Francis Wheatley VC DCM
Francis Wheatley was born in Ruddington and baptised on 10th August 1821. Francis was the son of Martha Thompson and Francis Wheatley, who were married on 28th December 1821 at the Parish Church of Ruddington.
His father was a framework knitter, a trade Francis followed before joining the Rifle Brigade. He was enlisted in the First Battalion Rifle Brigade (Prince Consorts Own) at Daventry on 5th November 1839 for a bounty of £3.17s.6d and was joined as a Private on 8th November 1839.
Francis spent 12 of his 21 years’ service abroad. The first 5 years and 1 month were spent in Malta and the Ionian Islands and the next 5 years and 5 months in the Cape of Good Hope. This period included the Kaffir Wars of 1846/47 and 1852/53, for the latter of which he was awarded a campaign medal.
Francis was in the Crimea from 14th September 1854 until 5th June 1855 and was present at the Battles of Alma and Inkerman and at the Siege of Sebastopol, for which he was awarded the Crimea medal with three clasps.
It was during the Siege of Sebastopol that Private Wheatley displayed his great courage. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallant conduct in the trenches on 11th October 1854 and the following day his actions resulted in the award of the Victoria Cross. The citation reads:
‘On 12th October 1854, Wheatley with some other Riflemen, was occupying a section of the trenches before Sebastopol when a live Russian shell fell amongst the men. Without hesitation Wheatley seized hold of the shell and endeavoured to knock out the fuse with the butt of his rifle. He was unsuccessful at the first attempt, and so, with great presence of mind and deliberation he managed somehow to heave it over the parapet of the trench. It had scarcely fallen outside when it exploded. Had it not been for his coolness, presence of mind and supreme courage, the shell would have inevitably exploded amongst the party causing serious casualties, but instead, not a man was hurt.’
He received his Victoria Cross at the very first investiture in Hyde Park on 26th June 1857 by Queen Victoria in person.
Francis died at Westminster Hospital, London on 21st May 1865 from acute myelitis (inflamation of the spinal cord) and asphyxia. He was buried in a common grave in Brompton Cemetery, London, which remained unmarked until a headstone was erected on 30th March 2001. His medals are on display at the Royal Green Jackets Museum in Winchester and his name is recorded on the memorial in Winchester Cathedral.
Editor’s Note: Did you know that Francis Wheatley also gave his name to Wheatley Close in Ruddington?
Victoria Cross Memorial unveiled
On Friday 7th May 2010 in the grounds of the Nottingham Castle, the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Victoria Cross Memorial was unveiled. The sombre and respectful occasion was attended by many local dignitaries including Ruddington’s own Parish Councillors Mrs Barbara Venes and Peter McGowan. Councillor Peter McGowan was also there in his capacity of Mayor of Rushcliffe and was accompanied by the Lady Mayoress, Mrs Deirdre McGowan, in the centre of the picture.
Nottinghamshire is the first county in Britain to honour all its VC recipients in this manner and £30,000 was raised in just 18 months to pay for the memorial.
In the photograph above, Councillor Mrs Venes is pointing to the name of Francis Wheatley on the Victoria Cross memorial.