Second Lieutenant John Drummond Wyatt-Smith, 28th Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, died in a flying accident in northern Italy, just a few days after joining the squadron. His plane stalled on take off, nose dived and then crashed to earth. Known as Jack, he was 19 years old, and was the second of two brothers to die on active service. His older brother, Hugh, died of appendicitis on 17th February 1916 after falling ill whilst on embarkation leave.
Jack was born on 26th January 1899 at his father’s Gunton estate, Orange Free State,South Africa and was the second of the five children (three sons, two daughters) of farmer Rupert and his wife, Emily Agnes (known as Maud). His local connection is that he was a boarder at Packwood Haugh School 1909-1912, before attending Sherborne School from January 1913-July 1917. Only two of the children survived beyond the age of 21.
Jack was an excellent cricketer and whilst he was at Packwood, the school didn’t didn’t lose a cricket match. He had a season average of more than 100 runs and, at Sherborne, became one of the school’s best-ever cricketers, captaining the First XI. He was described in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 29th September 1917 as being “full of strokes, and has a straight blade and good wrists…” The same article said that he was “in a class above any of the other players in this game”. He was also in the football XV, a school prefect, head of house, and cadet officer.
On 1st August 1917, aged 18 years and six months, he enlisted as an airman in the Royal Flying Corps at South Farnborough. After 99 days, he was discharged to commission and became Second Lieutenant (on probation), being transferred to the Central Flying School at Upavon, Wiltshire. He was gazetted Flying Officer and confirmed in rank on 26th February 1918 with effect from 28th January 1918. His next-of-kin was given as his father, with an address of Church House, Merrow, Guildford, Surrey, which was actually the home of Jack’s paternal grandmother and was where Jack and his brothers apparently spent most of their school holidays.
Jack’s obituary in the school magazine described him as “not excelling in booklearning, he possessed good judgement and sound commonsense, and was a born leader”. He was followed at Sherborne by his youngest brother, Rupert Basil Wyatt-Smith (1900-1983), also a useful cricketer. Rupert became a rubber planter in Malaya, and was interred in the notorious Changi prison in Singapore during the Second World War.
Jack is buried at Padua Main Cemetery, Italy, and is commemorated on war memorials at Merrow, Sherborne and Packwood Haugh.
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