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Anthony Frederick Wilding, 1883 - 1915

Anthony Wilding was killed in action at Ypres in Belgium on 9 May 1915. He was aged 31. He is buried at Rue-des-Berceaux Military Cemetery, Richebourg-l'Avoue, France.

Anthony was born at Opawa in Christchurch on 31 October 1883. His parents were Julia Anthony and Frederick Wilding. They had emigrated to New Zealand in 1879 and his father was a prominent Christchurch lawyer, becoming a King's Counsel in 1913.

Anthony went to the private Wilson's School in Christchurch and captained the school football team. From an early age he showed an aptitude for sports, being nicknamed "Little Hercules" at the age of two. His father had been a talented cricketer, and Anthony made his first century when aged 14, batting against Christchurch High School. He played two first class matches for Canterbury as a teenager, as a lower middle-order batsman and change bowler.

It was at tennis that Wilding excelled and he was to become the greatest-ever New Zealand tennis player. His first lessons were taken on his family's courts with his father, a former New Zealand doubles champion, as coach. He won his first tennis championship - the Canterbury provincial champs - when he was aged 17. He played his father's old law partner RD Harman in the final, Harman having won the championship for seven years in a row.

In 1902 after just a few months at Canterbury University College, Wilding left New Zealand in 1902 to study law at Trinity College in Cambridge. He continued his rise to the top in tennis, winning the Freshman's Tournament at Cambridge from 1904 to 1906 and representing the university against Oxford. He won the Scottish tennis championship in 1904. Wilding graduated with a BA in 1905 and returned to New Zealand where he joined his father's law practice. His New Zealand legal career was brief however. After winning the New Zealand national tennis title in December 1906 he returned to England and was called to the bar at the Inner Temple.

Wilding devoted himself to tennis after becoming a barrister, playing and winning matches all over Europe during the next few years. He won the English covered court title in 1907, the  Wimbledon doubles titles in 1907 and 1908 and, playing with Norman Brookes for the Australasian team, he won the Davis Cup from 1907 to 1909.

In 1909 Wilding was back in New Zealand and he again worked for his father's legal practice, qualifying as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of New Zealand in August 1909. He easily won the New Zealand tennis championships in 1908 and 1909 and tennis and an increasing interest in motorcycles seems to have moved him away from a career as a lawyer in New Zealand. After setting up a motorcycling business in New Zealand, he returned to England in 1910 and won the Wimbledon singles title that year. 

From 1910 onwards Wilding played tennis and worked in England. He was employed by the English wood pulp firm Henderson, Craig and Company in 1911 and in 1913 he was with the Victor Tyre Company. He won an Olympic bronze medal in tennis in 1912 and won the Wimbledon singles title again in 1913. That year he also won the Paris hardcourt championships and the covered court title at Stockholm. These tournaments were regarded as the three world championship titles. Wilding lost his singles crown at Wimbledon in 1914 but he had one final triumph in August 1914 when he paired with Brookes to regain the Davis Cup for the Australasian team.

On the outbreak of war Wilding enlisted with the Royal Marines. He was promoted to Second Lieutenant in October 1914 and was attached to an intelligence unit. He moved to the Royal Naval Air Service, working as an observer in naval aeroplanes, and driving a special armoured car. He was posted to the Armoured Car Force in France in March 1915, and was promoted to Captain at the end of April.

On 9 May 1915 Wilding was killed during a bombardment in France. A report sent to his father read: "From information since received, his three-pounder lorry had been in action on the 9th inst, in the vicinity of Lestrem, up to 4.30pm, about which time the shell-fire became so intolerable that the gun's crew was sent to the trenches for shelter, Captain Wilding and three Army officers retiring to a dug-out close by. This was, however, shortly afterwards struck by a large shell, which killed the officers there, Captain Wilding dying in such a manner that his death must have been instantaneous."

Wilding is remembered in Wilding Park, the home of the Canterbury Lawn Tennis Association. It was decided to name the complex Wilding Park when it was acquired in the early 1920s because, in the words of tennis official JH Kirk, "firstly, it will be a lasting memorial to the world's tennis champion and secondly, through him to his father whom we all look up to as the grandfather of tennis in Canterbury. While we pay honour and respect to Anthony Wilding in naming the park after him on account of his prominence in the tennis world, we hold the name of every boy who gave his life in the war, with equal remembrance and affection." The indoor tennis centre was extensively damaged in the Canterbury earthquakes but was reopened in April 2013. 

The memorial on Witch Hill on the Port Hills above Christchurch has the following dedication: "In memory of Frederick Andrew Anderson, who fell at Messines, 7th June 1917. And in Memory of his Friend, Anthony Frederick Wilding, who fell near Lavenlie, 9th May 1915."

Sources: Manawatu Standard, 21 August 1909, page 4; Dominion, 13 May 1912, page 5; Press, 13 May 1915, page 7; Nelson Evening Mail, 14 May 1915, page 3; Press, 5 July 1915, page 6; Press, 19 July 1915, page 10; Free Lance, 20 October 1916, page 8; Press, 6 October 1924, page 10; Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, volume 2 1901-1920 (Auckland University Press, Department of Internal Affairs, 1996), "Frederick Wilding" by Fiona Hall; "Anthony Frederick Wilding" by Helen Walter; Cricinfo, "Tony Wilding".

Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph soldier profile.

This obituary has been prepared by the New Zealand Law Society to preserve the memory of members of the legal profession who died while serving in World War I.

Lawyers Roll of Honour.

By Geoff Adlam, New Zealand Law Society. Further information is welcomed: geoff.adlam@lawsociety.org.nz

 

Last updated on the 12th December 2014