Joseph George Giddings & James Wigmore

Mrs Elizabeth Lawrance saw two sons off to fight in the Great War. One was adopted and the other fostered. Neither returned.

Joseph George Giddings was the adopted son. He was killed in action on Saturday 16 September 1916 while serving with the 1st Bn., Royal Berkshire Regiment (also known as Princess Charlotte of Wales’s), and is buried at Hébuterne Military Cemetery in the Pas de Calais. His service records give his place of enlistment as Aldershot, his place of birth as Lambeth and his age when he died in action as 21.

All we know about his early life is that on Wednesday 18 March 1908 Joseph Giddings was baptised by Rev. Henry Jephson in this church. The rector noted in the register that Joseph was born on 20 June 1892, that his father was Joseph Giddings and that his mother was unknown. We have not found this birth in the indexes but if 20 June 1892 is correct the service records are wrong about his age in September 1916 – he was 24. The baptismal entry suggests that in March 1908 Mrs Lawrance had recently adopted the 15-year old Joseph and that his father had died or was at least not present to provide information about his mother. Sadly, we have not found Joseph in the 1901 or 1911 census.

James Wigmore was the foster son. He was killed in action on Thursday 20 September 1917 while serving with the 12th Bn., Royal Scots. He enlisted at Hertford and was initially assigned to the Hertfordshire Regiment. James is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial – in other words, he is one of the 34,984 men who died at Passchendaele after 16 August 1917 and have no known grave.

James Wigmore clearly had a difficult early life. He was baptised by Rev. Henry Jephson on Saturday 6 August 1892 as James William, son of Ellen Wigmore of Long Ditton, Surrey, single woman. The 1901 census lists him as James Wigmore-Shepherd aged eight, the adopted son of Charles and Mary Shepherd, born in London – parish unknown. We have no way of discovering what links there were between the Shepherds and Ellen Wigmore or how it was that James came to be adopted by them. The Shepherds, who had no children of their own, were then living in one of the two cottages demolished in 1913 to make way for the construction of what is now Haven House, 35 Ayot Green, and next door to them in 33 Ayot Green lived George and Elizabeth Lawrance. James Wigmore attended the school next to the parish church from at least 1902 until he left ‘to go to work’ on 11 May 1906. By 1911 Mary Shepherd had died and Charles had moved to Kimpton with his sister Mary Ann (the mother of Alfred Shepherd, who was killed in France in 1916). It seems likely that Mrs Lawrance became foster mother to James when his adoptive mother Mary Shepherd died and that this happened at about the same time as she adopted Joseph Giddings. In the 1911 census we find James Wigmore lodging with William King and his family at 4 Ayot Green.

Mr and Mrs Lawrance were in a new home at 10 Ayot Green on census night in 1911 with their daughter Ellen, who was born at Ayot St. Peter in 1890. It is possible that the name Ellen was chosen because the family knew or were related to Ellen Wigmore. George Lawrance died in 1915 so that Mrs Lawrence was a widow when Joseph and James died. She died aged 88 on 5 April 1948 and Ellen died aged 79 on 1 March 1970; both are buried in the churchyard outside.