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Private John Wheaton

17895, 14th Bn., Welsh Regiment
Died 27th August 1918 Aged 27
Son of Mrs Ada C Wheaton of 26 Holland Street Barnstable Devon

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Remembered with Honour

Delville Wood Cemetery, Longueval
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Born in the last three months of 1890 in the village of Swimbridge near Barnstaple in Devon, John was the son of John and Ada Wheaton, born in 1862 and 1866 respectively. John senior was an agricultural labourer in 1891 but moved to become a labourer on the railway in 1901 and 1911.

John remained at home in Barnstaple with two brothers and two sisters until some time prior to 1911 when he came over to live in Swansea. In 1911 he was a boarder at 129 Rhondda Street, Mount Pleasant, living with an elderly Devon family, William and Mary Payne, and worked as a market gardener. His parents remained in Barnstaple.

John enlisted in Swansea with the 14th Battalion of the Welsh Regiment, 17895, and served on the Western Front. Private John Wheaton was killed in action on 27th August 1918 near Longueville on the Somme in northern France.

His memorial is in the Delville Wood Cemetery at Longueville, the third largest British cemetery on the Somme with 5,523 graves, almost two thirds of which are to unknown soldiers.

In 1916, two years before John’s death, a subsidiary attack of the Somme Offensive was the essential clearance of Delville Wood of Germans before any attack could be launched on the formidable, and notorious, German Switch Line. The task of capturing the wood was handed to the South African Brigade of some 3,150 men.

On July 15 at dawn the South African regiment went in following a heavy artillery battle: they managed to clear the southern edge of German forces. The remainder of the wood remained in German hands.

Hand to hand fighting ensued until the South Africans were relieved on the night of July 19, having lost 766 dead among the four battalions alone; the dead outnumbered the wounded by four to one. Throughout wet weather and enemy artillery fire which reached a crescendo of 400 shells a minute, the surrounding landscape was transformed into a mess of broken, stumpy tree roots and massive shell holes.

Mud and rainwater covered bodies of South African and German forces alike – many bodies remain in the Wood today. The Germans lost 9,500 men by August alone.

The Wood was never entirely taken by the South African forces, despite huge efforts to do so. It wasn’t until after another month of fierce fighting had taken place, on August 25 1916, that 14th Division finally took the Wood and overcame German resistance.

Delville Wood remained the most costly action the South African Brigade fought on the Western Front.

Two years later during the final great German push of March 1918 Delville Wood was again taken by the Germans but was recaptured by 38th (Welsh) Division on August 28. It is likely that John Wheaton was killed during this push on Delville Wood, some two and a half months before the war ended.

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Additional Information

WHEATON John died on 27th August, 1918. He was a private in the 14th Bn., Welsh Regiment. His service number was 17895. He is buried in De!vine Wood Cemetery, Longueval, northern France. His mother, Mrs Ada C Wheaton, lived at 26, Holland Street, Barnstaple, Devon.

In 1911, he was living as a boarder at 129, Rhondda Street. His occupation is given as market gardener, born in Barnstaple, Devon.

In 1901 he is living at 26, Holland Street, Barnstaple, with his parents, John and Ada, and his siblings, James (15), William (8), Amy (5) and Mabel (2). In this census, the surname has been written as WIDDEN!

In 1891 the family is living in Swimbridge, where they were all born —John (29), an agricultural labourer, Ada (25), Ada (6), James (5), Eva (3) and John himself. Also living with them was Arthur E Warren (brother-in-law, aged 23, an agricultural labourer).

In 1881, John WIDDEN (see above) was a servant on a farm, but it states that he was born in the parish of Landkey (?). In the next door farm is a servant named Ellen Wheaton (aged 22, born in the parish of Swim bridge).

In 1871, John WETTON (senior — aged 42, agricultural labourer) is married to Hannah (aged 42). He was born in the parish of Monkoakhampton, Devon. Hannah was born in Warkleigh, Devon. They have three children, John (9), William (6) and Jane (3), all born in Swimbridge. (Living next door to them were Edwin and Lucy Muxworthyl)

In 1861, the family was living at Frogmore in the parish of Swimbridge —John (WIDEN! — born in Couldridge (sic)), Hannah and daughter Mary (aged 2— born in Swimbridge).

In 1851, having completed an extensive search through all versions of the surname WHEATON, I have be unable to trace them.

In 1841, John Wheaton was a male servant in Allerbridge, Coldridge.

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