- Captain Sidney Wheater
Midway between Martinpuich and the neighbouring village of Flers stood High Wood. Known by the locals as the Bois Foucaux, the wood stood on a ridge scarcely a hundred feet high, it nonetheless dominated the whole countryside for miles around, and as we have seen in the foregoing text any form of rise in the landscape is an essential asset to any army for artillery spotting purposes and generally keeping an eye on the enemy. High Wood had been occupied by the Germans since 1914, and in that time they had turned the place into a fortress of interconnected trenches and concrete strongpoints.
The fulcrum of these defences was a trench known by the British as ‘The Switch Line’, a long, deep, and heavily manned position which had ran from Martinpuich, along the valley, through the north east corner of High Wood and out beyond it, cutting a scar across open country to pass behind the equally strongly fortified Delville Wood, eventually forming a bastion in front of Flers.
The wood had almost been taken by the British in the morning of July 14th, during the Battle of Bazentin Ridge. The Third and Seventh Divisions had actually stood before the silent and seemingly deserted wood. Unsure, and without orders to venture into the wood the two divisions had halted to await orders from Fourth Corps Headquarters. Typically, their commander, Rawlinson had dithered, at first he had issued an order to press on, but almost immediately he had countermanded this. The Germans had indeed deserted High Wood, but in the time that it had taken the British to make up their minds they had reoccupied it, and by the time that an attack had been ordered it was too late and they were back in their old positions in force, waiting for the British with machine guns and snipers, supported by artillery.
An advance on High Wood had eventually been made late in the afternoon of the 14TH. At around 8pm with two squadrons of the Indian Cavalry Corps [20TH Deccan Horse and 7TH Dragoon Guards] in the lead 7TH Division had moved forward. In true cavalry tradition the horsemen, wielding nothing more than lances and swords had galloped into the wood, where they had been stopped by withering machine gun fire, which in a few moments had inflicted over a hundred casualties, as well as over a hundred and thirty horses, most of whom were killed. Darkness had by this time begun to fall. The Infantry, who had been following the cavalry, had fought their way through the undergrowth as far as the Switch Line, where they too had been overwhelmed by machine gun, and rifle fire supported by mortars. Here the attack on High Wood ground to a halt.
During the night of the fourteenth and fifteenth of July the Germans had flooded their positions with fresh troops and had brought up barbed wire and materials to strengthen their positions, and it had take a further two months almost to the day, of unbelievably savage fighting before the wood had eventually fallen to the British.
To the right of the 50TH Division on the fifteenth of September had been another fine Territorial Army formation, the 47TH Division. Composed predominantly of part time soldiers from the southwest area of London, they were also veterans of earlier battles of 1915 like Aubers Ridge, Festubert, and Loos.
No strangers to hard fighting, 47TH Division’s objective for the day, however, was to be perhaps their severest trial thus far, the capture of the terrifying High Wood, which by this time could barely be described as a wood, more of ‘a wood only in name, ragged stumps sticking out of churned up earth poisoned with fumes of high explosives, the whole a mass of corruption’ 
The Division had consisted of the usual three brigades of Infantry, the 140TH, 141st, and 142ND. The first two were to be used in the attack [142ND were kept in Divisional Reserve at Mametz Wood] and had three objectives. On the left the 141ST brigade, [17TH Poplar & Stepney Rifles, 18TH London Irish Rifles, 19TH [St. Pancras, and 20TH Blackheath & Woolwich] Rifles directly in front of the wood, had the hardest task, having to push directly through the position to attack the already mentioned and formidable ‘Switch Line’ beyond.
To the right the 140TH brigade [6TH City of London, 7TH City of London, 8TH Post Office, & 15TH Civil Service Rifles] had been given the task of attacking a trench system known as ‘The Starfish Line’, which ran eastwards from Martinpuich and a strongly defended system known to the British as ‘The Flers Line’. Here they were expected to join up with New Zealand troops who would be attacking from their right. If that was not enough they then had to fall back and join the 141ST brigade in a communication trench known as ‘Drop Alley’ from wench the two brigades were to strike out westwards to attack their final objective,’Prue Trench’. To the Generals a seemingly simple task on paper, in the event, as usual in the ‘Great War’, the contrary proved to be the case.
Four tanks were supposed to have spearheaded the attack of the Londoners. In spite of the protestations of the tank commanders and the Divisional Commander of the 47TH, Major General C.ST. L. Barter who had considered the terrain impossible for the machines, they had been ordered by the Corps Commander [lieutenant General Sir William Pulteney] to drive directly through the mass of broken tree stumps.
