Letters Of Hugh Stanley Wilson To His Family And Friends

Tucked away on a shelf in the Library is a small book published in 1919, comparatively modern for the Cathedral Library. This book is a personal view and an insight into some people who lived and worked in the Cathedral in the early 20th century. It comprises letters written by Hugh Stanley Wilson, son of Canon Wilson.

Hugh was born on November 28th 1885 in Clifton, Bristol. He was killed at Hebuterne, Pas-de-Calais, France on September 14th 1915.


Hugh as a boy


He was educated in Clifton and later at King’s College Cambridge and there are letters written from Worcester where his father was Canon from 1905. At this time, Hugh’s thoughts were full of plans and descriptions of the practicalities of his life and those of his friends.

Hugh talked of Sundays in Worcester when the family entertained three boys from King’s School to lunch. They stayed until about four when another four boys from the Choir School were invited to tea, followed by a game of cricket on the lawn.


Hugh whilst at Worcester Cathedral in his youth


A love of music is evident from Hugh’s comments about an enjoyable evening spent with his brother Stuert and friends listening to a string quartette playing Mozart and Beethoven whilst sitting in an armchair smoking his pipe: “We sat in one room and just across the passage they played string quartettes. It was heavenly.”

After leaving King’s College Cambridge, from September 1907, Hugh travelled in France teaching a little English to boys from Faidherbe Lycée in Lille. In January 1908, Hugh started teaching English at L’École des Roches in Verneuil, a place which he mentions with affection: “In short I am insufferably satisfied with life….” From there, he wrote to G. H. Mallory reminiscing on good times had in Worcester, which included a walk to Ledbury rewarded with cake and chocolate for tea. Mallory was yet to set his sights on Everest.

In October 1909 Hugh moved to Basle and on to Germany, learning German and sending letters to his friends describing the people he met and his opinion of them, which were not always complimentary.

Spending a few months in Paris before he moved to Bonn in 1911, Hugh spent time translating and improving his French. His letters to friends are full of opinions on various, mainly French, authors and reminiscing on past, shared moments.

Hugh was an Assistant Master at Rugby School until August 1914, when he went for training as a private in the 8th Worcestershire Regiment. He became a Second Lieutenant in October 1914.

In April 1915, before returning to the trenches, Hugh writes from Belgium to the mother of his friend, the poet Rupert Brooke. It is a very poignant letter: “Sympathy is a small thing, and the love of all your friends is nothing to his love. But I cannot help sending you mine before I go back to the those trenches where I may have to follow unworthily in his footsteps,…”

On 2nd May 1915, Hugh wrote to his niece, Joan Padwick, to thank her for sending him a tin of toffees and to tell her how, when anyone comes to complain about what hasn’t been done, he quells their annoyance by saying “have a bit of this stuff”, making good use of her present and lightening the mood.

On a Sunday, Hugh detailed to his father a walk in which he describes finding a town on top of a hill: “A horrible sight on a warm June evening – all these dry bones of houses with perhaps one inhabitant to each street. The village square all grass covered, with vast shell holes in the pavement. One great hole through the Church – a very fine Church too.”

 The book records him writing from France on 10th August 1915. This letter was sent to his father, Canon Wilson, and was written on his second spell of eight days in the trenches. In it, he reassured his father that there was little gunfire, mainly shelling, to worry about. He talked about getting a week away in October or November.


Hugh serving in France


Hugh often wrote to his parents separately and on 4th September 1915, he wrote to his mother and talked of a trip to a country town recalling past memories of France and of reading in the Times of the death of his closest friend Harry Garrett. He asked his mother to keep his last letter from Harry safe and referred to Kenneth Powell and Rupert Graves who had also been killed.

Less than a week before he was killed, on 8th September 1915, Hugh wrote to his friend G.F. Bradby from France. This is the last letter in the book.

“I write to you from my dug-out, panelled in old oak from the church about the size of a ‘two study’. Outside a beautiful night, whose quiet is only occasionally broken by rifle shots and rarer shells from one side or the other. We are about 200 yards from our front trenches in an orchard on the outskirts of a poor battered village. Our little colony of dug-outs is joined by deep ‘communication trenches’ beautifully bricked and drained by the laborious French, who were here all throughout last year until August.” Of the death of his friend H. F. Garrett, he writes : “How he enjoyed life! At least he never wasted any of his time here, and now he has eternity on his hands, and new friends to make”.

 Before he left England, Hugh entrusted his brother Stuert with instructions on dealing with his possessions. He asked Stuert to pay any outstanding rent and rates. Any remaining money was to be given to the Headmaster at Rugby to be spent as he chose. He suggested that the school might buy pictures for the schoolrooms or give the money to the War Remission Fund. He asked for his books and pictures to be distributed amongst his friends at Rugby, especially those in his form.

Second Lieutenant Hugh Stanley Wilson of the 8th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment died on 14th September 1915, aged 30. He is buried in Hebuterne Military Cemetery in France.



In the Cathedral Cloisters there is a memorial window dedicated to Hugh. It is next to a memorial for Lieutenant Edward Wilson, his brother, who died on 2nd May 1916.

Liz Sydney


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