Some earlier sources state John was born John Wright and changed his name on marriage to John Windham-Wright but we now know he was born Whittaker Wright in the United States, the son of James Whittaker and Annie Edith Wright. The family, including John’s sisters Edith and Gladys, returned to the United Kingdom in 1889 and James bought Lea Park (now Witley Park) in 1890 and spent a fortune remodelling it. James was popular in Witley, providing much employment, but was convicted of fraud in 1904. James committed suicide after the judgement and is buried in All Saints churchyard with Annie who died in 1931.
John was educated at Eton and Oxford. He joined The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) Volunteers when he was 22 years old in 1906 as a second lieutenant. In 1911 he was living with Annie, Edith and Gladys at Parsonage Farm, Witley. John married Violet Agnes Smijth-Windham, daughter of John Charles (a retired colonel) and Frances Helen Smijth-Windham on 15 August 1912 in Wrecclesham, Surrey. The banns and marriage certificate give his name as John Windham-Wright, occupation gentleman, residence Witley, father John Whittaker Wright, deceased. John had an uncle named John who invented the electric trolley pole and brought electric light to Toronto but he died in 1922. In October 1912 John and Violet went to British Columbia, Canada on the Cunard liner S. S. Carmania (19,500 tons) so perhaps his change of name was meant for a new life as a farmer in Canada.
John and Violet returned to England in 1914 and John re-joined the Queens (Royal West Surrey Regiment) as a captain. He became medically unfit so was posted to the Fifth Reserve Battalion at Guildford and promoted to major in 1915. John did much for the welfare of the men under his command; he led an appeal in December 1915 raising a considerable amount for their Christmas welfare. John and Violet’s son, Patrick Joseph Stewart Windham-Wright was born in 1916. By November 1917, John had recovered and was posted to the Sixth Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) and served in the Somme area and in Belgium. At the end of 1918, John was attached to the Eleventh Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), part of the occupying army in Germany based at Cologne, as a temporary lieutenant colonel. In February 1919, the family received a telegram advising John was desperately ill with pneumonia and a few days later he died on 14 February. In the meantime, The London Gazette of 13 February 1919 John announced as being awarded the Order of the British Empire. Violet is listed at Winkford Lodge on the 1921 voter’s roll but then moved to Swanthorpe, East Liss and thereafter to several addresses in Sussex, Surrey and Berkshire. Patrick married Weiti Urban in 1945 in The Netherlands. Violet’s final home was in St. Leonards but she died on 14th February 1959 in The Netherlands, possibly whilst visiting Patrick’s in-laws.
The Schwann family came from Germany in the early 1800s and married English families. Maydie was born in Westminster, London in 1897 to Henry Sigismund (a stockbroker) and Torfrida Lois Acantha Schwann (née Huddart, born in Ballarat, Australia, the daughter of a prominent ship-owner). In 1903 the family moved to Hangerfield, Church Lane, Witley buying it from long rerm resident Lt. Col. H J Crawfurd. Like many families with German names, Henry changed the family name to Swann during the war due to anti-German sentiment. The Swann children were Maydie, Gerald, Edric, Hugh, Harry and Robert.
Maydie was educated at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, finishing around 1914/15. She was well known locally for her work for the St. Nicholas Crippled Children’s Society, Farnham. Later on in the war, she became a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, serving between 3rd July 1916 and 19th January 1919 at Hilders Military Hospital, Shottermill which catered mainly for Canadians and received a long service stripe. After the war, Maydie continued her work for the St. Nicholas Crippled Children’s Society. Maydie married H J Hayman Joyce (a captain in The Border Regiment at the time) on 6th May 1923 at All Saints Church, Witley. They had three children, Jillian, Ann and John. She died in Taunton, Somerset on 7th December 1977.
Maydie’s father Henry and brother Edric served in The Royal Navy, her brother Gerald joined The Royal Flying Corps and was killed in action on 18th October 1917; he is buried at Varennes in France (see their stories on this web-site).
The Swann’s chauffeur, George Mann died in 1919 whilst with the RASC, see his story on this web-site.
The Schwann family came from Germany in the early 1800s and married English families. Gerald was born in Westminster, London in 1898 to Henry Sigismund (a stockbroker) and Torfrida Lois Acantha Schwann (née Huddart, born in Ballarat, Australia, the daughter of a prominent ship-owner). In 1903 the family moved to Hangerfield, Church Lane, Witley buying it from long rerm resident Lt. Col. H J Crawfurd. Like many families with German names, Henry changed the family name to Swann (and his own to Henry Bagehot Swann) during the war due to anti-German sentiment. The Swann children were Irene May (known as Maydie), Gerald, Edric, Hugh, Harry and Robert.
