Signaller Laurence Wakeling
83959, 233rd Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery who died on 12 July 1917
Laurence Wakeling was born in Leicester in 1883 the son of Joseph Wakeling and his second wife Ann Wesson (nee Hardyman). Joseph’s first wife Mary Elizabeth (nee Lucas) had died shortly after giving birth to twins, Joseph and John in 1877.
Joseph Snr, a solicitor’s clerk, remarried in 1881. A second family soon followed which included Laurence, Philip George, Ethel, Margaret May and Marion. In 1891 the Wakeling family resided at Myrtle Road Leicester. By 1901 they had moved to 35 St Stephen’s Road, Leicester and Joseph Snr was Assistant Magistrate’s Clerk to the Leicester County Bench. Another daughter, Hilda Gladys had been added to the family but Marion had died aged six years in 1896.
Laurence attended Wyggeston Grammar School between 1895 and 1899 and on completing his education joined the Midland Bank as a bank clerk.
The London and Midland Bank, Granby Street, Leicester
On 5 September 1905 at the age of 22 years Laurence married Kate Amelia Faire at St Peter’s Church, Leicester. Kate was the daughter of Watkin Lewis Faire, a boot manufacturer and his wife Sarah Rebecca (nee Hartopp). The Faire family were prominent Leicester citizens and benefactors involved in local politics and voluntary work including the coordination of the Leicester Voluntary Aid Detachments.
In the 1911 census Laurence was listed as a 27 year old Bank Clerk for the London and Midland Bank in Leicester and he and Sarah lived at Loughborough Road, Quorn.
By the time Laurence enlisted in 1915 he and Kate Amelia were living at Woodthorpe, Stoughton Road, Oadby. They had no children.
Loughborough Road, Quorn.
Stoughton Road, Oadby
In the October 1915 all men of military age were required, under the Derby Scheme, to attest of their willingness to serve their country if called. This was the British government’s last measure to encourage voluntary enlistment before Conscription was introduced in March 1916. The men who attested were allocated a group and placed in the Reserve awaiting call up of their group. Married men were not called up until after May 1916 but as the Wakelings were childless, Laurence would have been in an early group.
Laurence attested on 24 November 1915 as a Private in the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA) and was placed on reserve until mobilised on 19 May 1916. Perhaps given his age, education and white collar profession, Laurence was assigned a non-combatant role as a signaller, albeit he would still have undergone some musketry training and have been expected to carry a gun and fight if required.
On 23 August he was posted to A Siege Depot RGA at Shoreham by Sea where he received a 1st Class qualification in signalling and telephoning. Laurence registered his will on 1 December 1916 and left Southampton for Le Havre, France on 22 December.
As a signaller Laurence’s responsibility was to maintain contact between front line troops, the Royal Flying Corps pilots spotting enemy positions, and RGA gunners directing artillery barrages. In the days before radio, telephone was the only communication available but proved particularly difficult in battlefield conditions when lines were constantly cut by artillery bombardment. Units frequently had to resort to messengers or runners carrying hand written notes.
In the late spring of 1917 Laurence’s unit was in the north of Belgium. At the end of June, in preparation for the Passchendaele offensive, the British enhanced protection the Belgian coast around Nieuport’s vital bridgeheads and sluices on the Yser Canal. This move was to prevent the Germans from capturing bridges across the Yser thus slowing the allies’ planned push eastwards across northern Belgium, but also to prevent the destruction of sluices which would flood the Flanders battlefields. (In the event the weather and artillery bombardment achieved this anyway)
Unfortunately defensive works and artillery positions were not fully in place when the German MarinesKorps Flandern launched a massive attack, including the first use of mustard gas, on 6 July. Fighting continued until 12 July when all but one bridge across the Yser was lost. Telephone communications were cut and the British suffered 70-80% casualties.
Laurence was mortally wounded in the attack and was taken to 91st Field Ambulance Hospital on 10 July where died two days later.
A bridgehead on the Yser Canal
Ruins of Nieuport showing the destroyed drainage channels
Signaller Laurence Wakeling is Buried with Honour at Coxyde Military Cemetery, Belgium. He is also honoured on the Oadby War Memorial and on the memorial plaque in the former Midland Bank, Granby Street, Leicester.
Coxyde Military Cemetery, Belgium
Oadby and Wigston Advertiser 18 August 1917
On 10 September 1917 Kate Wakeling was granted the probate to his will and on 10 November Laurence’s will effects including a broken metal watch and 18 carat ring and other personal pieces were sent to his wife. On 4 February 1918 she was awarded a widow’s pension of 13s9d a week. This was particularly generous when compared to the pensions received by many of the Oadby war widows so it may have included a special arrangement made by Laurence in his will. On 18 September 1921 Kate signed for Laurence’s British War and Victory Medals.
Receipt for Laurence’s war medals
Given Kate Faire Wakeling’s family connections it is likely that she was involved in the Voluntary Aid Detachment during the war. Two of her unmarried female cousins lived a few doors away on the corner of Stoughton Road and Beaumont Street. Both Misses Faire served as VAD nurses during the war.