Lance Corporal, L/6687, 1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment
Died of Wounds, Boulogne, France, 7 April 1915, aged 23
Buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France
Grave III. D. 80

Boulogne Eastern Cemetery
(click to enlarge)

Lance Corporal William James Wheatley was born in Hartfield in 1893, the son of George and Ellen (née Everest) Wheatley. His father was a platelayer on the railway and his elder brother George, who was later killed in action near Arras in 1917, was a labourer on a farm. The family lived at Newton's Hill in Hartfield. He had two sisters, Lizzie and Caroline. William, who sang treble in the church choir, does not appear in the 1911 census.

William enlisted in the East Surrey Regiment at Kingston-upon-Thames in 1912 aged 18 and 4 months. He was 5.5 feet and had blue eyes and a tattoo. He weighed 115 pounds. His occupation was listed as a milk carrier.

William died of wounds to the head on 7 April 1915 while in hospital at Boulogne, Pas de Calais, France, aged 23, and is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery.

His injuries were reported in the local press. The East Grinstead Observer of Saturday, 27 March 1915 wrote:

Local Residents and the War

LCpl William Wheatley, son of Mrs Wheatley who is in the West Surrey Regiment has been wounded and is in one of the hospitals in France. The Rev RV Farnfield (chaplain) who conveyed the news to Mrs Wheatley, states her son has been badly wounded in the head. He is, however going on well and it is hoped that he will soon be able to be moved.

It was later reported on 16 April that he had died of his wounds.

In March and April 1915 the 1st Battalion, The East Surreys, was based near Béthune in northern France. On 9 March it was involved in heavy fighting in the opening days of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. It is likely that he was shot during the course of this battle. The 1st Battalion was fighting with the Indian Corps.

The Battle of Neuve Chapelle is generally regarded as the first set-piece British offensive on the Western Front. In the first three days one quarter of the 40,000 strong British and Indian force were killed, wounded or captured.

The 1st Battalion The East Surreys joined the 14th Brigade of the 5th Division of the British Expeditionary Force and during the first few months of the war gained honours at Mons, Le Cateau, on the Marne and on the Aisne. In the spring it probably achieved its finest feat of the war in the Defence of Hill 60 near Ypres on 23 April 1915. During this action, the Battalion gained three Victoria Crosses (VCs), two Military Crosses (MCs) and seven Distinguished Conduct Medals (DCMs). On 10 April 1915, the 1st and 2nd Battalions met for the first time since the old 31st Foot and 70th Foot had met on active service during the French Revolutionary Wars. The 1st Battalion served in France during the entire war except for a short tour in Italy from 1917 to Spring 1918. Following the Armistice, it went to Russia, operating along the Murmansk railway.

Lance Corporal Wheatley is listed on the war memorial in Hartfield. He is also commemorated on a memorial in Hartfield Churchyard. It was reported:

A beautiful cross with the figure of Our Lord on it has been erected in the churchyard by Mrs Peel in Memory of her son Lieutenant Charles Peel who was killed at St Julien on April 25th 1915 and of his old village comrades who have fallen in the war, their names being William Wheatley, Thomas Honeysett, Fred Edwards, Ernest Vaughan, John Shelley, James Bassett.

All these men are included in our case studies.


The cross in Hartfield Churchyard
(click to enlarge)

Carol O'Driscoll