On 29 July 1879 William Lionel Wyllie married Marian Amy Carew. During their 51 years together they had a total of nine children, two of which died in infancy. Of the remaining five boys and 2 girls, two of his sons tragically died in action in the Great War and their oldest daughter, Eva, passed away at the tender age of 26, after a life of invalidity. So, of the nine children, sadly only four survived their parents.
Bill and Marion got married in Switzerland where Marion was boarding at the time, whilst her parents were in India. Their first home together was at 70, Carlton Hill, St Johns Wood but during their first years as a married couple they would spend a lot of their time living on board their small floating studio, the Ladybird. Neither locations were not large and were made even smaller when in June’s 1880 their first son Harold was born. As if this hadn’t reduced the space enough, there followed their second son Bill in 1882 and Dick in 1883.
With the expanding family making living conditions difficult, they decided to move to the countryside, partly due to the lack of space, but probably also because Bill wanted to be nearer his painting subjects. Their move to Gillingham House, near Chatham, Kent, was close to the busy shipping traffic of the Medway, which proved a valuable source of reference for the aspiring artist. The lease was only for a year. However, they couldn’t settle there and moved back to London before the end of their trial period, in the autumn of 1884.
Shortly after their return to London, one of their wealthy friends, Mr Armytage, heard of their misfortune and offered the growing family his large country retreat on the same terms as Gillingham House. The Wyllies were overwhelmed by his kind offer and gratefully accepted.
So, in June 1885, a month after their fourth child and first daughter, Eva, was born, they moved to the beautiful and spacious Hoo Lodge in Hoo St Werburgh, near Rochester, Kent. With Chatham Naval dockyard nearby, this proved a perfect location for Bill, who, during their 21 year stay at the house, produced some of his finest works.
Whilst living in Kent, Bob was born in 1886. Then disaster struck – twice! In 1894 Marion gave birth to Douglas, who, tragically died after only two months. Four years later another, unnamed child did not survive either. However, in 1900, Eric was born, alive and well.
Finally, in 1904, they had their ninth and last child, Aileen, born two years before they moved to their final home in Portsmouth.
It was in Portsmouth that their oldest daughter was the first of the grown up children to pass away. She was still a toddler when she was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the base of the brain causing invalidity throughout her life. The doctors gave her six weeks to live, but she managed to survive until February 1912, when she succumbed to her long term illness, at the age of 26 years. Her mum and dad had devoted their life to their ‘little princess’ and involved her as much they could into living a normal life. She was buried in Portchester Castle at the northern tip of Portsmouth Harbour, in the grave which was ultimately to become the family grave, containing Bill(✝︎1931), his wife Marion ( ✝︎1937) and their other daughter Aileen (✝︎1987).
The Wyllie Family During WW1
Practically all of the family participated in the difficult times of World War I.
W L Wyllie and his wife Marion were very involved in a variety of activities.
Bill became a war correspondent and would meticulously document the events of the war, sometimes on board the vessels of the Navy, or through detailed accounts supplied to him by powerful high ranking officers. Over a hundred of his drawings and paintings were later compiled in two books: “Sea-fights of The Great War” and “More Sea-fights of the Great War”.
The children were all ready and keen to help their country and played various parts in the war effort.
Harold served in the Royal Flying Corps in France as a pilot in the First World War, eventually reaching the rank of Flight Commander. In 1916 he was posted to the Wiltshire Regiment as a regular army officer, reaching the rank of major and being awarded the OBE in 1919. The following year he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel on retirement
Bill was re-drafted into his regiment in 1914 at the age of 30 and served in the 3rd Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. Eventually, he was posted to the front, where, in July 1916, he was tragically killed in action during the battle of the Somme at Montauban.
His body was buried at The Dantzig Alley British Cemetery, Mametz, Le Somme.
Dick married Muriel Freeman on 25th March 1913 in Shahjahanpur, Bengal, India and had a son, Bob. Dick was a trained civil engineer but, at the start of WW1, decided to sell up and come home to England to join the war effort. He joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, whilst his wife stayed at the Wyllie family home in Old Portsmouth.
After the war they moved to Alderney, where Dick died in 1963, aged 80.
Bob, although having heart problems, still wanted to play his part during WW1. Living in Muswell Hill, London, he visited the paternal home most weekends and, during one of these visits, told his oldest brother Harold how keen he was to join the army. Harold tried to tell him that his health would not allow him to play an active part in the war. However, the next thing that the Wyllie family heard was that he had enlisted in the 14th battalion of the London Scottish Regiment. Tragically, Private Robert Theodore Wyllie, reg.no. 2164, was reported to be wounded and missing on 31st October 1914. It was later revealed that he died in action in a bayonet charge during the battle of Messines and was buried in Ypres, Flanders, Belgium.
Eric, aged 14, was too young to join the forces in WW1, but helped out as a dispatch rider with the Officers Training Corps.
Aileen, helped her mother organising the donations that were flooding into Tower House, the Portsmouth home of the Wyllies, but, aged 10, she was too young to play a more active part in the war effort.