‘For gallantry’: Croydon hero who died at Passchendaele

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM: On November 11, it will be the centenary of the burial of The Unknown Soldier at Westminster Abbey, an event full of symbolism about the loss of so many during the Great War. At Croydon Minster, DAVID MORGAN has been researching the stories behind those whose names are recorded on the roll of honour

How the death of Samuel Wayte was recorded in his school magazine

Samuel Wayte is remembered in Croydon Minster, where on the west wall of the building there is a brass plaque dedicated to his memory.

It says:

To the Glory of God and
In proud and loving memory of Samuel Wilfred Wayte MC 2nd Lt RFA
Who willingly gave his life for his country near Ypres
On October 7th 1917 in his 23rd year
You were our pride we dreamed great dreams for you
God intervened, and so our dreams came true

The family arranged for the plaque in their local parish church after their son was killed in action in Flanders, never to return home, buried in a Belgian cemetary.

Samuel Wayte was born on October 18, 1894, the younger son of Dr John Wayte and Constance, who lived at 65, Park Lane, Croydon. He was sent to the King’s School in Canterbury from January 1908 until July 1912, where he was a member of their rugby team and rowing crews. On leaving school he went to Birmingham where he went into manufacturing, becoming works manager of a factory in 1915. While working there, he lived in Frances Street in Edgbaston.

Wayte was given his army number 9757 when he attested for service at the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps. He was posted to the Army Reserve.

In October 1916, aged 22, he was called up into the Royal Field Artillery. He applied for a commission, expressing a preference to remain with the RFA. Supported in his application by the Headmaster of King’s, Canterbury, he was posted to the Royal Artillery Cadet School in St John’s Wood, beginning his course in February 1917.

It was June 5, 1917, when he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, Royal Field Artillery (Special Reserve of Officers), embarking for France on July 26. He joined 103rd Brigade in the field at Dickebusch, near Ypres, assigned to A Battery.

Young Samuel Wayte didn’t know it at the time, but he was about to be thrown straight into the horror that was the Battle of Passchendaele.

He had been in the conflict zone just one month when he was wounded for the first time.

An accidental explosion of Mills bombs – a form of hand-grenade – in a forward position at La Belle Alliance resulted in four officers and 13 other ranks receiving wounds. Wayte’s father opened a telegram dated August 31: “2/Lt S.W.Wayte RFA 103 Brigade admitted No2 Stationary Hospital Abbeville twentieth ninth with contusion back (accidental) condition satisfactory. Any further reports will be sent when received.”

Lieutenant Wayte returned to his unit on September 5. The terrible losses suffered in the first four weeks of Passchendaele, the Third Battle of Ypres, often saw men returned to their units when they might otherwise have been given more time to recover from their wounds.

Around this time, his brigade was relieved from their front line duties and retired to reserve positions at Peselhoek. After a week’s rest in reserve, the 103rd were sent back up to the front line, this time close to Maple Copse, with their HQ being situated at Dormy House near Zillebeke.

From this new position, the artillery’s orders were to create harassing fire in support of those troops fighting for the control of Passchendaele Ridge.

Wayte was wounded for the second time on September 20, while his battery was firing in support of an attack at Inverness Copse.

What is the Military Cross?

Until 1993, the Military Cross, or MC, was the second-highest decoration awarded in the British military. Only the Victoria Cross – awarded “for valour” – was regarded as a higher honour. The MC is awarded “for gallantry”.

Until 1993, the MC was only ever awarded to officers.

Officially, the MC is granted in recognition of “an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land”.

Wayte’s father received another telegram, dated September 24: “Regret to inform you 2/Lt S.W. Wayte RFA 103 Bde, wounded September twentieth. Further reports when received.”

No further telegram was received about this wound.

A telegram dated October 6, 1917, though, which brought anguish into the doctor’s house in Park Lane.

“Regret to inform you No2 Casualty Clearing Station reports October sixth 2/Lt S.W. Wayte RFA 103 Bde dangerously ill gunshot wounds right thigh. Regret permission to visit cannot be granted. Further reports sent immediately received.”

Only one more telegram arrived at his parents’ home.

The final message was dated October 8, 1917.

“Deeply regret to inform you that 2Lt S.W. Wayte RFA 103 brigade died of wounds October seventh. The Army Council express their sympathy.”

He had died at the Bailleul Clearing Station three days after being wounded at Millekrusse, near Ypres.

Samuel Wayte never saw his 23rd birthday. He is buried at the Outtersteene Communal Cemetery Extension, Bailleul, Plot I, Row D, Grave 49.

Samuel Wayte’s tomb, in a corner of a foreign field

The short and tragic career of junior officers in World War I was an all-too-common feature. It was reckoned that a second lieutenant in an infantry regiment, the young men who would go “over the top” with their platoon of men or company, armed with nothing more than a whistle and a service revolver, had a life-expectancy once posted to the Western Front of just six weeks.

In the brief time that Wayte was back in the front line, he was awarded the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty”.

This action happened as he returned to his unit after being wounded for the first time.

The battery position he occupied was being relieved, although they were being heavily shelled. The officers’ mess and telephone dugout were blown in, the occupants buried and two ammunition pits set alight. Wayte, assisted by a private soldier of a pioneer regiment, rescued three men from the debris in spite of heavy shelling and got them under cover. He then put out the fires in two ammunition pits and extinguished the smoldering ammunition.

Many of the casualties had their wounds dressed by Wayte, and he directed their removal, remaining in the position himself until they were got safely away.

“Throughout the whole period he showed great coolness and contempt for danger,” read his letter of citation.

It would have been a bittersweet day for the family to see the announcement of the medal award appear in the London Gazette on the October  18 – 11 days after Samuel Wayte, a Croydon hero, was killed in action.

Read more: The brothers in arms who lost their lives at Ypres and Gallipoli
Read more: The tale of a Croydon private’s life, and death, on the Somme
Read more: How ‘chums’ and Contemptibles set standards at the Minster

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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