Fallen in November 1915:
William Wykes


2912 Private

2/10th Bn., Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex Regiment)

Died of Illness Monday, 1st November 1915

Remembered with Honour, Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War Memorial Cemetery, Plot B 130

William Wykes was born in Hemel Hempstead on Monday, 16th May 1892 and baptised on Sunday, 3rd July following, at St Paul’s Parish Church in the town. He was the third son of Henry Wykes and Henrietta Adela Louisa Rose and one of eight children the couple had together. William’s siblings were: Percy, Harold, Edwin, Herbert, Arthur, Ernest Francis and Frances Alice. Two of William’s brothers fought in the Great war and survived, Edwin as a Lieutenant with the 101st Grenadier Guards and Herbert as a Private with 726 Labour Company.

When William was born his family were living at 10 Crescent Road, Hemel Hempstead and his father was employed as a Bricklayer. By 1911 his father was a Foreman Bricklayer whilst nineteen-year-old William was apprenticed to Mitchells of Erith and working as a Draper’s assistant. Hedley Mitchell had started his department store in Pier Road, Erith in 1890 before relocating to larger premises on the High Street. It was an institution in Erith and finally closed its doors in September 1961 after seventy-three years.

Shortly after the outbreak of war, William enlisted in the Army attesting at Stamford Brook Lodge, just off the Goldhawk Road in Hammersmith on the 2nd November 1914. He joined the 10th (Reserve) Battalion Duke of Cambridge’s Own Middlesex Regiment a Territorial Battalion.

2/10 Battalion was formed at Stamford Brook in September 1914 as a second line unit before moving to Staines where it was attached to 2/Middlesex Brigade (201st), 2/Home Counties Division (67th).

On joining the colours William was just over twenty-two years old, stood five feet three-and-a-half inches tall and was described as being in ‘Good’ physical condition and passed fit for military service. He underwent basic training at Staines until April 1915 when the Battalion moved twice more before finally going to Bedford in May.

William sailed from Devonport on the 18th July 1915 as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force bound for Gallipoli. The Battalion arrived in Egypt in early August before moving to Imbros off the Turkish coast, the final staging post. On the 9th August 1915 William landed at Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli peninsula, 3 days after the first British and Commonwealth forces had disembarked.

In due course the Battalion was engaged in action at the Battle of Scimitar Hill, a battle which started on the 21st August and which proved to be a costly failure for the British and Commonwealth forces. Of the 14,300 men who participated, almost 40% (5,300) were casualties. William was fortunate and survived this battle, but his luck changed shortly afterwards, when he was struck down by illness.

To begin with he contracted Scabies and was admitted to 33rd Field Ambulance on the 30th September 1915 for treatment. Scabies, also known as the "seven-year itch", is a contagious skin infestation passed on through prolonged contact with an infested individual and during WW1 some 6.1% of men suffered from this debilitating affliction. Only four days after admission to the Field Ambulance, William was struck down by dysentery and as a consequence, evacuated to Alexandria and the Base Hospital.

Dysentery was a major issue in the early stages of the war and the insanitary conditions in the trenches meant that it was rife. It was debilitating in the extreme and recovery was often prolonged (average 61 days) and even then the sufferers had ongoing issues in many cases. Official data states that at Gallipoli there were 29,728 British men hospitalised with dysentery of whom 811 died.

This was the case for William and he succumbed to the affliction just over three weeks after admission to hospital in Alexandria. He died on Monday, 1st November 1915 almost a year to the day after his enlistment.

An active member of the congregation at St Paul’s Church in Hemel Hempstead, he was commemorated in a memorial service at the Church on Sunday, 5th November 1916 along with four other men from the Church who had fallen. It was reported in the following week’s Hemel Gazette. (see extract)

William is Remembered with Honour at Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt, where he is interred in Plot B 130.

He was 23 years old when he died.

William was eligible for the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.

Pte. William Wykes c 1914 (Courtesy: Marquis de Ruvigny's Roll-of-Honour vol. 1, part 1, p.387)

Mitchells of Erith where William worked until 1914 (Courtesy: Erith and Belvedere Local Historical Society)

Extract from the Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead Gazette and West Herts Advertiser 11th Nov. 1916

Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt (Courtesy: CWGC)