‘Dawn broke and showed the ragged and ghastly remnants of the wood, stripped and fallen trunks and a tangle of obstacles below them. At 5-45 three tanks [one had broken down before it had begun its advance] were seen coming up the hill behind, but appeared to have lost their way. One of them fired several rounds from its six-pounder gun and stopped close to battalion headquarters. The Officer asked the way to the crater or gravel pit on the eastern side of High Wood. This was just before Zero, and the tanks then vanished. Afterwards they were found to have stuck just inside the wood, one over Glasgow Trench, the other between High Alley and the south corner of the wood. This was the first hitch, and a grave one, and needless’
A disastrous start indeed. In fact one of the tank crews had become so confused in the heat of battle as to their whereabouts that upon seeing troops in nearby trenches they had opened fire on them, unfortunately they were New Zealanders and Londoners waiting to begin their attack.
Without the assistance of the tanks and artillery covering fire, the two brigades had begun their attack at zero hour 06-20 am, ten minutes later the advance had been decimated by hand grenades, rifle fire, and machine gun fire from concrete bunkers which had been left unaffected by British fire. The dead had lain as they had stood, shoulder to shoulder. The survivors forced to take shelter as best they could in shell holes in No man's land. The carnage as can be imagined must have been appalling.
According to the official accounts ‘confused’ fighting had followed, at 7-20am a section [10 men] of the 1ST/8TH London Regiment of 140TH Brigade, with 1ST/20th and 1ST /19TH London’s had advanced to attack the second objective, crowding into the wood they too had joined in the fighting, much of it hand to hand. At 8-20am 1ST/16TH London’s had eventually forced a way through the living hell to attack a position known as ’The Cough Drop’, a few of whom had managed to reach the Flers Trenches, but had not been able to hold out in the face of the intensive enemy fire. ‘The Cough Drop’ however had been held by the only two surviving officers and about a hundred men of the attackers who had even made an effort to link up with the New Zealanders as planned by digging a trench in their direction.
It had taken an amazing fifteen-minute barrage of 750 Stokes mortar bombs, which had been fired in to the wood by the supporting 140TH Trench Mortar Battery, to eventually save the day. Following this the exhausted troops had once again attacked the wood to find little in the way of opposition, much to their surprise groups of bewildered, filthy, and spent Germans had stood up in their trenches with raised hands, soon afterwards the whole garrison had surrendered and by one o’clock in the afternoon the wood was finally declared clear of the enemy.
The fighting near the wood however was not yet over; there still remained the positions beyond. The capture of the Starfish Line had been considered by the generals to be essential, therefore due to the severe losses incurred by the two brigades that had attacked in the morning the reserve 142ND Brigade [21ST London [1ST Surrey Rifles], 22ND, 23RD, and 24TH London’s [The Queens Regiment] had been brought forward and had begun their attack at around 6pm. On the right the 21ST, at great sacrifice had entered ‘No Mans Land’, a strip of terrain that was nothing more than a honeycomb of shell holes to attack the position, and had secured the ‘Starfish Redoubt’ itself but had been unable to get any nearer to’ The Cough Drop’ a little further on.
The 24TH Battalion meanwhile, attacking from the east of High Wood had met such heavy machine gun fire that they had not been able to reach the position at all and had been pinned down in ‘No Mans Land’ and had been forced to dig themselves in, 200 yards short of their objective. At dusk three companies [around 320men] of the 1ST/24TH had also tried to force a way, this time from the west, they too had not reached their objective.
Into these attacks the London Territorials had suffered almost unimaginable casualties, as an example, the 21ST Battalion at the fall of night had just two officers and sixty other ranks left unwounded out of the seventeen officers and 550 other ranks who had attacked in the morning. [In four days of fighting the Division would suffer around 4,500 casualties].
Amongst the dead had been; Captain Sidney Wheater. Born in Scarborough at No 33 Albemarle Crescent on the 10TH of January 1888 [Baptised at St Mary’s Parish Church on the 8TH of February], Sidney had been the youngest of five sons of ‘schoolmaster’ Matthew Wheater, and the only son by his second wife, Hannah. 
Now a rather shabby looking block of flats, number thirty three Albermarle Crescent had once been known variously as ‘Wheater’s, ‘Wheater’s Academy’, ‘Wheater’s, ‘Grammar’ School’, and finally ‘Jimmy’s’, an establishment which for over forty years had one of the highest reputations in Scarborough and the surrounding district. The school however had not left such a reputable impression in the mind of the young Tom Laughton, who, with his elder and subsequently more famous actor brother, Charles, had gone to ‘Wheaters’ in 1908, and afterwards had given an account of his time there in his autobiography;
‘Charles would take me by the hand and lead me across the main street [The boys parents had at the time been the proprietors of the Pavilion Hotel on the corner of Westborough] up a back a back lane to the schoolyard. It was a wretched school conducted by Mr Wheater with a single assistant and a drill sergeant. Mr [James] Wheater was a dapper little man with staring eyes and an upturned moustache, he taught with a cane in his hand. One day he seized Charles by the collar and flogged him in front of us all. I was horrified; it upset me far more than Charles, so much so that I refused to go back’ 
Sidney’s father had opened the school in the 1870’s as a day and boarding school for boys and had remained the head until his death on January 1ST 1901 at the age of seventy-one years. Following his fathers death, one of the elder sons, James, had taken over the headship until he had closed the school forever in the summer of 1915, and had moved to Sussex where he had taken up the post of assistant master at St Saviours College, Ardingly, where he had remained until 1929.
