P F Wingrove

P F Wingrove

Percy Wingrove (1896-1919)

My name is Percy Freeman Wingrove and I was born in 1896 in Loudwater, High Wycombe. Although we weren’t rich we were better off than many as my father was a foreman at the local paper mill. He was in charge of the rag department where the material was sorted before it was made into paper. My older sister worked in the same department and once I left school, aged 14, I also worked in the mill. There were lots of paper mills in Loudwater at that time. We lived at the lodge, which you can still see at the junction of London Road and Rayners Avenue. I had two older sisters and two younger ones as well, along with a younger brother – it was a full household!

In 1911 I decided to join the army – it seemed more exciting than working in the mill – and I joined the local regiment, the 1st Ox and Bucks Light Infantry. At first I was stationed in India and then, at the outbreak of the war, I was sent directly from India with the first party to the Persian Gulf to fight the Turks who had sided with the Germans. We needed to protect our interests in the oil fields in Mesopotamia (which is now called Iraq). We arrived in November 1914 and had our first experience of fighting the Turks just outside a town called Basra. We managed to push them back but it was very difficult. The Turks had managed to get many of the Arabs to help them by calling it a Jihad, a holy war, saying Christians were attacking Muslims. It was extremely hot and dusty and in late 1914 I was diagnosed with malaria; it was horrible and I had a dreadful fever. They evacuated me away from the Gulf and sent me back to India as unfit for frontline service. I later found out that many of those I served with died after the Siege of Kut when we surrendered to the Turks. I have heard the battle described as the most abject capitulation in Britain’s military history – over 70% of the 13,000 men died in captivity after the surrender, although the generals lived out the war in luxury.

I was sent to the military hospital at our base at Wellington in southern India. It’s where the Indian army’s staff college is based now. While I was recovering I helped the chaplain with his Christian work with other soldiers and some of the locals. Although I was getting better I was still considered unfit for active service against the Germans so was I was then transferred to the Ox and Bucks Garrison Battalion. Garrison Battalions were made up of soldiers like me considered unfit for front line duty. They were sent to various parts of the empire on garrison duties to release fit soldiers for front line duty. The Ox and Bucks were based in Bellary which was one of the British garrisons in the south of India. While I was based here I heard the sad news that my mother had died. Finally after six years serving overseas I was told I was returning to England. I still had not recovered; the doctors tell me that some people never recover from malaria. It was a long journey aboard a ship called the SS Neuralia, which was an ambulance ship helping troops return after the war. Twenty five years later the boat took part in the Normandy landings on D Day. It was on this journey that my condition started to deteriorate until I eventually lost my battle with the disease. I died on board on Sunday 16th November aged 26; I’d almost made it back - we were in sight of England.

My body was taken back home via railway from Plymouth to High Wycombe, where my funeral took place on the 20th November 1919, four days after my death. With my family grieving of their loss, the friends I had made on the S.S Neuralia sent a beautiful artificial wreath to place on my grave.

Researched by Kristian Stavrou, performed by Matthew Crane

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