This story is the result of an investigation of documents held by Surrey History Centre. The file (SHC ref. CC7/4/4, nos. 1-50) contains correspondence and insurance claims on behalf of Surrey County Council Education Department employees who had been killed in action during the Great War. The cases date from 1915 to 1918.
Name: John McLean Wiseman
Occupation: Assistant Master, Richmond County School
Birth Place: Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Date of Death: Killed in Action 11th March 1917
Age: 28 years (Born 1888)
Location: Zillebeke, Ypres Salient
Regiment: 7th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment
Number: 354253 (previously 8135)
John was the son of John Mclean senior, an estate clerk, and Harriet, of Nacton, Ipswich, Suffolk. John senior had married Harriet in 1883.
In the 1891 census, John senior had listed his profession as elementary school teacher, probably at the National School in Nacton, but had given this up by the turn of the century. In Kelly’s Suffolk Directory in 1912, he is recorded as being the clerk to E.R.H. Moorsman, a land agent.
In the 1911 census John and Harriet stated they have five children: Winifred (a school mistress), Maud, John, Archibald, and Marian. John had left home by this point. He is recorded in the University of London ‘War List’, which lists the military services of students and former students, as attending Birbeck College before the war.
By 1911, John was now boarding at 35, Larkfield Road, Richmond, and was already an assistant master, Richmond County School. He was single. It is not known when John enlisted.
When he did, he enlisted into the 7th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment, which was a pre-war Territorial Force unit, part-time soldiers. It was mobilised for war on 5th August 1914 at Finsbury Square, going to France in March 1915. Since its arrival it had fought at Festubert, Loos in 1915, and in 1916 at Vimy Ridge, and High Wood and Warlencourt on the Somme. This last engagement in October 1916 cost the battalion 300 casualties.
As John did not qualify for the 1914/15 Star, awarded for service in 1914 and 1915, it is likely that he arrived in France in early 1916.
The battalion then moved to the Ypres sector and saw in the new year there. They were based around the area of ‘Belgian Chateau’, a reserve area, still within the range of enemy artillery, to the south-west of Ypres. Much of January and into February was filled with working parties and parades, but from the 4th of February they moved up to the trenches. The War Dairy then paints a picture of the front-line being relatively quiet with few casualties, and limited enemy activity.
On 11th March 1916, the War Diary records the situation as all quiet. It notes that the enemy heavily shelled the trenches in the area, but little damage was done to 7th Battalion trenches. It then notes simply ‘Casualties 2 OR killed, 1 OR wounded’. John was sadly one of the other ranks killed.
M. Davidson (Chaplain to the Forces) wrote an undated letter to John’s family:
‘I am sure you feel an honourable pride in giving one to die for his country with all it stands for at present. He has made the great sacrifice for the cause of honour and Justice.
He was killed by a shell and I understand death was immediate. We buried him in a cemetery and a cross marks his last resting place.’
In a letter dated 25th May 1917, the Territorial Forces Record Office informed the family that John had been buried at Railway Dug-outs Burial Ground, Transport Farm, Zillebeke.
After his death, John’s family pursued an insurance claim with Surrey County Council, who had taken out an insurance policy on behalf of John. As part of this process, local enquiries were made into the circumstances of the family. John’s father, giving his address as Owell Park Estate Office, Nacton, Ipswich, wrote a letter to the Surrey Education Committee on 4th June 1917. In making his case he says, rather sadly, that the family had ‘strained our resources to keep him at London University and, quite voluntarily, he was recouping us for our outlay’. It is not recorded how much they received from their claim.
John is buried in the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground (Transport Farm) with the inscription ‘In Loving Memory’.
He is entitled to the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Surrey History Centre CC7/4/4 File 27
War Diary – 7th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment
University of London Student Records, War List 1914-18 – http://archives.ulrls.lon.ac.uk/resources/WARLISToptimised-OCR.pdf
Commonwealth War Graves Commission – https://www.cwgc.org/
Ancestry website – https://www.ancestry.co.uk/