Gerald went to Rugby School in 1912 and was a member of the Officer Training Corps. In December 1916, he joined The Royal Flying Corps, was commissioned in April 1917 and awarded his “Wings” in June. In August he joined 41 Squadron near Léalvillers, Somme, France, equipped with outclassed Airco DH5 single seat fighters. On 18th October 1917, the squadron took off at 14:55 to undertake a deep offensive patrol to Arleux-Borlon Wood. North of Havrincourt Wood and east of Bapaume, the squadron was intercepted by a large number of superior German aircraft. Gerald was attacked by six German aircraft and one of his wings so badly damaged it tore away and his plane spiralled to the ground. Gerald was found dead in the wreckage wounded in three places.
Gerald’s battlefield wooden cross was donated by the family to All Saints Church and hung in the north transept when the Commonwealth War Graves Commission replaced it with the permanent stone one. The additional dedication on Gerald’s headstone reads “He being made perfect in a little while fulfilled long years”. He was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Henry and Edric served in the Royal Navy during the Great War and Maydie was a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse serving between 3rd July 1916 and 19th January 1919 at Hilders Military Hospital, Shottermill which catered mainly for Canadians.
Frank was the son of Walter Francis and Constance Jane Mattingley née Chennel. In 1911, the family lived at Glenmore and later moved to Rose Cottage on the Petworth Road, Witley. Walter was a foreman at F Milton and Son, builders, of Witley and Harry became a carpenter. On 16th March 1913 he sailed for Halifax (Canada) to become a farmer.
Harry enlisted at Niagara, Canada on 31st August 1915, his enlistment papers show he was 5ft 4½ inches tall with dark hair and hazel eyes. The 24th Battalion was part of the 5th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division and took part in the battles of the Somme, Thiepval (26th – 28th September 1916) and Le Transloy (1st – 18th October 1916). Harry was wounded, most likely at Le Transloy, brought to Cliveden Hospital, Taplow, Bucks and operated upon but died later. He was given a military funeral at All Saints’ Church on 24th October with 120 Canadian soldiers, the band of the 100th Battalion from Witley Camp and children from Witley School lined the road. Harry’s funeral was also attended by the Mann family; George Mann joined the Army Service Corps and died of influenza in France in December 1918. Harry’s brother, Frank, was killed at Passchendaele in July 1917.
Frank was the son of Walter Francis and Constance Jane Mattingley née Chennel. In 1911, the family lived at Glenmore and later moved to Rose Cottage on the Petworth Road, Witley. Walter was a foreman at F Milton and Son, builders, in Witley and both he and Frank played for Witley Cricket Club. Frank became a bricklayer and married Beatrice Ethel Wilson in mid 1914. The 1911 census lists Beatrice as a domestic servant for the Swann family who lived in Hangerfield, Church Lane, Witley. Frank and Beatrice had two children, Olive and Allan.
In the opening stages of the battle of Passchendaele, Frank and others were repairing damage caused by shelling to the Boesinghe-Pilkem Road. The road had to be kept in good repair to keep the army supplied. A German artillery shell exploded near the men whilst they were having their tea-break, killing Lance Corporal Francis Ledwidge (a well known Irish poet), Lance Sergeant John Harte, Private Henry P Evans, Private Robert Sharman and Frank. Frank was buried near where he was killed and later moved to Artillery Wood Cemetery. He was identified by a pocket book and his effects sent to his family. Frank’s parents added the inscription “Ever in our thoughts” on his gravestone. He was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Frank’s younger brother, Harry, died of wounds in October 1916.
William was born on 3rd May 1886 at St. James, Norfolk, the son of Rachel Elizabeth Jordan and William Lowe who married later that year. In 1891, William, Rachel, William junior (5), Henry (3), George (2) and Rachel (2 months) were living in Pockthorpe, Norfolk. William junior enlisted in the Coldstream Guards in March 1904 and served until December 1911. In the 1911 census William is recorded as a single soldier, visitor, at Thorne Cottage, Warwick Lane, St. Johns, Woking with Martha Hampton and her daughter Florence (Flory) May (20). William and Flory married in Woking on 27th January 1912 and lived in Wormley (Witley). William was initially a labour-master at Hambledon workhouse and then worked for the RAC.
When war broke out, William rejoined his old regiment. The battalion was under-strength as a result of earlier battles and at Gheluvelt, south east of Ypres in late October 1914. Early in the morning of 28th October the Germans attacked during a mist so dense units did not know what was happening to the units next to them. The Germans broke through in places and attacked some units from the rear, forcing the British forces to withdraw. That night William’s battalion had no officers and only 80 men.
