Pte William Wisken

Researching 19th-century police officer memorials in Saffron Walden cemetery last week I was distracted by a Commonwealth War Graves headstone commemorating William Wisken, who died in 1918 very near the end of World War One.

There’s nothing remarkable about this particular CWGC headstone itself – there are thousands of these around the world and 80 in this cemetery alone. This one, however, is isolated from the designated CWGC burials and caught my eye because I’d uncovered the family name, Wisken, from previous research into 19th-century policing incidents in Saffron Walden. In any case, the plight of a soldier in the First World War is always worthy of note and William is no exception so I decided to see how much I could establish about William’s all-too-short life in just a couple of hours.

William was born in 1889. His mother, Emily Wisken, was eighteen years old but I’ve not been able to establish the identity of William’s father. There is no mention of him on the birth certificate or any other records and he remains elusive. His mother eventually went on to marry Albert Barker, originally from Leeds in West Yorkshire, in 1904. They were married in St. Mary’s chuch in Saffron Walden, both aged thirty-three years. They continued to live in Saffron Walden in Copthall Buildings, a small residential court replaced by Homebase in the late twentieth century.

William’s early years were spent living with his mother, alongside his uncle, James, and James’ wife Jessie, at number 6 Debden Road, Saffron Walden, then known as Hockley’s Yard. James was a bricklayer and his wife Jessie was a housekeeper. According to the 1911 census, at the age of 22, William was employed locally as a ‘Mineral Water Bottler’.

The First World War broke out in July 1914 and nothing is yet known about Wiliam signing up for the army but he was with the Essex Regiment, C-Company, 2nd Battalion, three years later, his rank and number being Private 32348. On 9th April 1917 his company was deployed to the Battle of Arras, the First Battle of the Scarpe.

Only two days into the fighting, William had received gunshot wounds to both left and right legs rendering him unable to continue on the front line. He was admitted as a casualty to the British field hospital on the same day. The hospital at Arras treated 160,000 British casualties from this battle alone.

William’s prognosis was bleak and, with his injuries becoming critical, he embarked on the crossing back to England by hospital ship on 16th April. Disembarking, he was transferred to Ambulance Train No. 112 (Sick Convoy) and returned home. https://www.railwaymuseum.org.uk/…/ambulance-trains….

William died on 5th July 1918, aged 29 years.

Now I need to visit the various archives for further research. Watch this space.