A small but powerful piece of the firm’s history was brought to life for senior partner Richard Knight by the pupils of Pittville School, Cheltenham, who have carried out research into 22 surviving wooden World War 1 battlefield crosses used to mark graves of soldiers from the county.
Capt John Harold Ellerson Rickerby, only son of one of the firm’s founders, was killed at Beauvois in France on March 22 1918 and one of the crosses marked his grave.
Cheltenham Civic Society has been given a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant to conserve and research the crosses as a memorial to those lost in the conflict. The Civic Society partnered with Pittville School, which undertook the research and staged an exhibition, which will be open to the public from 13-22 September at Parmoor House, Cheltenham Civic Society’s headquarters.
After Capt Rickerby was injured, he was cared for by another local man, his batman Private William Wintle, who stayed with him until he became unconscious, although Capt Rickerby urged him to get clear of the heavy machine gun fire.
William Wintle was then taken prisoner by the Germans and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp – when he came home, he came to work for Rickerbys and stayed for 46 years, becoming the firm’s managing clerk.
The pupils pieced together the story relating to Capt Rickerby, which was supplemented by William Wintle’s granddaughter, Shirley, who had undertaken her own research. She provided a letter from William Wintle to his parents describing what happened on the battlefield, a letter of condolence from the captain’s commanding officer and, most strikingly, a handwritten letter from King George V welcoming William Wintle home.
Richard said: “It was quite astounding to see the artefacts and to meet Shirley, who has done so much of her own research into her family and their connection with the Rickerby family and firm.
“I had no idea that William Wintle worked for the firm for so long – she has a silver cigarette case which he was given on his retirement which bears inscriptions from members of Rickerbys whose names I know from when I joined in the 80s.
“This is a very important piece of the firm’s history – I hope that we will be involved with the project further as it progresses. I was hugely impressed by the students’ research and extremely grateful to the Civic Society for their interest in the whole project.”