The fallen students of Wisley

During the First World War, RHS Garden Wisley saw many of its students enlist. Here Debora Hodgson recognises four alumni, and documents their fate

As part of the commemoration of 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War the Lindley Library has been researching the people behind the names on the Wisley memorial tablet. The tablet includes the names of the 20 former students known to have died in action during the First World War. Each student left Wisley hoping for a bright future in horticulture - yet their lives were all cut tragically short by war.

Wisley's School of Horticulture 1912

Four of the 20 students who are commemorated on the tablet feature in the 1912 School of Horticulture photograph (above). Whilst they all overlapped at Wisley they followed quite different paths after they left.

Arthur Hunter Berg (1894 - 1915) (standing third on the left in the second row)

Arthur was at Wisley between 1911 - 1913 and was known by all for his ‘kindly disposition and loveable manner and the part he took in making Wisley things go.’ When war broke out he immediately joined the Royal Naval Division and was attached to HMS Benbow. He was later sent to the Dardanelles and transferred to HMS Nelson. Able Seaman (HG) Berg was one of the 91 men in his battalion to be killed in action on 13 July 1915 during an attack on Achi Baba Nullah at Helles. According to a friend, Arthur was taking cover when a wounded colleague asked for water. He raised himself up to share his water with his comrade and was shot, dying instantly.

The memorial tablet hanging in the laboratory building at RHS Garden Wisley, dedicated to the fallen students of the First World War which was unveiled on 3rd June 1921John Fletcher Lee (1892 - 1916) (standing eighth from the left in the second row)

John was a student at Wisley for a short time in 1912. He was popular, working and playing hard and earned the affection and goodwill of all at Wisley. After leaving, he emigrated to Canada looking for more job opportunities in horticulture. Whilst in Canada he was employed as a telephone linesman. He enlisted in Canada on 16 November 1914 at Edmonton, Alberta and served in the 31st Battalion Alberta Regiment. Private Lee was killed in action on 5 July 1916. He was wounded at 'The Bluff' near the Spoilbank to the north of St Elooi, Belgium.

Cecil William Daniels (1893 - 1918) (standing at the right-hand side of the back row)

Cecil was a student at Wisley between 1911 - 1913. He was the son of a founding partner of Daniels Brothers seed merchants in Norwich. After passing his Diploma, he left to join his brother in the family business, where he remained until the outbreak of war. He enlisted as a private in the Norfolk Regiment and served in France from 22 July 1915. He was promoted to Sergeant after two years' service in France and received a commission in the Sherwood Foresters. He was evacuated from France after receiving serious wounds in spring 1918 and died from his injuries in a Leicester hospital on 4 November 1918.

Eric Corderoy Cheshire (1895 - 1917) (seated on the ground third from the left)

Eric was a student at Wisley between 1910 - 1913. After gaining his Diploma in 1913 he went to work on a fruit farm in East Grinstead. In 1914 he joined The Royal Fusiliers (2nd City of London Regiment). Lieutenant Cheshire was killed in action on 3 May 1917 during the battle of Arras. He was last seen ‘gallantly leading his men' after his Captain had been killed and his fellow junior officer had been severely wounded.

The full biographies of these - and the 16 other fallen former Wisley students - are included in the commemorative volume on display at Wisley reception and in the Garden Library until the end of the year.

Find out more...

Click the above image and have a look at what else is happening at our RHS libraries.

Find out more about the current Gardens and War exhibition at London's Garden Museum in Fiona Davison's blog.

Read about the exceptional endeavours of the Ruhleben Horticultural Society at a First World War internment camp.

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