled, but by 24 March the Battalion was on the Army Line from Railway Triangle to Cambria Road. On 25 March, ‘C’ Company moved from the Army Line to relieve the Seaforth Highlanders in Lancer Lane.
In April they were again in the trenches, and on the 5 April were relieved and returned to Blangy. On 9 April they were in the RAF Hangers at Arras St Pol Road and on 10 April moved to Agnes le Duisans until 11 April. On 12 April they moved off in Lorries to Lillers, and the Battalion was ordered to hold an outpost line west of the La Bassee Canal, south of Robecq. ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies were billeted in Ecleme. On 13 April, whilst at Ecleme, they relieved the 1st Gordon Highlanders. The HQ was at Hinges and ‘D’, ‘C’ and ‘B’ companies were in the front line. ‘Enemy artillery very active in afternoon but quietens down at night.’ On 14 April – ‘In the early hours of the morning a patrol of ‘C’ Coy capture 2 enemy machine guns & 1 prisoner & later on in the morning an Artillery officer accompanied by a signaller are observed close to our posts. The later is killed & the Officer is made prisoner. A 3rd Machine Gun is captured.’ After some allied shelling, the hamlet of Riez ou Vinage was captured by 11th Brigade on the left, but only one of the three patrols that night made progress.
On 15 April there was considerable action and the description of the various assaults takes up two pages of the War Diary. The 1st Bn. RWR and the 2nd Duke of Wellington’s Regiment attacked Pacaut Wood. Unfortunately a pontoon bridge was hit by a shell and there was strong opposition. The Engineers attempted to repair the bridge under heavy fire. There were heavy casualties – whilst the Battalion had 39 Officers and 921 Other Ranks on 15 April, by 16 April they had been reduced to 32 officers and only 696 Other Ranks – although most of the losses, some 208, were wounded, and only six were noted as killed, with some missing.
On 15 April the Battalion, as part of the 4th Division were transferred from the XXVIIth Corps. A message of congratulations was received from the GOC XXVIIth Corps ‘… You made a great name for yourselves, there is no Division I would sooner have with me …’
It seems that at some stage during the intensive actions on 15 April 1918, John Wilde was ‘killed in action’. His body was either not found, or not recovered, or not identified, and he and his other ‘missing’ colleagues are now remembered on Panels 2 and 3 of the Ploegsteert Memorial which stands in the Berks Cemetery Extension, and is located 12.5 kms south of Ieper [Ypres].
The Ploegsteert Memorial commemorates more than 11,000 servicemen of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in this sector during the First World War and have no known grave. The memorial serves the area from the line Caestre-Dranoutre-Warneton to the north, to Haverskerque-Estaires-Fournes to the south, including the towns of Hazebrouck, Merville, Bailleul and Armentieres, the Forest of Nieppe, and Ploegsteert Wood. The original intention had been to erect the memorial in Lille. Most of those commemorated by the memorial did not die in major offensives, such as those which took place around Ypres to the north, or Loos to the south. Most were killed in the course of the day-to-day trench warfare which characterised this part of the line, or in small scale set engagements, usually carried out in support of the major attacks taking place elsewhere, or in John Wilde’s case in the defensive actions against the massive German onslaught of Operation Michael.
That John WILDE served with the 1st Bn. RWR, just south of Merville, is confirmed by his listing on the Ploegsteert Memorial. He is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gates.
His Medal Card and the Medal Roll showed that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Probate was granted on 4 March 1919 in London, ‘Private, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, died 15 April 1918 in France. Administration with Will to Dora Lily Wilde, widow; Effects £250 8s 11d’.
His widow and sole legatee, Dora Lily Wilde, received his outstanding pay of £7-14-5d on 9 April 1919, and then his War Gratuity of £8-10s on 29 November 1919.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM
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This article on John WILDE was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the RFHG, February 2018.
 WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), 1914-1920, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 4th Division.