R C W Wisdom

Reginald Wisdom

Reginald Wisdom 1896-1920

This particular headstone is mine, Reginald Charles Walter Wisdom, and I was buried here with military honours in 1920. What makes this grave particularly interesting is the date upon it; although my death was a direct result of the First World War, I died over a year after the end of the Great War on April 22nd 1920.

First however I want to talk a little about my early life as well as the lead up to my death at the age of only 24. I was born in 1896 in the small market town of Whitchurch in Shropshire. I was the son of Walter and Ellen Wisdom who were both shopkeepers, and I also had four siblings: Alice, Muriel, Ralph and John. Although I grew up in March, which is in Cambridgeshire, by the age of 18 my family had moved to live here in High Wycombe.

By September 1914, I had enlisted into the 8th Surrey Regiment as a private due to the recruitment posters that were so attractive to young men like me, especially considering we were told that the war would only last until Christmas. It was also appealing for men like me to go out to the battlefields as at the time it was thought to be shameful and cowardly for men to stay at home in England. We had just heard about the BEFís retreat after the Battle of the Mons and because of that and Lord Kitchenerís poster in September 1914 there were almost 1/2 million recruits; nearly double that of any other month of The Great War. However, the war was not the short adventure that I had envisioned and like many others, it cost me my life.

In 1915 it became apparent to the War Office that it would be of huge help to train soldiers specifically to use machine guns as they had been so influential in the trench warfare of the early parts of World War 1. And indeed, in 1916, I was transferred to the 55 Machine Gun Corps while keeping attached to the 8th Surrey Regiment and in that year I was sent with my battalion to fight at the Somme. My battalion made history in the Somme by starting one of the most dangerous and life threatening kick-abouts in footballing history. On the first day, July 1st 1916, Captain Nevill kicked a football all the way across no-manís land as far towards the German line as was possible, and the winner would receive a prize from the Captain, who "kicked off" the first ball - the prize was never collected as Nevill died on that day. One of the footballs was inscribed: "The Great European Cup, The Final, East Surreys v Bavarians, Kick Off at Zero.

I never saw this because on June 14th we moved into the frontline trenches at Maricourt to prepare for the big push. The trench was bombarded and I was one of three men from my battalion to be injured and I was, as a result, admitted to a field hospital before being sent back to High Wycombe on the 6th July.

My injury was a gunshot wound to the head which had pierced my skull. This was clearly a severe injury and thus I was discharged from the army a year later in 1917. After the end of World War 1 the Technical School, which is now called John Hampden Grammar School, set up a scheme to train disabled war veterans to give them a future career after being deemed unfit to be part of the army. In my case I was trained in furniture making.

The Bucks Free Press at the time identified me especially for having a great carving ability. This ability is evident nowhere more than on a set of memorial lockers that have the pride of place in the entrance to John Hampden Grammar School even to this day. The lockers were designed by the head of woodcarving at the school at the time: Mr Wilson. Although designed by Wilson, we crafted them after only a few months training. The lockers were in memoriam for boys from the school who had been killed in the war and we tried to make sure they were suitable; upon the cornice are the names of the recognised battle areas of the war and the words 'They counted not their lives unto themselves'. I carved some of the doors you can see. The lockers were so impressive that it in fact made its way into an American furniture magazine: The Good Furniture Magazine published in a place called Michigan!

After my training, I was taken on by Nicholls and Janes Furniture Workshop and was offered a job after six months of training with them as an apprentice. Nicholls and Janes were based near where Bucks New University and the flyover are now.

Unfortunately in 1920 I was admitted to the Cottage Hospital as my condition had deteriorated. On the 22nd April 1920, I died of a cerebral abscess and meningitis. Modern medicine, including Penicillin, probably would have saved me but this wasnít available then.

Because my death was considered to have resulted directly from my war service I was buried with full military honours here in High Wycombe Cemetery, leaving no wife or children. My father and mother have been buried in the same plot. I hope I will always be remembered for my bravery and even to this day we can still see my craftsmanship in the form of the intricate memorial lockers that help us to commemorate the outstanding bravery of soldiers like me who lost their lives to the war.

Researched and performed by Joe Hawley

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