The man who came back from the dead

Cippenham War Memorial

Cippenham War Memorial 2016

The war memorial in the centre of Cippenham carries the names of those from the village who fell during the First and Second World Wars. The inscribed list for the First World War contains 19 names, the last of which is W. Lewington. Leading Stoker Walter John Lewington, known by his family as John, had been reported missing in in 1916, His parents, who lived in Cippenham had hoped that perhaps he had been taken prisoner-of-war, but after the armistice had passed they mourned him for dead. In January 1922, six years after he had gone missing, events took an unexpected turn. At 11 o’clock at night, there was a tapping on the door of his parent’s cottage in Cippenham. Downstairs were Lewington’s sister and her fiancée who had recently returned from an evening at the cinema in Slough. The fiancée opened the door a crack and a voice from the dark asked “Does Mrs Lewington live here?” The woman immediately recognised the voice as belonging to her brother. When he came in, she could only talk incoherently. She went upstairs to her mother, and said, “John’s come back!” When the long-lost son walked into his mother’s room she said to him. “Why did you not let me know you were coming?” He only smiled in answer.

Cippenham War Memorial’s list of the fallen in WW1.

The mother talked to her son for a long time, scarcely able to believe it was him. Mrs Sarah Lewington, a grey-haired, red-cheeked woman, was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying she could scarcely believe it. “My heart was too full to ask him much,” she said with tears in her eyes. “He did not say very much about where he had been or what he had done. He was wounded in the head in the battle of Jutland and was in hospital for some time. He arrived quite well dressed and with a kit bag, and said he had come from Reading. The last that we knew of him was that he was in the destroyer Sandfly and he was reported as missing. Inquiries were made but nothing more could be heard about him. We were told that he might have been taken prisoner, and so we waited till the end of the war before giving up hope. “When I told him that his name was on two war memorials, he said: ‘Oh, I’ll rectify that all right.’ You see, it was put on the Burnham memorial as well as on that of our village.”

Next day the name “W. Lewington” was found to be blotted out on the Cippenham war memorial with black paint. Lewington had headed off to Portsmouth to give himself up as a deserter. It appeared that he had actually been down on Navy books as a deserter all along.

No information came to light as to what Walter John Lewington did after deserting, or what happened after he turned himself in. Perhaps he deserted because he could no longer take the horrors of war at sea. When he came back to visit his mother in Cippenham and discovered that his name had been put on the war memorial, it is difficult to imagine what he must have felt. It is more than likely that most of the other names on the memorial were people that had been known to him.The strange action of blotting out his name and then going to turn himself in probably indicated that he experienced deep feelings of guilt. He is known to have died in Eton in 1957. It would certainly be interesting to hear from a descendant so that the gaps in this story can be filled in.


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2 Responses to The man who came back from the dead

  1. Dave Hill says:

    I am a Hill and recently found out something about these Hills, my gt. uncles, the rest are or were good Cippenham names. Wonder if anything more is known of them. I did find a good website on Bucks soldiers from WWI “Clint’s Roll of Honour”

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    • Admin says:

      “Clint’s Roll of Honour” also seems to be known as “Buckinghamshire remembers”. The fallen in the Great War listed on Cippenham memorial can be found here

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