The Dennis Wheatley 'Museum' - World War I
World War I
DW was seventeen and a half and just starting out as a junior in his father's wine firm when war broke out.
A couple of his friends, Douglas Sharp and Cecil Cross, were in the elite Territorial Westminster Dragoons, and DW had gone down on his motorcycle to see them at their camp at Goring-on-Thames on 3rd August 1914 when the call for mobilisation came. Twenty four hours later DW was among the crowd cheering King George and Queen Mary in front of Buckingham Palace when war was declared.
Like many others of his age, DW tried to join up right at the start. He tried the Westminster Dragoons, but was a disastrous failure in the riding test, to become a despatch rider, and to join the HAC. Had he succeded in any of these, it is likely he would have died in the early days of the War. As it was, through an introduction from his father's bank manager, he gained a commission in the City of London Territorial Royal Field Artillery.
It was however to be three years before he was to see action in France.
During that time, when not performing military exercises, he learned (as required) to ride, to shoot (pheasants as well as artillery !), and had a jolly good time with members of the opposite sex. As he put it in his memoirs, "Naughty boy indeed. How wonderful it was to be young !"
He made friends including Colonel H. N. Clark, to whom he later dedicated 'The Second Seal', and an enemy, Brigadier-General Peel, who tried to get him promoted to Staff Captain in charge of a group of trench mortars on the front line, which would have quickly got him killed. Fortunately, pneumonia intervened.
Pneumonia left DW convalescing while his unit was sent to France, and without this DW's life might have taken a completely different turn, because on his recuperation in early 1917 he was sent to join the 6th Reserve Brigade at Biscot Camp in Luton, and it was here that he found himself billeted with Gordon Eric Gordon-Tombe, a wise rogue who was to be the single greatest influence on his life (on Gordon Eric, see the next Room).
At long last, DW sailed for France on 8th August, 1917, and after a brief interlude, he was entrained for the Divisional Ammunition Column at Vlamertinghe in the Ypres salient - a horseshoe shaped area some fifteen miles long and seven wide filled with thousands of men living in the most ghastly conditions.
While not in the 'Front Line', DW saw his share of horrors - click here for DW's description of his first night in the Salient.
Towards the end of September the 36th Division was pulled out of the line, and DW was given special instructions to report to the Headquarters of IV Corps to 'take over something'.
There then followed a comic-tragic journey to the Headquarters (again, click here for details) after which DW was assigned to take over an ammunition dump at Ytres. His duties were to supervise the building of an ammunition dump for the next great offensive, although he was not to know that at the time. His duties were light, and here he began his first attempts at writing a novel, although it was not to be for the best part of two decades before he was to have anything published. As things were quiet he managed to get leave in Amiens and had his full share of sexual adventures with the local women.
November saw the Battle for Cambrai, with DW playing his part in keeping the Allied guns well supplied with ammunition, and as the advance petered out, DW's unit was re-assigned from the Cambrai region to opposite St Quentin. Even sixty years later, DW could recall this thirty mile trek vividly. The cold was intense and one of his men froze to death.
March saw DW in St Simon, where he amused himself by learning palmistry when not under the most intense of enemy bombardments. From here orders were given to retire to Olezy. Here, DW's Major relayed to him orders that they were to proceed to Aubigny, and DW was put at the head of the column. The road became increasingly deserted, and just as DW was about to lead his men into the town, a soldier on reconnaissance quietly made his way up to him and asked where he was going. It turned out that Aubigny was in enemy hands. It was only with the greatest of luck that DW managed quietly to reverse his column and avoid their all being gunned down. As he was to learn many years later, his Major had sent him to the wrong Aubigny by mistake - there was in fact more than one.
They retreated back to Ham, which was burning, and having lost touch with his Major and the other Sections, for a short while DW had in the region of 1,000 men under his command.
April 1918 saw a further German offensive, and DW's description (click here) of the entrainment of horses at a station on outskirts of Amiens graphically illustrates the kind of scene to which he had got accustomed.
DW had had a tendency to pneumonia and bronchitis throughout the War, and in early May he succumbed to a Gas attack.
He was invalided home and was tucked up in bed and his parents came to see him. He thought all was well, and had no idea his parents had been told he was unlikely to last the night.
However he did, and barring a permanent effect on his voice, DW made a more-or-less full recovery.
When Armistice was declared he was back to his old self and it was time for him to rejoin the family wine business.