Jesse Alfred Wallingford was born on 25 January 1871, the second of ten children of Frederick Wallingford, a sergeant in the Rifle Brigade, and his wife Phoebe. His childhood was peripatetic, as the family moved from Woolwich to Dover to India and Winchester. Jesse joined his father’s Regiment in 1885 and showed early promise in marksmanship. At the age of seventeen he took up competitive shooting and ‘showed his keenness by expending most of his pay in buying ammunition’. After service in India, in 1894 he joined the School of Musketry in Hythe as a third class instructor and started winning national and international prizes for his shooting. The Book of the Rifle published in 1901 had as its frontispiece a portrait of Jesse with the title ‘The Best Shot in the British Army’. At the 1908 London Olympics he won a bronze medal in the team pistol event.
Jesse at the School of Musketry and below with the 1909 Shooting Team (Hythe Museum)
More importantly for his military career, he had achieved a remarkable record in the ‘Mad Minute’ taught and demonstrated at the School of Musketry. Introduced in 1909, the training required soldiers to fire fifteen aimed rounds from a rifle in sixty seconds from three hundred feet. The technique was also a regular demonstration by instructors to show officer trainees the maximum rate of accurate fire that could be achieved by an expert. The top expert was, of course, Jesse, who managed thirty-six hits on a forty-eight-inch target.
He was by now a sergeant-major and a family man. He had married a Hythe woman, Alice Bishopp, daughter of a labourer, and five children had been born, though one died in infancy.
Then in 1911, after seventeen years in Hythe, and despite having been given permission to extend his service for more than twenty-one years, he left the British Army to take up a post with the New Zealand Defence Force. On 12 September, he and his family sailed to Wellington.
Captain Wallingford in New Zealand
Jesse was soon commissioned and as Captain Wallingford introduced courses of instruction in the use of the machine gun. During this time, he suggested the tactic of ‘brigading’ machine guns into a single unit under the direct command of the senior officer present. After the outbreak of war, he supervised the rifle training of the NZ expeditionary force. This soon merged with its Australian counterpart into the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). Although he was now forty-two, Jesse volunteered for overseas service and was sent to Gallipoli.
Jesse and his men landed at what became known as Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915. Here he earned his Military Cross. The citation notes his ‘conspicuous coolness and resource on several critical occasions’. Turkish resistance had been fierce and thousands of his comrades had been killed or wounded . Jesse had re-constituted a force from what uninjured men he could gather, put a disabled machine-gun back into action and directed its fire for four hours. A contemporary wrote of him that he was ‘the strongest, most capable, coolest officer on Walker’s Ridge’.
His marksmanship became legendary and unconfirmed press reports say that he killed seven hundred enemy soldiers. The stress of his situation led to hospitalisation at the end of June with ‘cardiac insufficiency’, but his stay was short and he was back in action in August. A relapse at the end of the month led to him being invalided out to the Wandsworth General Hospital in England. While convalescing, he was able to visit Hythe for the weekend and took an aeroplane flight over the town. Then he travelled home to New Zealand. However, his innovative idea of brigading was used during the August offensive and helped secure its success.
After a period of training troops again, he was declared medically fit in early 1917, but his days of active service were over. He was promoted to Major early in 1919 and remained engaged in both the military sphere and the shooting world. He finally retired from the army after fifty-two years service in 1927.
He became Superintendent of a Veterans Home, a JP and, of course, continued to shoot. He died on D-Day, 6 June 1944.
Meanwhile, his elder son, Sidney, was having military successes of his own.
Born at the School of Musketry in Hythe on 12 July 1898 and baptised in St Leonard’s church, where his parents had married, he went to New Zealand with the family just after his thirteenth birthday. Perhaps he did not want to go or became homesick, but at the first opportunity, when he was eighteen, he joined the merchant navy so that he could work his passage back to England.
On his arrival, he joined up with the Artists Rifles regiment (whose members were no longer exclusively artistic) then joined the 4th Battalion Rifle Brigade, which fought in Salonika. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corp in March 1918, three weeks before it became the Royal Air Force and he qualified to wear wings in August. He flew in Palestine before the war ended and stayed in the Middle East until spring of 1919, before leaving the service the next year.
For the next two or three years he tried farming in New Zealand and working for the Fijian Police, but was soon back in England with the RAF and in 1927-8 twice became the RAF rifle champion at Bisley, winning the coveted Queen Mary prize.
Then in 1929, it was back to New Zealand, to become the first adjutant of the Royal New Zealand Air Force and to marry his sweetheart, Kathleen Jamieson.
As Adjutant, Sidney’s role was to assist the commanding officer, but within a few months he was on his way to Samoa to assist in quelling unrest among the Mau, a political group who were agitating for Samoan independence. In early 1930, he was flying reconnaissance missions in Samoa in a de Havilland Moth fitted with floats. Then there was more work flying supplies and medical equipment into Napier, which was devastated by an earthquake in 1931 and ferrying out some of the thousands of casualties.
Sidney Wallingford (right)
A few years later, in 1935, Sidney became an overnight hero when he landed a Fairey IIIF seaplane on the water at Karekare beach on the West Coast, saving the life of a young woman who’d been swept out to sea.
Sidney & his seaplane
The next year, together with his family, Sidney went back to England to attend
the RAF Staff College. Later, with the rank of Squadron Leader, he was appointed NZ Liaison Officer with the Air Ministry. In1939 he was living in Ealing with his younger brother Roland, who had also returned to the UK, married and was working as a ‘tea propagandist’. However, Sidney’s son later remembered that the family actually had a home in Hythe, where they remained until the town was effectively evacuated in 1940.
Sidney’s war saw him move from the Air Ministry to the Pacific, where he became the Senior RNZAF Officer co-operating with the American Forces there and then Commander of the Number One Island Group, in charge of all RNZAF personnel fighting the Japanese. In 1943 he was awarded the US Legion of Honour, citing his ‘ready cooperation, unflagging efforts and inspiring leadership’ and in 1944 his British CBE citation read ‘…he showed himself to be an officer of ability, resource and initiative.’
Sidney in the Pacific
In 1945, he was posted back to NZ and finally retired in 1954 to devote himself to gardening.
With thanks to Kevin Bailey, Curator of Hythe Museum