E.A. Wickes (listed on the Memorial as A.E. Wickes)
Private, The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), 1st Bn.
Service no. 4154
Died on 15 July 1916, aged 39
Remembered at Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval, France
Chris Burge writes:
Alfred Ernest Wickes was born in Aldershot, Hampshire in 1877, the first child of Alfred Henry and Amelia Wickes (née Wetton). Alfred was baptised on 13 May 1877 at St Michael the Archangel, Aldershot, when his father was still in the Army Service Corps.
Alfred’s parents were from London: Alfred Snr was born in Brixton and Amelia in Hammersmith. By the time Alfred’s sister Amelia Maud was born in 1879, Alfred Henry Wickes had left the Army and brought his family to Lambeth, where he found work as a railway porter. By 1881 the family were living at 26 Camellia Street in the shadow of the Nine Elms Railway works. William was born in February 1881 and the Wickes family of five shared a property that housed two other families, a total of 14 people .
At the time of the 1901 census, the Wickes family were living at 16 Paradise Road. Thirteen-year-old Alfred had left school and was working as a newspaper boy. He was now the oldest of eight children. The family lived in four rooms of the property which also housed a family of three living in one other room.
Alfred married Kate Letitia Thomas on 24 February 1906 in the parish church of Weedon Bec, Northamptonshire. By this time, Alfred was calling himself Ernest Alfred Wickes and working as a printer. He gave his address as 16 Paradise Road, Clapham. Kate gave her address as ‘The Barracks, Weedon’. (Weedon had a historical connection to the Royal Ordnance dating from the Napoleonic Wars.)
The marriage was witnessed by her half-brother Benjamin Robert Smith. (Kate’s mother Catherine Thomas had married Robert Smith in 1887 after her own father Edward Thomas had died when Kate was four.) Ernest and Kate’s first child was born in Lambeth on 18 December 1906 and baptised Edward Ernest Robert Wickes at the parish church of Weedon on 31 March 1907, when the family’s home address was 13 Dawlish Street, [location].
At the time of the 1911 census Ernest and Kate were living in Camberwell. The household consisted of Ernest, 33; Kate Letitia, 28; Edward, four; and Ernest’s parents-in-law Robert, a self-employed coal dealer, and Catherine Smith, 66 and 58. Ernest was now working as a shopkeeper of a general store with the assistance of his wife. The family of five were living in four rooms at 205 Cator Street, Peckham, southeast London.
Ernest and Kate’s second child, Benjamin Joseph, was born on 19 March 1912 and baptised at St Anne’s, South Lambeth on 2 June 1912 by which time the family had moved to 36 Heyford Avenue, close to the Beaufoy Vinegar Factory. Their third child, Thomas Alfred, was born on 5 May 1914 and baptised at St Anne’s on 11 October 1914.
What motivated grocer Ernest Alfred Wickes to volunteer at the age of 37 years and 8 months is an open question, but he decided to leave his wife and three young children to join the Army, becoming Private 4145 Wickes E.A., having attested on 11 January 1915, and was recruited to the Royal West Surrey Regiment. The Regimental Medal Roll shows Private 4145 Wickes entering France on ‘9.2.15’ and joining the 1st Battalion, implying he had volunteered some months earlier in 1914. A date of ‘2.9.15’ seems more likely. A draft of 18 other ranks had reached the 1 RWS on 15 September 1915 near Bethune, just ten days before the Battle of Loos.
The Battalion remained in the Loos sector during the winter of 1915 into the following spring. They only started to move south to the Somme on 8 July 1916 and were close to Fricourt by the 13 July. They moved to positions close to High Wood in preparation for an attack on 15 July 1916. No significant gains were made and the 1 RWS withdrew after three-quarters of the officers in action that day were either killed or wounded; of other ranks 28 were killed, 52 were wounded and 207 were missing. Ernest Alfred Wickes was killed in action on that day.
The death of Ernest Alfred Wickes had tragic consequences for his family. His widow Kate Letitia suffered a breakdown in health and in 1917 her three young sons were taken into the care of the Lambeth authorities. In September that year, they passed from the Renfrew Road receiving ward to the Norwood School and nursery at Elder Road West Norwood. It was probably Ernest Wickes’ family who arranged for the name of the son and brother they had always known as Alfred Ernest to appear on the Stockwell War Memorial as A.E. Wickes.
Kate Letitia Wickes was recorded as the anonymous female patient ‘K L W’ at Banstead Hospital in 1921 and again 18 years later in 1939 as the widow ‘Kate L Wicks’ born 1884, a female patient at London County Council Banstead Hospital, Sutton. She died at the hospital in 1946, aged 62.
Edward Ernest Robert Wickes passed away in the district of Shepway, Kent in 1994, aged 87. Benjamin Joseph Wickes married in Islington in 1937 and was living in Essex when he died in 1992, aged 82. Thomas Alfred Wickes sought new a life in Australia, where he died in Hobart City on 4 September 1967, aged 53.