This is the war memorial in Slaidburn. It’s one of thousands spread all over the country but it has one feature most others do not.- it commemorates one of my relatives. My dad has a photograph showing the unveiling (sometime in the early 20s I suppose). It shows my great-grandmother standing in the front row as they reveal the name of her oldest son.
She had a hard war – one son dead, two seriously wounded and a daughter widowed.
William Heseltine Wilson volunteered for service but was sent back to the farm where he worked as a horseman until he was required. I’m not sure he was much of a catch for the military, being a bit on the short side with slightly flattened feet and another slight condition I can’t quite make out on his records.
By early 1917 the army had used up all its tall, fit recruits and William was called up for training, where he managed to qualify as a second class shot. He then had an active few months on the Continent, being mentioned in despatches and wounded three times. The third time proved to be fatal and he died in a Casualty Clearing Station on 14th December 1917.
The army, being meticulous about these things, returned his personal effects in two installments – a safety razor with blades and tin box on the 30th April 1918. Photos, wallet, cards, 2 cap badges, 2 numerals, a 9 carat gold signet ring marked WHW, a farthing and a bag followed on 4th May.
There’s nothing special about the story. There were thousands like him – young men who weren’t meant to be soldiers who were sent away to fight. I know he didn’t want to go back after his penultimate wound because he said so in a postcard to my grandfather (who had been medically downgraded and posted to India after being kicked in the chest by a horse). And I suppose that’s the point – he wasn’t not a hero, despite the slack way we use the words these days: he was just one man among nearly nine million who served. It’s just that thanks to the chance preservation of a few of his army records and some letters his mother sent to my grandfather we can add a few details to his story.
Thanks to the internet I’m even able to access a photograph of his grave.