Obviously a pupil of his father’s school, Sidney had been a prominent player in Wheater’s football eleven. An account of a famous match played between the ‘Wheaterians’ and the ‘Martinians’ of St Martins Grammar School in Ramshill Road appears in a history of the latter school written by a former Headmaster [G.S.Turnbull].
‘Billy Smith our famous goalkeeper of nearly sixty years ago [he almost seemed to fill the goalmouth], was accosted recently by an old substantial farmer near Driffield, who asked him if he remembered playing for St Martins once when we had Frank Newlove, Clarrie Rose, Charlie Leadbeater and Ted Harbottle [all outstanding players] in our team, and Wheaters were unusually weak. The old farmer was in Wheater’s X1. when the score was 20-0, and every Martinian except the goalkeeper, had scored, ‘Fatty’ [as the old farmer had irreverently called Billy] left his goal and joined his fellows to see if he couldn’t ‘bag one’ too, when Syd Wheater, who even in those days was very fast [he subsequently went on to play hockey for Yorkshire and was noted for his speed], got the ball and made for the undefended goal, with Smith in hot pursuit. But Syd easily out-distanced him and scored the only goal that his side got that day. But what a goal!
Unfortunately little is known of Sid Wheater’s life following the death of his father. Shortly after her husband Hannah Wheater had moved to the south of England where she had lived at ‘Leigh Bank’ in the village of Sutton in Surrey, where, presumably, Sydney had also resided until his departure for war during the autumn of 1914.
The 24th London’s had mobilised for war at it’s Headquarters at No 71, New Street, Kennington, in South East London on the fourth of August nineteen fourteen and had formed part of the 6TH London Brigade, 2ND London Division. Leaving the city some days later the Battalion had moved to the St Albans area where they had remained in training until they had received orders to proceed abroad in March 1915.
Captain Sidney Wheater had landed with the Battalion in France at Havre on the eleventh of March 1915, and had eventually served with it during the bloody battles of Aubers Ridge [9-10 May] and Festurbert [15-25 May]. Sidney had also seen action during the battle of Loos, which had begun on the 25TH of September 1915 where Sidney had been wounded in an arm during the heavy fighting at Givenchy.
The 47TH Division had marched into the Somme Sector in early September, of their journey to the front line and the build-up to the forthcoming offensive the Divisional History records; ‘We walked into a new world of war. We passed through Albert for the first time under the Virgin, holding out her child, not to heaven but the endless procession below. Fricourt where the line had stood for so long was now out of range of anything but long-range guns, and we could see freshly devastated country without being in a battle. All round the slopes were covered with transport of all kinds, and whole Divisions of cavalry waiting for their opportunity.
Farther forward in Caterpillar Valley heavy howitzers stood in the open, lobbing their shells at a target miles away. Up near the line by Flatiron Copse and the Bazentins the ground was alive with field guns, many of them hidden by the roadside and startling the unwary’. The men of the Forty Seventh had marched further on to take their allotted place in the attack.
Sidney Wheater’s name, [late of Albermarle Crescent] had appeared in a ‘Scarboro Casualties’ list that had appeared in ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday the 13TH of October 1916 and to the best of my knowledge nothing more was mentioned of the young officer in the newspaper until the following year when his Mother had placed an epitaph to her lost son in the ‘In Memoriam’ section of the ‘Mercury’ of Friday the 14TH of September 1917;
‘Wheater. — In proud and loving memory of Sydney Wheater, Captain, 24TH London Regiment [The Queen’s], youngest son of the late M. Wheater of Scarborough, and only child of Mrs Wheater, ‘Leigh Bank’, Sutton, Surrey, who was killed in action, September 15TH 1916 aged 28 years’
Whether Sidney Wheater’s body had ever been found after the battle at High Wood is not known. His remains may have been buried and the grave lost during the remaining years of the war, which had been a common occurrence. Or perhaps he had been blown to pieces by shellfire never to be found [which was also common] we will never know. Yet another Scarborough casualty of the Great War who possesses ‘No Known Grave’, Wheater is remembered with 72,000 other missing men of the Somme on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing [Pier and Face 9D, 9C, 12C, and 13C].