William was posted as missing during the German attack and the All Saints’ Witley Parish Magazine of January 1917 reports this. Later, it was confirmed he was killed in action and buried by the Germans together with other British soldiers but their identities were lost during the war and subsequent battles. After the war, the soldiers were re-buried at Zantvoorte and commemorated on The Kruiseecke German Cemetery Memorial. William is also commemorated on the Woking Town Center Memorial and on the Norwich Roll of Honour. William was awarded the 1914 Star (the Mons Star), the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Charles was born in 1880, the son of George (a farmer’s carter) and Alice Elliott (nee Karn) and became a gardener. At the time of his enlistment in the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) on 16th October 1916 the family lived at Winkford Farm Cottages. Albert went to France in February 1917, transferred to the Labour Corps and died of pneumonia in hospital at St. Pol on 3rd June 1917.
There is an additional inscription on Charles’ headstone placed by his family, it reads “He is sacred high in our memory and to God we can leave the rest”. Charles was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Charles’ cousin, Albert, served in the Royal Army Service Corps and was killed in an accident in May, 1919, shortly before he was discharged.
At the beginning of the war, some units had a Pioneer Corps to build and maintain bridges, canals, railways, ammunition dumps etc. Organisation was haphazard and not co-ordinated until the formation of the Labour Corps in 1917. Labour Battalions were often not considered as separate units and men who died are often commemorated under the original infantry unit. Few records of the Labour Battalions survive.
Albert was born in 1884, the only son of Albert (a shepherd at Witley Park) and Annie Elliott. One of his cousins, Charles also died in the war. Albert junior became the chauffeur for Doctor Booker of Witley. He married Alice Boxall in 1910; they lived at 56 Summers Road, Farncombe and had four children, Margaret Alice( 1911), Ernest (1913), Arthur (1915) and Kathleen Peace born in 1919 after Albert died.
Albert enlisted on 19th April 1915 as a driver in the mechanical transport section of the RASC and went to France in July that year. Apart from spells of leave in England he remained in France. In 1918 he was sent home to have an eye removed at Leeds Infirmary and after the operation was posted to 1st Reserve MT Depot located at Grove Park. Unfortunately, a few days before he was due to be demobilised, Albert was killed in a motor cycle accident. His cousin, Charles, joined the Queens, went to France in 1917 and died in June 1917.
Albert was a bell-ringer at All Saints’ Church, Witley and would ring the bells when home on leave. He was buried in All Saints’ churchyard, his coffin draped with the Union Flag and carried to the graveside by the bell-ringers who had rung a half-muffled peal as a mark of respect. Men from his unit also attended the service. Alice died seven months after Albert and was buried next to him. Albert was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Frank was born in 1893, the fourth of five sons of John Edmund (a stockbroker’s agent) and Ethel of Enton Lodge, Witley. Frank went to Eton College and joined the army, not surprisingly the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. He was commissioned in September 1912 and promoted to Lieutenant in September 1914.
The 1st Battalion was in England at the outbreak of the war and went to France on 13 August 1914 as part of the British Expeditionary Force. The battalion took part in the battle of Mons, the first battle of the war, the retreat from Mons and subsequent counter attacks by the Allies. In late October 1914 the battalion was joined by the 2nd Battalion at Ypres when the Allies attacked the German positions in the first battle of Ypres and forced them back to Passchendaele Ridge. During a German counter-attack on the 29 October which penetrated the British line, the 1st Battalion was sent to Gheluvelt to support the 2nd Battalion. 1st Battalion and the Scots Guards tried to take a German trench at 3pm on 29 October 1914 but failed, losing 161 dead. Frank is mentioned in the battalion war diary as having been killed in this attack and in the Witley parish magazine as having died of wounds. He has no known grave, so it can be surmised he was buried but the site damaged in subsequent actions and his body could not be identified after the war.
Frank’s brothers also served in the war: John in the Grenadier Guards, Harold (who won the Military Cross) in the Royal Field Artillery and Tank Corps, Noel (wounded in action) in the King’s Own Hussars and Geoffrey in the Royal Flying Corps.
Frank was awarded the 1914 Star (The Mons Star), the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
William was born at Wallop, Hampshire, and became a cowman. He married Evelyn Lucy Snelling (whose brother, Albert, was killed in November 1917) on 11 August 1913 at All Saints’ Church, Witley, when both were living in Sandhills.
William was awarded the 1914/15 Star so was in a war theatre in 1914 or 1915, probably in another unit, as the 15th Battalion Hampshire Regiment did not land in France until May 1916. He was wounded three times. His third and fatal wound was in the spine which he may have sustained at St Quentin, Bapaume or Arras; he died a few days after returning to England.
Whilst a corporal, William was listed in the Supplement to The Edinburgh Gazette of 14 November 1916 for the Military Medal, but it is not known for which act it was awarded. William was also awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Evelyn added the inscription “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” to William’s headstone in All Saints’ churchyard.