On behalf of the Seager family, of whom there are 34 of us in the church this morning, I would like to give our heartfelt thanks to the Willie Seager Memorial Trust. To each one of the Trustees, my family has asked me to say: ‘thank you for the wonderful work you do and for keeping alive the memory of Willie Seager – our uncle, our great uncle, and our great great uncle – who we remember today 100 years after his death’.
Willie Seager was born in Cardiff on 28th January 1893, the second son of William Henry Seager, a Cardiff shipowner, and Margaret Annie Seager nee Elliot. He had two brothers Elliot and Leighton and one sister Peggy. Educated at Queen’s College Taunton, at the ageof 21 he started in his father’s shipping business, for which he had been specially prepared. He was an active worker at the Roath Road Wesleyan Chapel and was closely associated with the Sunday School work.
With the advent of the First World War, Willie was rejected three times as medically unfit to serve. However, on the fourth occasion he was accepted and went into training at Winchester where he led the first platoon when the Queen reviewed the troops. He was appointed as second lieutenant in the 10th Service Battalion (1st Gwent) of the South Wales Borderers under Colonel Sir Hamar Greenwood and left for France in December 1915. Willie was killed in action on 7th February 1916 at Neuve Chapelle at the tender age of 23.
The Chaplain of his platoon described Willie’s death: “It was yesterday morning while supervising the mending of a breach in the parapet caused by enemy shell fire, that a German sniper, taking advantage of the open part, struck your son in the left part of the chest. The bullet evidently pierced his heart, as death followed in a few seconds.” During Willie’s funeral: “a large number of soldiers who were under his command came up from the trenches with the body and he was buried amid manifestations of great grief and sorrow.” Willie’s grave lies in the St Vaast Post Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.
Willie’s commanding officer wrote to his father: “From the first day he joined he has worked under me. The only result of our working together has been that I have grown to love him as a brother. In training and in action he was radiant with manliness and reliability. In the smallest duties and in the most onerous duties, I have never known him to fail. By his unbounded generosity, joviality and capability he has endeared himself to every officer and man of the company. The men have lost a brilliant leader, and I – well, I have lost a brother who was my right-hand man.”
In his own letter to his family entitled “Only to be opened in the event of my death”, Willie himself wrote: “I have been looking forward to the day when we three (brothers) might have taken over the reins of office and relieved Dad of the responsibilities and worries connected with the wonderful ‘business’ and heritage he has himself built up for us – but that day must wait! I go knowing full well what I go to and if perchance I die, I die gladly, willingly, cheerfully, knowing that I do so in a righteous cause and in defence of all I hold most dear. If it be so, even you dear Mother, in your sorrow, will never regret that you gave your son for your Country. Mingled with sadness, there will be pride! I can as willingly lay down my life as thousands of other brave fellows have done in this war.”
Willie’s mother and father, William Henry and Margaret Annie Seager, never recovered from the tragic death of their son. According to their passport, the Seager parents visited Willie’s grave in France in September 1920. They commissioned a portrait of Willie by the artist Reginald Henry Lewis, displayed here in the church. And they funded two stained glass windows in his memory at Roath Road Chapel and at Conway Road Methodist Church in Cardiff.
After Willie’s death, his two brothers Elliot and Leighton joined their father in the management of the family shipping company and also followed their father’s example of commitment to the public life of South Wales and service to the community.
In 1939 in memory of Willie, William Henry Seager built ten homes for retired seamen and their wives on Newport Road in Cardiff and so the Willie Seager Memorial Trust was born. Thus Willie’s memory is kept alive and his name lives on into the future, just as his parents had hoped, through those who live in the Willie Seager Cottages and through the Willie Seager Memorial Trust.