Wilfred was born in March 1896 in Marske by the Sea near Redcar on the East coast. When he was young his family moved to Middlesbrough where his father worked in the steelworks. Wilfred was training as a draughtsman when war broke out. Wilfred was just 5’ 2’’ tall, an inch shorter that the regulation height. But due to the great manpower losses he eventually got his chance in early 1915 when recruitment standards were somewhat relaxed. He enlisted in the 4th Battalion.
It was in November of 1916 in the latter stages of the Somme offensive that the work party that Wilfred had volunteered for came under fire. On his way back to his own lines he was caught by a shell explosion. He was taken to a hospital at Abbeville where his left arm was amputated.
Back in England Wilfred had to adjust to life without a limb. He was classed as ‘incurably unemployable’ and found it impossible to get a job. He used his time to study employment law and became a ceaseless campaigner for better conditions of his fellow jobless war wounded. He would continue to do so even when after he eventually gained employment. He was instrumental in establishing one of the first branches of BLESMA (British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association) in Teesside.
He married Elsie and his daughter Sylvia was born in 1932. However, his fifty cigarettes a day habit for most of his life would take their toll. He died of lung cancer in 1958, just 62 years old.
Wilfred recorded his military and civilian campaigns in a diary that spent years in the loft of his daughter’s home in Middlesbrough. His family edited the diary into a testimony of one man’s war experience and his fight against injustice and discrimination. The book is called ‘Wasted Effort: A Journal of the First World War’.
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Elizabeth Jane Griffiths known as Batchie Born in Llandingat, Carmarthenshire, in 1899. Batchie was enrolled with the Red Cross at the age of 18 and served as a VAD for just over a year. She was stationed at Catterick Military Hospital as a clerk. After her time at Catterick Camp, she returned to North Wales and married Emlyn James. Just before Christmas 1946, the British authorities relaxed the rules on contacts between British people and German prisoners of war. Emlyn and Batchie James were among the many British families who invited German prisoners to their home on Christmas day. From then on they invited two German prisoners from the camp at Castle Martin to their home in Pembroke every fortnight. Each time a prisoner was moved to a different camp, another would take his place, and so over time they got to know many Germans. Batchie and Emlyn received a letter from the Secretary of State for War refusing permission for two German prisoners of war, Helmut Grothe and Joachim Becker, to visit before returning to Germany. These two prisoners had been among those whom Emlyn and Batchie James had invited to their home in Pembroke. This information provided by Alathea Anderssohn (granddaughter of Batchie Griffiths) has been drawn from the Imperial War Museum’s ‘Lives of the First World War’ archive.
Alfred Myers came from a large family in East Cleveland and before the war worked with two of his brothers in the ironstone mines. A member of the Independent Labour Party and a devout Wesleyan Methodist, he played a key role in his local community. He was a tenor in the Wesleyan Carlin How choir, a Sunday school superintendent and trustee of the local church. Myer’s service record survives and records the process of his arrest and sentencing in cold, hard terms. One month after his posting he was arrested and court-martialled. Initially he was sentenced to death but this was commuted to 10 years imprisonment. At his hearing for exemption from compulsory military service, Myers asserted his belief in an international brotherhood of man, and stated that he ‘could not conscientiously kill, nor assist in killing’. But like so many others he was only granted exemption from combatant service and was sent to the Non-Combatant Corps at Richmond Castle. In the cells at Richmond, Myers’s tenor voice was put to good use. With two other conscientious objectors, Brocklesby and Gaudie, he sang the hymn ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ in three-part harmony. Myers’s performance wasn’t as perfect as the other prisoners hoped, however – they had to bang on the cell floor to keep him in time. Following his ordeal with the rest of the Richmond Sixteen in France, Myers was sent first to Dyce Camp, near Aberdeen, and then Maidstone prison. Others of the Richmond Sixteen were also…
Gerald Burnett visited the museum to relate the story of his grandfather Ernest Wyatt Burnett. My Grandfather, Ernest Wyatt Burnett was born in Chudleigh, Devonshire, in 1886. After minimal schooling and several agricultural jobs, Ernest moved to London and became a chauffeur with various employers including Thomas Tilling. He spent the pre-war years driving around Great Britain with American tourists and contemporary industrialists such as Tommy Lipton of tea fame. Ernest enlisted with the Royal Army Service Corps, Mechanical Transport Branch, in April 1915 and became a Staff Car driver. In 1915, the Government appointed five official Western Front War Correspondents, Philip Gibbs, Percival Phillips, H. Perry Robinson, W. Beach Thomas and Herbert Russell. Ernest was assigned to be their driver, a position he held until the end of the war. Ernest was transferred to the Reserve in February 1919. Alongside his ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’ decorations he was awarded a Silver Medal for Merit by Nicholas I, King of Montenegro. During WW2, Ernest served with the Home Guard at Balcombe Place, his Sussex home, where he was chauffeur to Lady Gertrude Denman who was President of the Women’s Institute and Honorary Director of The Women’s Land Army. My Grandfather was one of the lucky ones. He served his country, survived two World Wars, and lived a full and interesting life.