Hedley James Wyatt was the son of local blacksmith and wagon maker John Wyatt who was also the tower captain at St Giles, Ashtead. As mentioned in the post on Sydney Reddick, the village forge was a gathering point for the local ringers during the course of the working week to chew over the most recent ringing. It’s no great surprise then that John’s son followed him into ringing, although he doesn’t seem to have followed him to the forge.
The various reports in The Ringing World suggest he was known as James rather than Hedley, peal reports list him simply as James, and the report stating that he had joined up actually lists him as James B, but there are errors in the names of Sydney Reddick (listed as Sidney Readick) and George Cook (listed as Cooke) too. James was born in February 1892, probably on the 22nd, as a peal was rung on 22 February 1913 to mark his 21st birthday. His parents John Wyatt and Annie Eliza Batchelor married in the Hemel Hempstead registration district in 1879 – she was originally from Abbots Langley in Hertfordshire. Their first child, John Batchelor Wyatt, was born 1880 and a sister, Annie Amelia Wyatt, followed in 1883. James didn’t arrive until 1892 was seems to have been very much the baby of the family. By 1901 John Batchelor Wyatt had already followed his father into the family business and was working as a wheelwright, he married in 1908 and so had moved out of the family home by 1911. Annie Amelia is not shown with any occupation in either 1901 and 1911, and was still (aged 27) at home and single in 1911.
By 1911 James is shown as a clerk in the “Guardians’ Office”, this presumably refers to the Board of Guardians responsible under the Poor Law Act for running the local workhouse. Ashtead was part of the Epsom Poor Law Union, and the workhouse was only just over the parish boundary in Epsom, on the site now occupied by Epsom General Hospital (for more information see the webpages on the workhouse on the Epsom and Ewell History Explorer website and Workhouses website).
James rang at least five peals between 1911 and the early part of 1914, mostly with his father. He didn’t actually ring in the peal for his 21st birthday on 22 February 1913, but it was dedicated to him and George Cook who was a year and a day younger (and had his own 21st birthday peal in 1914). It seems that he, Sydney Reddick and George Cook probably joined up together sometime before 4 December 1914 when they were listed in the roll of honour published that day in The Ringing World, which stated they were all with the 5th (Reserve)) Battalion, East Surrey Regiment at Wimbledon. The medal rolls show that the service of Reddick and Wyatt was basically identical, both staying in the UK until 16 September 1917 when they entered France. After just under a fortnight, which were probably spent at an Infantry Base Depot, they were transferred to 1st (City of London) Battalion, the London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) – but posted to 26th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. The London Regiment was an entirely Territorial Force unit, and each battalion had its own regimental affiliation, while the Royal Fusiliers (traditionally associated with the City of London) had no Territorial Force battalions of its own. Territorial Force men normally had to be kept in Territorial units, but sometimes this was a purely nominal association as in this case. Wyatt and Cook travelled with 26th Royal Fusiliers to Italy in November 1917, and returned with the battalion to France in March 1918, just in time to meet the great German Spring Offensive launched on 21 March. In the actions that followed, 26th Royal Fusiliers were forced to join the general British retreat. Sydney Reddick was fatally wounded, but it seems Wyatt came through without major injury.
The medal rolls show that Wyatt left 26th Royal Fusiliers on 3 September 1918, no new unit is shown, implying he was posted home and finally actually joined 1st Londons for the first time, albeit only the battalion depot. This may well have been the result of being wounded or falling sick, the battalion had been taken part in a major advance in Flanders around this time.
Wyatt’s marriage to May Perry was registered in the Epsom registration district during the third quarter of 1918, presumably taking place sometime after 3 September 1918 (unless he had had some leave beforehand). There doesn’t seem to have been any ringing to mark the occasion, which may mean it didn’t take place at St Giles’. So far no children of the marriage have been traced. It seems Wyatt may have dropped out of ringing to a large extent, he did ring another peal on 29 December 1923 (to mark the 50th anniversary of the bells), but he had to be re-elected to the Surrey Association before that.