Service number 138709
Born: July 13th 1910
Died: June 3rd 1944
Roger was the only son of Capt. Edward Marcus Attwood Wakefield and his wife Edith Miriam Andre born at Upton Moor, Pontefract. He had one sister, Priscilla. His paternal grandfather was a Commissioner of Taxes, some time in New Zealand. His maternal grandfather was an architect.
Roger was educated at Bedford School and Matriculated in1929. He graduated with a 3rd in PPE in 1932 and was Called to the Bar of Gray’s Inn. By the time he came up to Christ Church, his parents were living at St. George’s Hill House, Bathampton, Bath.
In 1944, a Captain in the Royal Artillery, he was serving with the Special Service Brigade who were detailed to cause a diversionary attack whilst the allies were landing in Normandy. The island of Brac, off the Dalmation coast of Yugoslavia was held by a German force of about twelve hundred, five hundred of whom occupied a series of well-sited strong-points occupying the summit of hills with a clear field of fire all round. Their main armament was four 105-mm guns.
The Yugoslav 26th Division was made up of thirteen hundred of Tito’s Partisans, 43 Commando's Heavy weapons Troop, and one other Troop of 40 Commando, all under the command of 'Mad Jack' Churchill. Artillery support was provided by the Partisans manning 107-mm guns, and a battery of eight twenty five pounders of the 111th Field Regiment Royal Artillery. The U.S.A. Army Air Force was to bomb three nearby ports on the mainland, so as to prevent any attempt to reinforce the island.
The battle commenced on June 3rd 1944 with an assault on the observation position. They were met with very heavy fire and their reply, though vigorous, was ineffective because the Germans were in concrete trenches impervious to small arms. The attackers were soon in jeopardy; they had no cover and there was a complicated minefield.
The combined assault of 43 Commando and the Partisans failed because of the heavily laden mine fields which covered all possible approaches.
Three Troops from 40 Commando Royal Marines under their Lieutenant-Colonel J.C. Manners, D.S.O., were summoned from Vis to reinforce the attack. It was a bright moonlit night and whilst they could clearly see where they were advancing, the enemy could see them. On reaching the minefields and barbed wire, they came under incessant small arms fire from both flanks and machine-gun fire from the centre.
Marine Charles Nicholls, though badly wounded, successfully directed his troop through a gap in the wire blown by a Bangalore torpedo. Surging forward through the fire, two troops of 43 Commando reached the top of the hill on the northern side. All of their officers and four of their sergeants were wounded or missing.
Just reaching the summit, they were driven off by a counter-attack Despite all their efforts, Sergeant T.C.D. Gallon, twice wounded, and Sergeant K.R. Pickering, stood up in the moonlight and drew the enemy's fire in order that their badly wounded Troop commander could be dragged to safety. Defeated but not broken, 43 Commando withdrew, having lost six officers and sixty other ranks killed, wounded or missing.
On the other side 40 Commando had also attacked the Strong Point 622. The fire on the hill was extremely heavy, coming from all sides with mortar bombs dropping all around them. They tried to make contact with 43 Commando.
Only six men, two of whom were grievously and one slightly wounded, manned the hilltop. Despite his condition Colonel Manners continued to fire his revolver until he was wounded again by a mortar bomb which exploded close by, killing Captain Wakefield and two Marines, and wounding the others.
Tactically Brac was a failure, but strategically it achieved its object, because the Germans sought not to withdraw troops from the Dalmation Islands, but to reinforce them. The Commandos had been directly responsible for tying down three German Divisions. This was no mean achievement, and in fulfilling it they had displayed precisely those qualities in action which made them the unique force they were.
Roger was Mentioned in Despatches.
He is buried in the Belgrade War Cemetery Coll. grave 9. B. 3-10.
His commemoration might be greatest through the generosity of his sister, the author Priscilla Wakefield, whose obituary was published in The Dominion on January 1st 2009.
Mary Priscilla Mitchell, Born December 7, 1907; died Totnes, South Devon, England, July 29, 2007, aged 99.
Priscilla Mitchell was the great-great-niece of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, architect of planned colonisation in New Zealand. She was the last surviving descendant of his brother Daniel, New Zealand's first attorney- general.
On Daniel's death in 1858, Edward Gibbon gave his widow one of the sections he owned on The Terrace and this, still the site of Wakefield House, remained in Priscilla's ownership till the 1980s.
Though she never lived in New Zealand, she visited often and her interest and connection remained heartfelt. She would recall how, as a young woman, she spent time with her great-aunt Alice who, as a young girl, gave Edward Gibbon Wakefield comfort and companionship during his dying days in Wellington.
Her connection with the early days of settlement was demonstrated most recently with her funding of last year's renovation of Wellington's oldest memorial, to William Wakefield, the city's founder, that now graces the terraces of the Basin Reserve.
Priscilla Wakefield's philanthropic work was worthy of her eponymous ancestor, Priscilla Wakefield, grandmother of Edward Gibbon and his brothers. Priscilla the elder was founder of the savings bank movement in the early 19th century and established several charitable institutions.
Priscilla, the younger, founded a doctoral scholarship for graduates of Canterbury University, Christchurch, at Christ Church College, Oxford. Earlier, she set up an endowment in Roger’s name, to allow students from New Zealand, South Australia and Canada to study criminology at Cambridge. This was prompted by Edward Gibbon Wakefield's 1830s campaign against the death penalty and transportation.
Her public service and philanthropy in England were prodigious. She worked for the Red Cross throughout World War II; served as a Kensington Borough councillor for 17 years; on the boards of several London hospitals, notably Charing Cross; and was governor of the Cardinal Manning schools for more than 20 years. For all this service, she was awarded an MBE.
After she retired from active social work at the age of eighty, she set about building almshouses in her home town of Totnes, twelve all told, and received an award for the quality of these projects.
Her enduring interest in the historical achievements of her family led to her collection of Wakefield letters and documents, a crucial resource for researchers, often from New Zealand, who were always warmly welcomed at her Totnes home.
She was also interested in another notable ancestor, Thomas Attwood, whose daughter married Daniel Wakefield. Attwood was a leading campaigner for parliamentary reform. His threat to assemble a million protestors on Hampstead Heath if the Duke of Wellington continued to oppose reform was key to the passing of the great Reform Bill in 1832. To mark Attwood's achievements, Priscilla commissioned a larger-than-lifesize sculpture that now reclines across the steps of Birmingham's Mansion House.
Priscilla Mitchell married twice but had no children of her own. Her only sibling, Roger, was killed in World War II and so now another Wakefield line is ended. But her own legacy will be lasting, not only in Totnes almshouses, but also in the Wakefield family papers that will one day reside in the Alexander Turnbull Library, at the heart of the city with which she felt so strongly connected.