7118. Pte. W. R. WILKEY. 1st/Devonshire Regt.
KILLED IN ACTION 24th December 1914
(During the Christmas Truce)
William Robert Wilkey was born in 1883 and was a pre-war reservist based in Exeter. He is seen on the 1911 census working as a Cellarman at a local brewery. He lived at 7 Tucketts Square, Summerland Street, (Street still exists) Exeter with his wife Florence and a daughter aged 6 months.
His MIC records him entering France on 1st September 1914, but being a reservist it is likely he actually arrived in France a few days earlier in late August with the main 1st Bn unit which itself arrived there in the last days of August having previously been training in Jersey at the outbreak of the war.
Wilkey took part in some of the most historic and important fighting right at the outbreak of hostilities, including:
October 17th, Attack on La Bassee where the odds were stated as 40/1 against.
October 30th, The famous Stand at Festubert.
THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE
This is a particularly rare and historically important casualty group based on the famous situation which arose on this very day and at this actual place.
The Famous Christmas Truce mainly got underway on 24th December, the day of Wilkey's death, and in their trench positions on The Messines Road at WOLVERGHEM, (10km South of Ypres) the 1st Devons were right in the middle of the area where the truce was the most widespread. Indeed the most famous of the several British V. Germans 'kick about' football matches took place in no mans land at WOLVERGHEM right in front of the Devons' trenches.
This group's greatly important historical association with the Christmas Truce, where a very few hours later its recipient would have perhaps survived, is a stark illustration of the random nature and futility of war and a reminder that in war it is never safe to lower ones guard. Indeed, Wilkey was one of only 98 men unluckily killed on this day...mainly it seems early in the day, by enemy snipers. I would suggest that Wilkey was almost certainly picked off by one such German sniper early on the morning of 24th December, and just before this most famous truce became fully active and understood by many of the local German units and personel.
An article (copy included) from the Friday 22nd January 1915 edition of The Western Times carried the following article about Wilkey
Drummer W, Wilkey of Summerland Street, Exeter, was a reservist and belonged to the 1st Devon Regiment. He proceeded to France in August last and was Killed in Action on Christmas Eve at WOLVERGHEM. Followers of the Exeter City (Football) Club will remember him quite well, he playing the side drum regularly at St James (Park) being a member of the Exeter City Band.
The deceased leaves a widow and a child.
An historically Important and emotionally powerful group to one of only 98 men killed on Christmas Eve 1914. We have only ever seen three previous and complete Christmas Eve casualty groups in many years.
The Group includes:
The Trio & Plaque with original card holder case and Buckingham Palace letter and its exterior envelope with embossed seal. A copy of the newspaper page upon which Wilkey's memorium picture is shown. A copy of the 1911 Census page showing the Wilkey family entry.
Also included is a Mary Brass Cigarette Box of Christmas 1914
BOUND FOR THE FINEST COLLECTION OF WW1 & DEVONSHIRE REGT ITEMS
Excessively Rare & An Historical Classic.