Anyone who has researched the fallen of World War One through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website will occasionally have come across a record that states that a soldier served under another name – and wondered about their reasons. This is one young man’s story.
Wainwright Merrill was born on 26 May 1898 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Merrill and Estelle Minerva Hatch Merrill. He had an older brother, Gyles. His mother, a botanist, journalist and businesswoman, died when he was just ten.
Clearly a bright young man, in 1915 he was studying English literature at Dartmouth, an Ivy League college in New Hampshire. He already believed that America should enter the European war and joined Dartmouth’s college military battalion which began training in February 1916. The group practiced marching, studied artillery tactics and dug a series of elaborate trenches near the college football field.
Trenches at Dartmouth College
The assembled battalion at Dartmouth
He also attended two sessions of the civilian military training camp established at Plattsburg, New York. These were part of a volunteer pre-enlistment training programme organized by the Preparedness Movement, a group of influential pro-Allied citizens.
Exercises at Plattsburg
After only a year at Dartmouth, Wainwright transferred to Harvard, to be closer to his family in Cambridge, where his father and brother lived in Bellevue Avenue. There he joined the college’s Officer Training Corps programme.
Wainwright in uniform, probably that of the Harvard OTC
But his stay was short-lived. He left Harvard in November 1916 and travelled to Kingston, Ontario. Once there, he volunteered to serve as a gunner in the 6th Siege Battery of the Canadian Garrison Artillery. Only eighteen, he was considered a minor by the Canadian military and needed his father’s permission to sign up. He knew this would not be forthcoming, so assumed the identity of Arthur Ashton Stanley, a clerk born in 1895 in England. In a letter home to his father, Merrill explained that he ‘could not, in honour, stay out if America should take no action’.
The attestation of ‘Arthur Ashton Stanley’
Wainwright was sent, along with thousands of other Canadian soldiers, to England, to the Kent coast where he was quartered at Risborough barracks, near Hythe. He arrived in spring 1917
All that is left of Risborough Barracks today
His study of English literature had developed in him a great affinity for all things English. He had read Caesar’s account of invading the country, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Shelley and Dickens, but his favourite was Kipling (‘the one and only Rudyard’) His reading perhaps fostered a romantic view of England, but in Hythe he found that the romance was real. Having seen it for himself, he wrote of the poet Shelley:
One can well appreciate his love of the wild things, the blue fleecy clouded heaven, the May wind in the trees; and this fair green wood and hill and meadow land that is England. … This beauty of the English countryside surely has approximated the ideal surroundings and pulsed with the best aspirations of countless men down the years. It is indeed a wonderful thing to know and feel. No one is more thankful for, or realises better than I, the splendid chance I am having to be here in my youth (1)
He loved the Roman ruins of Stutfall castle, the winding roads and scattered stone houses of the Romney Marsh, sunset over the English channel, Stone Street (‘a flinty white road’), the inns and their ‘jovial hosts’. In the April showers he compared himself to Chaucer’s pilgrims and visited inns:
And I have walked out over the green Marsh to Dymchurch-under-the-wall, stopping for ginger wine and a pint or two at Botolph’s Bridge and the Shepherd and Crook in Burmarsh and stood on the sloping or2)