Percival James Wicks
Died : 24th October 1917
An Easter wedding in the Spring of 1917 was the happiest moment of Maud Ellen Wick’s young life. A bare seven months later she was a widow, her husband, Percival James having been killed on 24th October 1917. She moved away from the matrimonial home in Well Hall, London to Nuneaton in Warwickshire shortly afterwards. Her husband is buried in Canada Farm Cemetery not far from Elverdinghe, Belgium.
Percy was born in Lewes on 13th November 1892 and the family then moved to The Broyle near to the Green Man, Ringmer. His parents were James and Ellen Wicks who moved back to Lewes to 149 Malling Street in 1917, the year of their son’s death. Two other sons also served in the Great War. One was a corporal in the Army Veterinary Corps in Egypt and the other a private with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Salonica.
The young Percival went to Ringmer School from 14th April 1896 until 29th April 1905 when he commenced working for Robert Bannister at Upper Stoneham Farm. At the outbreak of the War he enlisted as a Driver with the Royal Horse Artillery. Assigned to ‘O’ Battery he was in due course to rise to the rank of Sergeant with the number 74696. The decision was made shortly before his death to award this man the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.). Unusually, it was not awarded for a single act of bravery but, as the citation reads, ‘For conspicuous gallantry & devotion to duty & consistent good work during a long period.’ First announced in the London Gazette of 1st January 1918 the actual citation was not published until 17th April 1918. This D.C.M. is the highest known award to any Ringmer casualty of the First World War. For ‘other ranks’ it rates just one gallantry award down from the Victoria Cross. The British War & Victory medals were also sent to his widow.
The V Brigade Royal Horse Artillery was situated in the northern part of the Ypres salient in 1917. It comprised three batteries (‘G’, ‘O’ and ‘Z’), each armed with six 13pdr. field guns. They were dug in at a farm called ‘The Ings’ and Percy Wicks was by then the sergeant for one of ‘Z’ Batteries guns. Each battery had only five officers, including the Major in command, for 200 men, so it will be realised that a sergeant had a very important role to play. He may well have been in charge of one of the guns.
On 24th October the V Artillery Brigade commenced a 48-hour bombardment in preparation for an infantry attack. The batteries fired ‘stop and weave’ barrages on various areas during the day and night. Each battery fired 900 rounds but did not have it all their own way. They were shelled at intervals, although not as intensely as on the 23rd when luckily no one had been hit. Not so on the 24th when the casualty returns show the following:
‘O’ Battery - Three Other Ranks Wounded.
‘Z’ Battery - Two Other Ranks Wounded.
The newspaper account of Percy having been, ‘killed instantly on 24th October 1917, along with two comrades, by the bursting of a shell’ is plainly not true. He was buried some six miles from where the battery was in action. Canada Farm Cemetery is adjacent to the dressing station, where he evidently died of his wounds received earlier that day.
Percival Wicks grave at
Canada Farm Cemetery
Adapted from Valiant Hearts of Ringmer by Geoff Bridger: Ammonite Press, 1993