W G Cartwright

W G Cartwright

William Cartwright (1889-1918)

My name is William George Cartwright, although I was known as Billy, and I was a Platoon Sergeant. I was born on 22nd July 1889, in High Wycombe and after leaving school became a plumber and fitter for Cubbage Brothers, a small engineering firm then in Frogmoor; Cubbage still exist and are now on the Cressex Industrial Estate. I was engaged to be married to Miss Francis.

But let’s skip the boring parts and get onto the interesting bits, my story of joining the war and dying, not exactly in the nicest way, while serving my country. I was a member of the cadets and when old enough I joined the Wycombe Territorials. Immediately after the outbreak of war in August 1914 I re-joined my old regiment, the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, an infantry regiment of the British Army. In fact, to be more specific, I joined my old battalion the 1st/1st Buckinghamshire, the local battalion into which many men from Wycombe also joined. We trained, among other places, at Chelmsford and then eventually I left for France at the end of March in 1915, where on the 30th March I landed at Boulogne. It was the first time I had been abroad.

When we first arrived in Europe we were sent to a place in Belgium with a strange name; Ploegstreert and it was here that that we first were in trenches and engaging with the enemy. We alternated every four days with the Gloucester Regiment. Although it was relatively quiet, compared with what was to come, it was dangerous work with German snipers regularly in action. Poor Alfred Hale, who was also from Wycombe, died during this time. We then moved a few miles south into France. These were much better trenches; over 6ft deep and there were large quantities of furniture that had been moved into them. Four-poster beds existed in quite a number, but owing to the quantities of small vermin and mice which had made their homes in them, they proved to be most undesirable, and were almost all scrapped before we had been there for a week. We were there for almost a year.

In May and June 1916 we moved south again to prepare for the big push in the Somme. We weren’t involved during the first few days, but our turn would come. In mid-August we moved near the front line in what used to be a village called Ovillers. On August 15th we were in the attack. Our objective was the next village, which was up a small hill, called Pozieres, and we were fighting with the Austalians, or Anzacs as we called them. It was very difficult as the Germans had established machine gun posts and were regularly shelling us. That day our battalion, the Buckinghamshire Regiment, had around 180 casualties. Unfortunately I was one of them; I was shot straight through the spine. I was put onto a stretcher and taken to a field hospital; I couldn’t feel or move my legs. On August 20th I arrived back in England and was admitted to King George’s Hospital in London. On examination it seemed my spine had been cut by the bullet and I had permanently lost the use of my legs.

I spent the last two years of my life in that hospital and towards the end in a dreadful condition. I died from my wounds on January 25th 1918. The funeral was a large occasion, if only I had been there to see it! One of the nurses at the hospital wrote a letter to my parents after I died “I feel I must send you our truest sympathy. I work at King George’s Hospital in the Discharged Soldiers Department, and since last September have visited your son every few days. And having known him so long I feel his death so much. He was always so splendid, and I shall always look back on my friendship with him as a great privilege. For to have known a man like him was an honour. Many people who knew him said he was a saint and left an example behind which none who knew him will ever forget”. I was only 28 when I died. All of my family, except my mum of course, had served their country by fighting. It was my dad who managed to get out but was still doing his bit as Corporal. I had four brothers who fought and two of them were also wounded but survived the war. There were various wreaths left on my grave after the service and the one I’ll remember the most was from my fiancée, “In ever loving remembrance, to my darling, from your ever broken-hearted Vi.”

Researched and performed by Nick Pinn

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