Sapper Harry Wickham

Researched and written by Anne Wright

Sapper H Wickham
84th Field Company, Royal Engineers
37434
Killed in action, 26.3.1918
Age, 33

Harry Wickham was lodging with Sarah and Richard Ayres at Withdean in Oakdale Road, Weybridge in 1911. He was a coach builder as was his landlord. They could have been involved in the construction of horse drawn carriages, railway carriages or motor cars; Brooklands race track might have been their place of employment. Later that year he married Elsie Eliza Dix at Wallingford in Berkshire. Harry was born at Tunbridge Wells in the last quarter of 1884 to Alfred Amram and Elizabeth Georgina G (nee Stapleton) who were married in Tunbridge in the summer of 1876. Alfred was a blacksmith. They had six children, three of whom had died by 1911. In 1891 when the family lived at 55, Camden Road in Tunbridge there were five children: Alfred, Mary, Harry, William and Rose Georgina. Ten years later just Harry and Mary remained at home; he was a wheelwright’s apprentice.

His unit was part of the 20th Division which went to France in July 1915. Harry was not yet with them; he did not receive the 1914-15 Star which was awarded to those who fought against the Germans up to December 1915. They served on the Western Front throughout the war: from the Laventie sector in 1915 to the Ypres Salient in 1916, followed by the Somme in the same year, back to the Ypres Salient in 1917 for the Third Battle of Ypres and once more to the Somme in the spring of 1918. Throughout they maintained the transport system, the communications systems, the weapons, they designed and built front line fortifications and handled explosives. On 25-26 June, 1916 Harry’s company carried forward four charges of ammonal and destroyed dug-outs and an observation post. Two months later they were pumping out trenches in preparation for attacking Guillemont. In August 1917 they laboured under shell fire to carry out trench consolidation work to the east of Pilckem.

The day after the Germans launched their Spring Offensive on 21 March 1918, Harry and his comrades were ordered to improve defences due east of Ollezy and south-west of St Simon. The trenches had been outlined but not constructed; they dug until 7pm and were then ordered to repair a bridge which had been partially demolished. The following days were shaped by the German onslaught. On 23 March the 84th Field Company constructed machine gun positions, they were ordered to demolish the bridge they had repaired and moved forward to occupy the line astride the Villeselve – Cugny road, east of Villeselve. At 3pm the next day the enemy attacked their position and advanced so rapidly that Harry’s unit found it difficult to keep abreast of events; they lost touch with their Brigade HQ which had moved back.

On 25 March they were ordered to move to Roye-sur-Matz and at 4.30am on the 26th to Quesnel. They left at 5.25am. Their casualties for March amounted to 1 killed, 14 wounded, 14 missing and 13 in hospital. Harry was the single fatality. He had died in the Battle of Rosieres. He has no known grave but is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial (Panel 10 to 13) which is 6 km from Albert. The memorial contains over 14,000 names of those who fell between March and August 1918. Harry’s widow lived at Wallingford where her father was a baker and grocer and she had a large number of siblings. She did not remarry and died there, aged 41 in 1930.

Sources:

The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – Field Companies of Royal Engineers, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
Burrows Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915, www.ancestry.co.uk

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