Sidney is also commemorated in Manor Road Cemetery on a small headstone located just over the cemetery’s wall in Manor Road [South, Terrace, Border, Grave 53] that also commemorates his father. Born in the North Yorkshire village of Aldborough during 1829 Matthew Wheater had been the son of James and Mary Wheater. A student at ‘The College’, in York’s Lord Mayor’s Walk Matthew had dedicated over fifty years of his life to the education of children, during which time he had been the head of the school in Snainton and Hunmanby before acquiring the ‘Grammar School’ in Scarborough’s Albemarle Crescent. Also an ardent cricketer and chairman of the town’s cricket club, Matthew Wheater had died peacefully during the night of Wednesday the 15TH of January 1901 at the age of seventy-one years.
Little is known of Sidney’s mother. Twenty years her husband’s junior, Hannah Wheater, born at Bradford during 1848, had died at Sutton on December 17TH 1925 at the age of seventy seven years, her remains had subsequently been interred with those of her husband in Manor Road Cemetery during the 21ST of December 1925.
Following any gains made by the British during the Great War it was usual for the Germans to quickly retaliate, usually with an intense artillery bombardment on the lost ground, High Wood was no exception. Bombarded for two days and night the wood had been, according to a survivor of the attack, ‘shelled to blazes’. The ‘Tommies’ had forced themselves into the earth and prayed as they had never prayed before for deliverance from the ‘hellish pantomime’.
If all this was not enough, the endeavour to fulfil the 47th Division’s objectives had continued on the 18th of September with the remnants of three Battalions, [the 6TH, 8TH,and 15TH] attacking yet again the elusive Flers Line, goodness knows how, this they had done, occupying this and also a position known as ‘Drop Alley’. At the same time the 23RD and Sydney’s old Battalion the 24TH had again attacked and occupied a part of the Starfish Line west of the Redoubt, reinforcing the handful of Londoners already there. Attacked later by German hand grenades and forced to move eastwards this attack had eventually been beaten off and the Londoners had re-occupied their hard fought for plot of France.
No more could be asked of the Division and they had eventually been relieved on the twentieth. A corporal of the 1ST/ 20TH London’s in a letter to his Mother had said;
‘On our way back, Major General Barter [47TH Divisions C.O.] met the battalion and as our company had passed him, he said. ‘Well-done 20TH, you have done splendid work, I am proud of you’. He might with reason be proud of us, for the battalion of which I am more than proud to be a member, had done that day what 2 other battalions on the same occasion and many other battalions on previous occasions had failed to do – namely, had driven the Germans out of the Wood ad kept them out. We have had to pay the price, however, although our casualties were not nearly so severe as one would expect’
After some days of rest, refitting and taking in drafts of reinforcements, the 47TH Division was in the front line again by September 29TH. Their objective this time was the village of Eaucourt L’ Abbeye, about two miles north of High Wood; and this was followed by action around the Butte de Warlencourt, here after intense fighting, the 142ND Brigade was relieved on the ninth of October. The Divisions total losses in the Somme Offensive were 296 Officers and 7,475 Other Ranks killed, wounded, and missing.
The 47TH [London] Division had spent the remaining two years of the war on the Western Front, seeing fighting during most of the major engagements of 1917 and 1918. When the guns had finally stopped firing on the 11THof November 1918, the Division had been in Belgium near the town of Tournai. After the war a memorial to the men of the 47TH Division had been erected at High Wood, where so many of the Londoners had died, fighting for one of the most hellish places of the Somme Offensive.
 Matthew’s sons Arthur William had been born at Bradford during 1858, James, Bertram, and Percy at Hunmanby during 1861, 1868, and 1864 respectively. By April 1901, at the time of the Scarborough Census, the fifty years old Hannah Wheater had been a widow and still residing at No33 Albermarle Crescent. Her family had consisted at this period of thirty nine years old stepson and ‘schoolmaster’ James, and thirteen years old Sidney Wheater.
 Pavilions by the sea. The Memoirs of a Hotel Keeper, Chatto& Windus 1977.
 Deemed by the British High Command to have defaulted on two contradictory counts, that of a ‘lack of push’, and a ‘wanton waste of life’, Barter had shortly afterwards also become a casualty of the Somme when he was abruptly dismissed from his command and sent back to England in disgrace. However, it is believed that the real reason was that he had been made the scapegoat for the poor performance of the tanks at High Wood, and the ensuing heavy casualties to 47TH Division, even though he had been the one who had been right about the terrain not being suitable for their deployment. Barter had spent the rest of his life trying to clear his name; he died in Madrid in 1931 never having done so.