Aldbourne Heritage Centre

Many interesting characters have lived in Aldbourne over the years but only a few have the distinction of leaving a permanent mark on the village map. One of those was John Henry Wakefield.

John was born in Nottingham in  1851, son of a coal labourer and charwoman. Nothing is known of his early life but, aged 19, he enlisted in the army joining the Kings Royal Rifle Corps in 1870. He was soon posted to India and became embroiled in the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880). During that conflict a contingent of British soldiers were besieged in the city of Kandahar by the Afghans. In a desperate bid to relieve them General Roberts famously led 10000 troops (a mix of British and Indian forces) across 300 miles of ferociously hot and rugged terrain towards Kandahar. The troops travelled ‘light’ to maximise speed, covering an amazing 15 to 20 miles each day. Many succumbed to exhaustion but amazingly very few died. Over 8500 mules, donkeys, and ponies and some elephants transported the supplies and weapons. It took 20 days to reach Kandahar where after a short battle, the Afghans were defeated. John Wakefield survived that ordeal and the war, recognised by the award of the Afghan Star including a Kandahar clasp and the (Roberts) Bronze Star. No sooner did his unit return for rest in India than in January 1881 they were shipped to South Africa where the First Boer War (Dec 1880 – March 1881) had just begun. His regiment lost many men in the first major battle at Majuba Hill in early 1881 but again John survived the battle and the war. He later served in Egypt, reaching the rank of Colour Sergeant in 1883 before finally retiring in 1892 after 22 years of service.

He had married Martha Haynes from Huntingdon in 1883 and they had four children by 1891 when they were still in military barracks in Huntingdon. After leaving the army, but for reasons unknown, they settled in this area and for several years he was a publican in Kintbury and Marlborough and elsewhere. By 1901 they had a fifth child and had moved to Lottage Road in Aldbourne. He became the village’s auxiliary postman before World War One, walking 16 miles a day, six days a week. At the outbreak of the war he volunteered for service but at age 64 was rejected! Nevertheless he helped to train local men to use a rifle and taught ‘drill’ to the village children. Sadly his eldest son, Frank, was killed in action in 1918 and his wife died in 1928. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s John was still active in Aldbourne and could often be found in his favourite pub, The Bell (now the house adjoining the Post Office) chatting with his friends and any visiting old comrades. He died in December 1940 in his 90th year. As one of the last Kandahar march survivors, he was accorded a semi-military funeral with a bugler from his old regiment playing the ‘Last Post’ and ‘Reveille’. Other military units happened to be training locally lined up by the pond to honor the passing cortege. He is buried in St Michael’s churchyard. His legacy to Aldbourne is, of course, the area known as ‘Kandahar’ where John had a house (now demolished) on a small pot of land which no doubt he named after his heroic exploit in that far off and troubled land.