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The story of Newmarket-born officer Sidney Harold Wigg who was killed in France in 1918




Michael Wigg with a photograph of his uncle
Michael Wigg with a photograph of his uncle

A Newmarket-born officer who had been in the thick of wartime action for four years was killed in France less than a month before the war ended in November 1918.

Sidney Harold Wigg was born in Newmarket in 1889 at Fairfield House where his father Arthur Samuel Wigg, a watchmaker and jeweller ran his business from the premises which still bear his name today.

He lived there with his father, mother Margaret Ellen (nee Beck) and younger siblings Edie, Vera and Arthur Cecil, subsequently the father of Michael Wigg, owner of the present-day shop.

He went to the Perse School, in Cambridge and served his articled apprenticeship with the Borough Surveyor in Cambridge where he worked for some time before taking up the position of Surveyor in the Borough Engineer's department at Islington, which he held when war broke out in August 1914.

He had already been a Sergeant in the Suffolk Yeomanry - a territorial unit - for three years before the outbreak of war so was immediately mobilised with his unit for service at Gallipoli.

The campaign on that peninsular the following year has become a by-word both for the ineptitude of the planners and the military commanders who oversaw it but also for the courage of the troops on the ground with 58,000 allied soldiers and 87,000 Ottoman Turks losing their lives and more than 300,000 on both sides seriously wounded

Sgt Wigg returned to England in September 1915 when an announcement of his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery appeared in the London Gazette, and the Newmarket Journal reported that he had again 'left England for foreign service just before his appointment to a commission was gazetted'.

This time his destination was the main theatre of the war on the Western Front in France where his Brigade served with the 51st (Highland) Division. He joined his unit near Hamel where, in the summer of 1916, they were in the thick of the action in the Battle of The Somme, including the attacks on High Wood and the Battle of the Acre, capturing Beaumont Hamel and taking 2000 prisoners.

As you know, your son has been my Reconnaissance Officer and been with me a great deal. His work was always sound and reliable. He was about to be attached to the General Staff with a view to appointment there.He was certain to have done well. He had a host of friends and I particularly miss in him a personal friend

In February 1917, he was wounded and invalided home but recovered to return to the front where the brigade was involved in the Battles of Menin Road Ridge and Cambrai. During this time Sidney was appointed Reconnaissance Officer of the 51st (Highland) Division and was attached to a Field Battery of which, at the time of his death he was in temporary command.

In a letter home he wrote: "Our guns have helped to take Cambrai" and told his parents that he had just visited the town.

Unfortunately, in this most relentless of wars, Cambrai did not remain in Allied hands for long and by the end of the year, most of the gains made in the early part of the battle, when massed tanks were used successfully for the first time, had been abandoned back to the resurgent German forces.

It was not until October 11, 1918 that Canadian troops finally captured Cambrai. Two days later, Sidney attended an officers' meeting in the next village, reportedly to discuss moving the line. On the way back, a chance shell exploded, killing him instantly. He was just 29.

In a letter to Sidney's father, Brigadier General L Oldfield RFA said "As you know, your son has been my Reconnaissance Officer and been with me a great deal. His work was always sound and reliable. He was about to be attached to the General Staff with a view to appointment there.He was certain to have done well.

"He had a host of friends and I particularly miss in him a personal friend," wrote the officer.

The chaplain also wrote to Mr and Mrs Wigg to tell them that Sidney had been buried with military honours in the British Cemetery at Ramillies, just outside Cambrai where a cross had been erected over his grave.

"We shall miss him as a most cheerful comrade and a capable officer," added the Chaplain.

Sidney's nephew Michael remembers well being taken as a boy of about 11 to see his uncle's name on the Regimental Roll of Honour of the 51st Highland Division in Edinburgh Castle.

Many years later, Michael accompanied Tony Pringle, researcher and author of Newmarket Remembers, a definitive history of the Newmarket man who served and died in two World Wars, to France where he was able to visit his uncle's grave in the small Commonwealth War Graves cemetery at Ramillies. His name also appears on Newmarket's war memorial and on the Wigg family memorial in Newmarket Cemetery.