Wavell, Arthur John Byng
he eldest son of Colonel Arthur Henry Wavell of the Welch Regiment and Matilda Wavell, daughter of the Reverend John Byng. They lived at 7 Egerton Gardens, Kensington. He was a cousin of Archibald Percival Wavell (Coll. 1896-1900), later Field Marshal Earl Wavell. He was born in London and came to Winchester from Twyford School.
In 1899 he went to Sandhurst and was gazetted to his father’s regiment the following year. He served in the latter stages of the South African War and was then employed by the War Office to undertake a mapping survey of large tracts of land in Swaziland, Tongoland and North Zululand. In 1905 the War Office asked him to cross the Kalahari Desert and report on the Bechuanaland Protectorate. He was a member of the Royal Geographical Society and an accomplished linguist. In 1906 he started a sisal plantation near Mombasa and in the years leading up to the outbreak of the war he went on a pilgrimage to Mecca and travelled extensively, at times in considerable danger from tribesmen, through the Middle East.
In 1913 he joined the Special Reserve of the Welch Regiment but on the outbreak of war he was in British East Africa, visiting his plantation. On being being refused permission to rejoin his regiment in England, he raised a force of Arab water carriers for the defence of the Mombasa end of the Uganda railway. The Indian Expeditionary Force had not then arrived, and there was nobody but Wavell and 150 Arabs between the Germans and Mombasa. It was largely due to Wavell’s energy and capacity for leadership that the town did not fall into the hands of the enemy. He was severely wounded in the left arm at Majorini on 24th September 1914 and was promoted to Major on the field on 17th December for gallant services. He was in service with his Arab Rifles, fighting numerous skirmishes against the marauding German forces, continuously from the time of his recovery from injury until 9th January 1916 when he and fifteen of his men were killed in an ambush at the Mkongani waterholes near Mwele Mdogo.
He is buried in a small war cemetery deep in the bush in the Shimba Hills. Mwele Ndogo Military Grave holds only two bodies, one of them Wavell’s. A little to the east of the grave is a memorial to the three NCOs and eleven men of the Arab Rifles who fell with the two officers. The Wavell Memorial Gardens were opened alongside Fort Jesus in Mombasa in 1922 with an obelisk in the memory of dead of the ‘Arab Rifles’. There is also a stone commemorative tablet in the north aisle of Winchester Cathedral, which reads: “To the Memory of Major Arthur John Byng Wavell FRGS The Welch Regiment Killed in Action on January 9th 1916 near Mwele British East Africa while in command of the ‘Arab Rifles’ a Force raised by him in August 1914 to protect Mombasa. He served with distinction in the South African War and was a well known Author and Explorer. Eldest son of Colonel A.H. Wavell The Welch Regiment. Born in 1882. Educated at Winchester and Sandhurst. He was promoted Major for Distinguished Service in the Field December 17th 1915, and was awarded the Military Cross in January 1916.”
Further information about Wavell’s life and his time in the Middle East can be read here:
- Surname: Wavell
- Forenames or initials: Arthur John Byng
- House: B
- Years in School: 1895-1899
- Rank: Major
- Regiment: Arab Rifles
- Date of Birth: 27th May 1882
- Date of Death: 9th January 1916
- How Died: Killed in Action
- Location in War Cloister: Outer A5
- Decoration: MC
- Burial Site: MWELE NDOGO MILITARY GRAVE