The niece and nephew of a First World War hero have spoken about their uncle – who is included in a new book about one of the biggest ever military mess-ups.
Will Ridgway grew up in Tingewick and trained to be a journalist before he was sent to fight for his country with the Royal Army Medical Corps.
Second Lieutenant Will, of the Border Regiment, did not return. He died on December 2 1917, aged just 22 years old.
Colonel of the regiment Thomas Tweed wrote to Will’s mum Annie in Tingewick. He said: “It is with a heavy heart that I have to inform you that your son is wounded and missing after the fight at Ypres.
“Your boy was always a fearless and gallant soldier, loved by everyone who knew him and your great anxiety is shared by us all.”
David Ridgway, 67, who lives in Finmere and Gillian Geary, 63, who lives in Tingewick, have been delving into the archives to try and find out more about their uncle.
The war-fascinated duo have a collection of Will’s items including his badges, medals and even the last Christmas card he sent home - it was simply signed ‘Will’.
But they are hoping to find out more about his journalism background as they discovered he worked for the Buckingham Express.
“It is quite sad, he had such a bright future,” Mrs Geary said. “To come from a very normal family and go to journalism school – somebody must have seen his potential.
“We would like to find some of his work because we have nothing. I think something might crop up eventually but it would just be nice to see some of his work. It keeps his memory alive.
“We looked through all the newspapers for hours on end, through a foggy screen.”
The Third Battle of Ypres was an almost forgotten episode of the First World War when the British troops had made promising ground but when the moon appeared from behind the clouds, they were shown up to the Germans in the dark.
Mr Ridgway said: “It was a battle which was pushed under the carpet, there was a lot of missed information. A lot of soldiers died who needn’t have died. The moon should not have shone that night.
“They actually fought to the German trenches and won the trenches back but then the moon came out and the German machine gunners who were quite a way away, opened fire and they lost all the ground and lost the men.
“We don’t know whether he was injured or killed or wounded but the place was, apparently, totally destroyed - it was just one of those things of the war.”
Mrs Geary said: “He was seen to fall just at the point of victory but they had to retreat and they couldn’t retrieve his body so obviously he has no grave.
“His fellow soldiers obviously thought very highly of him and they presented him with a silver cigarette case which he obviously used because it’s quite dented and bent.
“He also won a medal for bravery which we assume was when he was a stretcher bearer but was juts one of those things which cropped up.”
Michael LoCicero’s new book The Moonlight Massacre: The Night Operation on the Passchendaele Ridge, is 11 years in the making and features Will.
Mr Ridgway and his sister are going to the book launch in London this week.
Mr LoCiero was researching for the book in 2003 when he found a wreath at Tyne Cot Cemetery laid by Fred Ridgway.
Fred was Will’s brother and father of Mr Ridgway and Mrs Geary – who accompanied their dad to Belgium in 2000 along with Fred’s two other children John, 69, and Brenda, 65. Fred died just a couple of weeks later.
Mr LoCiero said: “I will never forget the day we discovered the wreath. I was very surprised to see the date Lieutenant Ridgway went missing, and the photo. I was gazing at the face of a casualty of my forgotten operation so obviously one family’s tragedy was still remembered.
“This episode was my main inspiration to continue researching and writing an account of what happened.”