South Oxford Community Centre

Lake Street, Oxford, OX1 4RP 01865 242666

66 men - Arthur Wright

[Wright Arthur OJI 19-01-1916 p.6]

Image from the
Oxford Journal Illustrated,
19 January 1916, p.6


The information below is kindly supplied by Barry Burnham, whose full biography of Arthur Wright is here.

Arthur Wright was born in the Oxford parish of St Aldate's on 10 March 1896, the seventh of the eight children of John and Mary Wright. His brother Ernest Wright was also killed in the War.

The children's father John had been born in 1855 in St Ebbe's, and was a general labourer. His wife Mary (née Bardrick) had been born in 1861/62 in Grendon Underwood in Buckinghamshire. As a young woman she moved to Oxford to find work as a domestic servant and it's likely that the couple met here.

In 1891 the Wright family were living at 13 Isis Street (off St Aldate's, near Folly Bridge) but by 1901 they had moved to 49 Marlborough Road in Grandpont and John was working as a river dredger. Four of the children - Mabel, George, Edith and a child of unknown name - had died in infancy, and only Ernest (born 1887), Nelly (1894/95), Arthur (1896) and Margaret (1897/98) survived. There were lots of cousins nearby however: two of John's brothers lived locally - Mark and his family at 33 Chilswell Road and Paul at 16 Chilswell Road and later at 151 Marlborough Road. (A third brother, Matthew, had died as a child in the 1852 cholera outbreak in St Ebbe's.)

Even though they had moved to Grandpont, the family were still very much connected to St Aldate's church and Arthur sang in the choir there and later joined the bell-ringing team. He was also a keen athlete and a good runner. When he left school he followed his older brother Ernest into the printing trade and became a compositor.

After five years working for a Mr Sweatman of New Inn Hall Street, Arthur joined the Royal Navy in November 1914, when he was 18. According to his navy records he was 5' 3½" tall, with a chest circumference of 33", brown hair, grey eyes and fresh complexion. He became an Officer's Steward 3rd Class, service no. L/6016. He did his initial training at Chatham in Kent at the shore barracks, HMS Pembroke. He joined the HMS Natal (an armoured cruiser) in April the following year. The Natal was engaged in patrolling the North Sea and on 30 December 1915 she was moored in the Cromarty Firth, just off the Highlands of Scotland. Captain Back was holding a party for his officers and their families that afternoon, when a series of violent explosions tore through the ship, and it sank within five minutes. Investigations afterwards concluded that there had been an internal fire caused by faulty cordite in one of the ship's magazines. More than 400 people (crew and civilians) were killed by the explosions or drowned in the sea. Those whose bodies were recovered were buried at Rosskeen churchyard near the town of Ivergordon, or in the graveyard of the Gaelic Chapel at Cromarty. There were many others, including Arthur, whose bodies were never found. Arthur is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial in Kent. He was 19 when he died.

Because they were born in St Aldate's, and involved with the church there, Arthur and his brother Ernest are also named on the St Aldate's war memorial. Arthur wasn't married but a year after his death two In memoriam notices appeared in The Oxford Times, one from his parents and the other perhaps placed by his sweetheart.

With the deaths of Arthur and Ernest, John and Mary Wright had lost six of their eight children at a young age; only Nelly and Margaret survived.

Arthur and Ernest's uncle, Mark Wright, lived at 33 Chilswell Road. He and his wife Edith had 12 children, six girls and six boys, four of whom - John, William, Vernon and Martin - also fought in the War but all of whom survived.

With thanks to William Willmot, great grandson of Mark Wright, for additional information.

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