John Barnes, Historian

Brigadier-General W D Wright VC CB CMG DSO (1875-1953)

Wallace Wright was a distinguished soldier who turned briefly to politics in his retirement and won a notable by-election at Tavistock at a time when the Liberal party was reviving its fortunes in the late 1920s. He narrowly retained his seat in the 1929 General Election, but chose not to contest in 1931.

Wallace Duffield Wright was born in Gibraltar on 20 September 1875, the son of J.R.Wright. He was gazetted to the first battalion of The Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) in 1896 and served on the North West Frontier of India with the Malakand Field Force and the Tirah Expeditionary Force 1897-8. He was severely wounded and acquired two clasps to his campaign medal. After five years service, attracted by what he had heard of service conditions in Nigeria, he took service under the Colonial Office and from 1901-04 he served with the West African Frontier Force. He was again wounded again and won the Victoria Cross in 1903. This was during the Kano-Sokoto expedition and Lieutenant Wright, as he then was, with one other officer and 44 men, on 24 March 1903 took up a position directly confronting the advancing enemy force, resisted for a period of two hours determined charges by a thousand horse and two thousand foot, and inflicted severe losses on them. Forced to retreat the enemy did so in good order whereupon Wright pursued them with skill and determination and turned their retreat into a rout.

He was promoted to Captain in 1903 and after passing for Staff College, held a number of Staff appointments. The first after his graduation was as GSO3 at The war Office 1909-11 and he was then made Brigade Major of the 3rd Brigade in the Aldershot command. In January 1914 he was chosen to serve as GSO2 with the West African Frontier Force and fought with them in the Cameroon’s 1914-5. Returning on promotion to Major with the intention of fighting on the western front, his ambition was gratified in 1916. He remained on the western front for the rest of the war. He was made a brevet Lieutenant Colonel in 1916, became a Brigadier-General on the staff of the 17th Army Corps and then took charge of the 89th Infantry Brigade. He was mentioned in despatches and awarded the CMG in 1916 and subsequently won the DSO in 1918. He also made an officer in the Legiond’Honneur.

After the Armistice he was made a Colonel and served with the army of occupation in Cologne. He was part of its General Staff 1923-25. His last posting was to command the 8th Infantry Brigade in Plymouth 1925-27 and he was appointed CB in 1926.

He had married in Paris in 1919 Flora Macdonald Bewick, only daughter of the late Richard Henry Bewick and Mrs Edward Donnelly from Atlanta in Georgia USA. They had one daughter.

He was not a man to cultivate his garden in idleness and his friends were not at all surprised when, after his retirement, he turned his attention to politics. he was selected in August 1927 to fight Tavistock at the next General Election. Major Kenyon-Slaney who had taken the seat in the 1924 General Election had indicated his intention to stand down. Kenyon-Slaney’s death in September 1928 led to a by-election on 11 October 1928.

Tavistock was a large constituency with a Liberal tradition although it had been captured by a Coalition Unionist 1918. M.R.Thornton, who had retaken the seat for the Liberals in 1922 and held it in 1923, had abandoned his party in the aftermath of his defeat by Kenyon-Slaney. Lieutenant Commander Fletcher, who had been adopted by the Liberals in his place, had spent three years working the constituency and had made his mark. The Conservatives enjoyed a majority of only 1,272 and there was a Labour intervention to complicate matters. The seat was a large one stretching from Plympton and Plymstock on the borders of Plymouth all the way to Holsworthy and beyond. It comprised some seventy five parishes and included large parts of Dartmoor. Stretching about thirty miles eastward of Plymouth it also extended some sixty five miles northward to the coast of Cornwall.

The by-election was hotly contested. Lloyd George had decided to give Fletcher his support, speaking at Plymstock and Tavistock, and the Conservatives countered this breach of convention by despatching the Home Secretary, Joynson-Hicks, to speak in both towns. Samuel also came to speak at Plympton and J.C.C.Davidson, Chairman of the Conservative Party Organisation came down himself to speak for Wright shortly before polling day. Labour hoped to do well among the dockyard workers who had settled around Plympton and Plymstock. Their candidate was a Master Builder in Plymouth and a local officer of the Salvation Army. This was thought an intervention which would, on balance, damage the Liberal cause. It was also thought that Lloyd George’s land policy might do them damage. Wright spoke in ever large settlement and made much of the Baldwin Government’s plan to derate agriculture and industry. He found that he had a good organisation with branches in every village and he proved not only an energetic, but a very popular candidate. Davidson was well satisfied by what he found. Nevertheless Wright’s victory was a narrow one. Turnout in the sweat had gone up from 74 to 77% and both the main parties forfeited some votes. The Liberal vote was at 10,572, down by 214 and the Conservative vote by 1,313 to 10,745. Wright was in by a majority of 172. After his defeat Fletcher moved on, joining the Labour Party in 1929.

Wright made his maiden speech on 27 November 1928, devoting most of it to the long history of Conservative action on agricultural rates and asking the the current proposals should be implemented rather sooner than was proposed.

The Liberals had to find a new candidate for the 1929 General Election and the one they found, or perhaps had wished on them, was the sitting MP for St Ives. Mrs Walter Runciman vacated that seat in the 1929 election in favour of her husband. She was thought to stand a good chance of victory, even though some thought that her husband might have done better to stand in Tavistock himself rather than replace his wife in St Ives. The agrarian community was thought to nurse some prejudices against a female candidate. Wright again fought a strenuous campaign to retain the seat and managed to do so with a majority of just 62. He stood down before the 1931 election and from 1932 until 1950 was a member of His Majesty’s Body Guard of the Hon.Gentlemen of Arms.

During early part of the Second World War he held important appointments in the ARP in the West country and he later served with the Home Guard.

In 1945 he was elected Chairman of Associated London Properties Ltd. On the death of the former Chairman and managing director, Walter Henderson-Cleland, and for the next half dozen years could offer the shareholders year on year improvements in its position despite what he described as punitive taxation on its profits.

He also chaired the Surrey County Council Association

He died at his home, Westways Farm, Chobham on 25 March 1953.