WHEATLEY Village History

‘They Were a Wall – Wheatley in a World at War 1914-19’

The Wheatley Branch of the Royal British Legion suggested a book to mark Wheatley 1914-19 and the Wheatley Society joined in.  A village team led by Bill Jackson, researched and composed the book in 2013-14. ‘They Were a Wall’ appears in November, its title the Bible quotation topping the village Service Roll, 1919.  The Heritage Lottery Fund and a donation from Edward Hess paid for our tribute to a generation still ‘up close and personal’ to many of us. History is threaded memories, not sliced centuries: 70% of the research team’s parents were of the 1914 generation.  Villagers responded ‘Thanks for remembering grandfather; they forgot him in 1919’ and ‘Thanks for the story of our family War Grave at St Mary’s’.  Despite ‘We will remember them’ boomed out for a century, we did forget Wheatley soldiers and even the dead in 1919 (187 served, not 181; 41 died, not 34 or 36).  Now we struggle to place where they fought, let alone why, and we can no longer ‘read’ their medal ribbons or understand the bugle calls which ran their lives and spoke their prayer and emotions.  And the German Turkish ‘enemy’?  Save The Children began in London, 1919, to save German children from the Allies’ continued food blockade.  Peace at Versailles in 1919 brought reconciliation (if not assurance), and BAOR (Mark 1) blessed 500 ‘Tommy und Gretchen’ weddings.

The artist, Stanley Spencer’s brother, Sydney, fell for Wheatley in 1914 and recorded it.  A German Navy officer-Kadett had tea here in 1914, then faced the vicar’s son at Jutland, 1916.  Wheatley men landed on Gallipoli, liberated Jerusalem in the ‘last Crusade’, and invaded Syria and Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq) in the world’s first oil war.  They are buried out there where they fell. A dozen Wheatley men have no known graves, only their name chiselled in stone.  One is buried at sea.  The book analyses the records of Wheatley appeals against conscription. It also captures forgotten village moments: from 1916: Reuben Crick, a new apprentice at Sheldon’s black smithy, Church Road, downed tools every noon to ring St Mary’s bells for the dead.  Soon, two Sheldons and two Cricks were listed.  In 1917 a villager won the Military Medal.  In 1918 the village ‘horsewhisperer’ helped escort the defeated German army back over its home frontier.  When peace broke out in June 1919, the village had a party.  Wheatley women founded a WI branch to mark their changed post-war roles (detailed in the book), and to feel the strength in classless numbers which soldiers knew.  The last Wheatley Crimean veteran unveiled the village memorial, helped by the youngest bereaved Wheatley child.  Thoughtful, humorous, Wheatley-based, but in a wider world, and with much new material, ‘They Were a Wall’ is written for everyone.

Contributed by:  John Fox , 2014<year>
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