2nd Lieutenant Norman Wildig was born at Hawthorn House, Little Heath Road in 1899.
He was the son of Churchwarden Hugh and Mrs Sarah Wildig, and grandson of Joseph Mayers, Captain of St James’ Tower Bellringers.
Norman attended Christleton Boys School before getting a scholarship to Chester Grammar School. Like any teenager he liked adventure, but in 1914 his world, like so many others was changed for ever. He left school and enlisted in the 22nd Cheshire Regiment, but when volunteers were needed to become pilots in the Royal Flying Corps, he volunteered to undertake Officer Training.
He was attached to No 20 Squadron in September 1917 for initial training, but in early 1918 he joined the newly formed 104 Squadron of the Royal Air Force which was being equipped to fly bombers to take the war to the enemy. After a short time of practice in the south of England the squadron transferred to France and from the 18th June 1918 until the Armistice were engaged in long distance bombing raids on Germany.
104 Squadron were equipped with de Havilland 9 bi-planes with single engines and open cockpits. Yet they carried bombs and their only defence was a machine gun operated by the co- pilot or observer from the rear cockpit. Hugh’s career as a co-pilot lasted just four weeks, because on the 7th July his mother received the following message.
Dear Mrs Wildig,
It is with regret that I have to inform you that your son Lieutenant Wildig is missing. The machine your son was in was seen to go down behind enemy lines, under control, and there is every reason to believe your son is alive and unhurt. He fought gallantly all the way down, firing at the enemy following his machine. He was an excellent officer and a splendid fellow.
However the actual story of his death didn’t become known until December 17th 1918, when Mrs Wildig received this letter from Norman’s Pilot, Michael du Gray who had been a prisoner of war in Germany, and had arrived back in England and was a patient at a Hospital in London. He wrote,
I am writing to offer you my deep sympathy on the loss of your boy, who was my observer on that unfortunate raid. It might console you to know that he fought to the very end, and managed to send an enemy aircraft down in flames, before he was killed. When he had used up all his ammunition, he continued to fire on the enemy with very lights, so you can see there was no fear in him. He must have been killed instantly, and couldn’t have felt any pain. The Germans assured me that he was buried with full military honours at Rixingen, the place where we were brought down.
Norman is buried in a Communal Cemetery in this small town in the Moselle Valley, which is still tended today by local families. His headstone says;
Norman Hugh Wildig Killed in action 7th July 1918 age 19
Captain Lionel Forster 2nd Battalion Cheshire Regiment and a member of the congregation at St James’ was the first Christleton man to die in W W I.
He was the son of The Right Honourable William Forster M.P. of Sydney, Australia. He lived in Littleton and had served with the Cheshires in the Boer War in South Africa, gaining several medals for gallantry. He resigned his commission in January 1914, but as soon as war was declared, he re-joined his old regiment.
They were almost immediately in action on the front line at La Basse, and the gallant captain’s story is told in headline news by the Cheshire Observer on December 19th 1914.
Gallant Cheshire non Commissioned Officer rescues wounded Captain.
A brave attempt at a rescue by Lance Corporal Williams, who himself was injured at Ypres.
Lance Corporal Williams was from Wirral, and had played in goal for both Cammel Lairds and Tranmere Rovers. He was interviewed at a Hospital in Nottingham whilst recovering from his injuries.
He tells this story;
It was towards the end of October and near a village called La Basse. About 1.30pm Captain Forster said to D Company, that they had to retire to trenches further back from the front line. Well we retired there, and as we were digging a new trench, the Captain asked for a Lance Corporal and three men to go with him. I went straight away and I was just looking up out of the trench to see if there were any snipers about.
I said “Good God, make for yourself, when I saw them coming in their thousands”.
Captain Forster replied “You are delirious my lad”
No sooner had he spoken that they charged us. The Captain drew his revolver and fired, but he was shot himself in the act of firing. I got hold of him, put his arms around my shoulders and started to carry him to safety. The Germans outnumbered us by ten to one, and were charging at us with fixed bayonets and firing at us at the same time. I could hear the bullets whizzing over my head.
I carried him towards the village, but he was shot again this time through the right shoulder and I could see he was badly hurt.
He said “Let me down lad, save yourself. It’s no use two of us going to die”
I let him down on the ground and ran as fast as I could, for the Germans were only thirty yards away. He was a fine officer and never acknowledged defeat. When I left him he was bleeding from wounds to his back and chest. I did my best to get him out of it, but I saw it was no good. At the end of the village I saw the Dorsets come to re enforce us, but by that time only 30 of our battalion remained alive.
Captain Forster although critically injured was taken prisoner and was last seen alive in a German Hospital behind the front line. He died on the 4th November 1914 aged 35yrs, and was buried in the Douai Communal Cemetery near Arras.
Read by Sophie Brown
Harold Reeves from Roadside on Whitchurch Road was a pleasant lad with a bright manner. He had attended Christleton Boys School, and was a boot maker by trade, probably working with Mr Jones a High Class Boot and Shoe Maker who had his Cobblers Shop between The Trooper and Christleton Mill, opposite what is now Durban Avenue.
Harold was 18years old when he signed up under the “Derby Scheme” and became a member of the 10th Cheshire Regiment based in Chester. He continued his trade until the call to serve came.
After initial training in the United Kingdom, the regiment was sent to the front in the sector south of Ypres in Belgium. The battles were fierce and the weather atrocious.
It’s said that in places mud was 10 feet deep. On February 17th 1917 the battalion found themselves in the thick of things near Factory Farm.
The 10th battalion of the Cheshire soldiers attacked the enemy, and captured 10 prisoners as well as causing many casualties. However German guns counter- attacked as the men made their way back to safety, and the Cheshires were decimated.
29 men were killed, 62 wounded and 27 missing. Even 8 of the prisoners they had taken were killed by their own side. Harold was killed in this action and just 20years old. He is commemorated at the Berkshire Cemetery near Ploedstreet Wood near Ypres.
Rector Hickey said at his Memorial Service;
“He was one of the young ones from the village, who scarcely seemed to have left us. We were so accustomed to seeing him about the place, a pleasant lad with a bright manner. The news of his death came very suddenly. We are so sorry for those he left behind.
Read by Joe Bentley
Read by Isabel Holland
Our choir would now like to pay their own tribute by singing the anthem
“Non Nobis Domine”
Written by Lawrence Ashmore with music by Patrick Doyle and arranged by Graham Preskett,
from the film score of Kenneth Branagh’s film Henry Fifth