'Heartbreak' over theft of uncle's watch which holds poignant First World War story

A 93-year-old Shropshire man has been left heartbroken after a watch belonging to his uncle – a First World War veteran – was stolen from his home.

Jack Whittingham dressed in uniform on his horse
Jack Whittingham dressed in uniform on his horse

John Whittingham, who lives in Market Drayton, has been left devastated by the loss of his uncle's pocket watch, which was taken from his bedroom at the beginning of March.

The watch is of great sentimental value to the family, as it holds the story of Uncle Jack, who fought during the First World War as a member of The King's Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI).

John's son, Andy Whittingham, said: "It was soul wrenching. My dad keeps having breakdowns and he's tearful when he thinks about it.

John Whittingham pictured at home reading a first edition of Captain Geoffrey Dugdale's book: 'Langemark' and 'Cambrai' - A War Narrative 1914-1918

"He lives on his own and he's quite a strong character and is managing. He does his own cooking and washing and he's very self-dependent – but it has really hurt him.

"It's gut wrenching to think someone would do something like that, but here we are."

Engraved with '1917' and 'TO JTW FROM JD', the gold watch was gifted to Jack Whittingham from his Captain, Geoffrey Dugdale, during the First World War.

Police issued an appeal to the thief to return the watch and to anyone who may have seen or been offered it, but it has yet to be handed in.

Officers said the theft happened between 10.30pm on Sunday, March 5, and 6.30am on Monday, March 6.

Now, Andy has issued an appeal to anyone who might have seen the watch.

Jack Whittingham's war

Jack was conscripted in 1914, age 20, into the 6th Battalion Kings Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI).

Jack, far right, with some of his fellow soldiers who had joined the KSLI to fight in the First World War

He was a 'batman' – a soldier who was assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal servant – for Captain Geoffrey Dugdale, of the KSLI.

Together they experienced the horrors of war, fighting in The Battle of Langemark (from August 16 to August 18, 1917) and The Battle of Cambrai (from November 20 to December 6, 1917).

The Battle of Cambrai in particular saw the first large-scale use of massed tanks in battle and highlighted the importance of coordination between different arms and services.

Artillery, infantry, tanks, aircraft, logistics, staff and signals, worked together to launch a successful attack even against strong defences.

During Christmas time in France 1916, Jack wrote a postcard to his mum which reads 'A Merry Christmas, Jack'.

The postcard written from Jack to his mother while in France, Christmas 1916

Nothing else was written on the postcard other than the address, as there could be no information which the Germans could have used were they to get their hands on it.

The war ended for Jack Whittingham when he was taken to hospital after being found in the bottom of a trench, having been hit by shrapnel.

This was during the Battle of Langemark when Jack was 22-years-old. He had been sent to another pill box or military blockhouse to fetch something.

Captain Dugdale wrote a book upon his return home from the First World War, in which Jack is mentioned a number of times.

The reference to Jack's wounds in the book reads: 'I missed Whittingham. He had been sent to the other pill box to fetch something. Where was he?

'Going out with one of the runners, we found him staggering along. He had been hit.

'We took him in, to find he had quite a nasty wound in his side, so we bound him up and sent him off down the line. Thank heaven he was back with us within a fortnight’.

Published in 1932, Captain Dugdale's war narrative was dedicated specifically to Jack and is signed "in memory of some exciting times".

After the war, Jack returned home to his family's farm in Hinstock, near Market Drayton, where he remained until his death at the age of 78 on June 25, 1973.

Jack did not speak of the war with his nephew – of what he had seen or experienced – those memories were known only to him and his fellow comrades in arms.

Jack Whittingham dressed in uniform on his horse

Andy added: "It's quite a unique pocket watch and the loss of it has really devastated my dad and if he got it back he would be made up.

"It's not of much value, it's of sentimental value. I have got the book at the moment, so to put them both together, it's my great-uncle's war and that history to be passed down."

Anyone with any information is asked to contact Pc Ade Davies on 07870 510821 or e-mail adrian.davies1@westmercia.police.uk

Alternatively, contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 or at crimestoppers-uk.org

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