John Waldron Wilde
Date of birth: 27.1.1891
Date of death: 16.7.1916
Family information: Son of John and Mary Lucy Wilde
Service number: 23337
As obviously, I did not personally know my uncle John, the following details are mostly taken from letters, postcards, documents etc. with a few personal ‘passed down’ memories.
From the Soldier’s Small Book, John went to York to enlist, September 7th 1914. He was twenty-three years seven months and signed for General Service for three years in the army and some years in the Reserve. I believe this was because it enabled him to choose the regiment in which he would serve. He was used to horses and could ride and shoot, so he chose the Dragoon Guards.
Unlike my father, patience was not one of his virtues. In an early postcard to his mother enlisting he complained “We have not been on a horse yet and we have been here a week.”
September 17th 1914 he sent a postcard telling his mother that “A parcel had not arrived yet: the sergeant says that letters always come about three days after parcels.” He lists the clothes, etc. saying he “has all he wants” adding, “The cakes will come in handy.” The following day he sent another postcard to say the parcel had arrived. "I didn’t need the clothes, because we got a shirt and other things at Dunbar." It would appear that after signing on at York he went to Dunbar to be fitted out with army uniform and then went to the army headquarters at Aldershot, Hampshire.
Further postcards or letters followed. December 19th 1914 a postcard to his sister informed her he would be coming home on leave, “Hopefully in time for tea.” A letter to his young sister for her 10th birthday (March 13th 1915) expressed a hope that he would be home for Easter. The address was Res. Reg of Cavalry D Squad, Beaumont Barracks, Aldershot. He told her of a visit by the King and Queen with the Princess Mary. The King and Princess rode on horseback but the Queen came in a car.
At some point John was transferred to the Worcesters and became attached to the machine gun section of the Third Battalion. I do not know the date when he went to France, but the Roll of Honour indicates that he served in France and Flanders. A letter to his brother Francis dated October 11th (Year unknown) – John is at the front.
The Wilde family had a ‘passion’ for taking photographs. Judging by some taken at the Front, John must have had a camera with him and probably would have found himself in trouble if he had been discovered. I quote from a letter from his brother Francis “I am going on alright just now we are out for a few days rest, then we go back in the trenches again. The hardest part about it is walking to and from the trenches-about eight or ten miles with all our equipment to carry. The last time I went to the trenches, they saw us going, so they started to drop a few shells about us, three at a time. Three dropped about twenty yards from me, but there was a bit of a slope and we were walking half way down this slope at the time, so we dropped down, so we were safe. You can guess we got a bit of excitement when they dropped near us.” He added a P.S. chocolate is always welcome (milk chocolate).
From a photograph taken on his last leave home, he is with his girlfriend Elizabeth Doncaster and she is wearing his jacket and cap. It was also on this last leave home, before departing, John said, quietly to his cousin George Robbins, “It is hell out there. This is the last time we will meet.”
He was killed in the Battle of the Somme, by a shell at Contalmaison, aged 25 years.
John Waldron Wilde was the fourth son of John and Mary Lucy Wilde, nee Waldron and was one of ten children. His siblings were George (b.1885-d. 1963) emigrated to Canada 1908: William (b.1887-d.1957) emigrated to Canada 1911: Wilfrid (b1889-d.1971): John (b.1891-d.1916): Josephine (b.1893-d.1937): Louis (b.1895-d. 1987): Francis (b.1900-d.1972): Charles and Joseph (b.1901 twins died within a year): Kathleen Mary (b.1905-d.2001).
John was employed as a mechanic and then electrician at Wheldale Colliery, Castleford. The Soldier’s Small Book says – Height 5ft 7.5”, Complexion fair, Eyes blue, Hair brown. Religion – Roman Catholic.
He had an outgoing personality, was very good company, daring and loved sport. A family photograph shows aged 9 holding a football. He loved outdoor life a photo shows him outside a tent at a young man’s holiday camp August 1913. He joined the Castleford Harriers and won many prizes for running. He would ask my father, Louis to time his speed on his circular six-mile practice runs. My father was a very quick walker, but no runner. One day when he was timing his brother, he reasoned that he could join John on his last lap home. Accordingly, he waited at Bridge Foot, Castleford (over the River Aire) believing john would be tired by now and that he would be able to keep up with him. Laughing, my father told me that he was left very quickly far behind, he said John could run a mile just over four minutes.
In the Pontefract and Castleford Express 28th July 1916, headed and underlined was the following: “Asked for a smoke before he died”
“Mr. And Mrs. John Wilde of 133 Wheldon Road, Castleford have received unofficial notice of the death in action on 16 inst. of their son, Private John Wilde of the machine gun section Worcester Regiment.”
Corporal J. Vaughan, writing to acquaint them of the same news says, “I had a great deal of experience with him and he was a daring fellow and a man highly respected by us all. We very much miss his good comradeship. He died from exhaustion and loss of blood and was in no pain whatever. He asked for a smoke and went to sleep. All the officers and men of our company join you in your sorrow.”
Another letter from John’s pal, Private J Kent says, “That all the lads in his section have tended his grave and he was badly missed by all his comrades.” The grave was later obliterated by shells as the war continued.
In Worcester Cathedral there is a beautiful memorial window, flag and plaque to honour all the soldiers of the Worcestershire Regiment who died in W.W.1.
After the war ended, my Aunt Kathleen told me that a very smart looking officer had come to see her grieving mother. He showed her on his own map (used on the battlefield) where her son died on Contalmaison. She must have asked to keep the map (or he gave it to her) as it is now in my possession. My Aunt would have been about 13-14 years at the time and the visitor was probably the very first officer she had seen: she was very impressed but alas, the exchanged conversation between the two was not passed down.
For a very long time afterwards, my granny wore a little black morning tie over her clothes. There was a very large photograph of John in his Cavalry uniform, riding boots, spurs and crop, hanging in a place of honour over the piano in the sitting room (they were a musical family) – genes inherited from their mother.
My Aunt also told me that her father allowed John’s pet dog, Nell to come into the house, the only one to do so. My grandfather, born and lived on a farm until he was an adult, strongly believed that an animal’s place was outside. Possibly, taking special care of John’s dog gave him a little comfort and brought his memory closer. It was after all, the only thing left that he could do.