In Crich Church on the chancel wall is this memorial tablet to Captain German Wheatcroft. There is an interesting story surrounding his death. His ghost visited his widow on the 14th November 1857. When the War Office informed her that her husband had died on the 15th November she knew this to be incorrect. Perseverance on her part resulted in the rare occurrence of an official War Office record being amended.
The full story appears below taken from the booklet 'Crich Church' by Arthur B Done.
In the month of September, 1857, Captain German Wheatcroft, of the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, went out to India to join his regiment. His wife remained in England, residing at Cambridge.
On the night between the 14th and I5th November, 1857, towards morning, she dreamed that she saw her husband, looking anxious and ill; upon which she immediately awoke, much agitated. It was bright moonlight, and looking up she perceived the same figure standing by the bedside. He appeared in his uniform the hands pressed across his breast, the hair dishevelled, the face very pale. His large dark eyes were fixed full upon her, their expression was that of great excitement, and there was a peculiar contraction of the mouth, habitual to him when agitated.
She saw him, even to each minute particle of his dress, as distinctly as she had ever done in her life; and she remembers to have noticed between his hands the white of the shirt-bosom, unstained, however, with blood. The figure seemed to bend forward, as if in pain, and to make an effort to speak; but there was no sound. It remained visible, the wife thinks, as long as a minute, and then disappeared.
Her first idea was to ascertain if she was actually awake. She rubbed her eyes with the sheet, and felt that the touch was real. Her little nephew was in bed with her; she bent over the little child and listened to his breathing; the sound was distinct, and she became convinced that what she had seen was no dream. It need hardly be added that she did not again go to sleep that night.
Next morning she related all this to her mother, expressing her conviction, though she had noticed no marks of blood on his dress, that Captain Wheatcroft was either killed or grievously wounded.
So fully impressed was she with the reality of that apparition, that she henceforth refused all invitations. A young friend, urged her soon afterwards to go with her to a fashionable concert, reminding her that she had received from Malta, sent by her husband, a handsome dress cloak, which site had never yet worn. But she positively declined, declaring that, uncertain as she was whether she was not already a widow, she would never enter a place of amusement until she had letters from her husband (if indeed he still lived) of a later date than the 14th November.
It was on a Tuesday in the month of December, 1857, that the telegram regarding the actual fate of Captain Wheatcroft, was published in London. It was to the effect that he was killed before Lucknow on the fifteenth of November.
This news, given in the morning paper, attracted the attention of Mr. Wilkinson, a London solicitor, who had in charge Captain Wheatcroft's affairs. When, at a later period this gentleman met the widow, site informed him that she had been quite prepared for the melancholy news. She informed him that she had felt sure her husband could not have been killed on 15th November, inasmuch as it was during the night between the 14th and 15th that he appeared to her.
The difference of longitude between London and Lucknow being about 5 hours, three or four o�clock a.m. in London would be eight or nine o'clock at Lucknow. But it was in the afternoon, not in the morning, as will be seen in the sequel, that Captain Wheatcroft was killed. Had he fallen on I5th, therefore, the apparition to his wife would have appeared several hours before the engagement in which he fell, and while he was yet alive and well.
The certificate from the war Office, however, which it became Mr. Wilkinson's duty to obtain, confirmed the date given in the telegram, its tenor being as follows:
WAR OFFICE, 30th January 1858
These are to certify that it appears, by the records of this office, that Captain German Wheatcroft, of the 6th Dragoon Guards, was killed in action on the 15th of November, 1857.
(Signed) B HAWKES
Mr. Wilkinson called at the office of Messrs. Cox & Greenwood, the army agents, to ascertain if there were no mistake in the certificate, But nothing there appeared to confirm any surmise of inaccuracy.
In the month of March, however, 1858, the family of Captain Wheatcroft received from a fellow officer a letter, dated from Lucknow on the 19th of December 1857, informing them that Captain Wheatcroft had been killed not on the 15th of November, as reported, but on the fourteenth, in the afternoon. This officer was riding close by his side at the time he saw him fall, struck by a fragment of shell in the breast, and never speaking after he was hit.
The War Office finally made the correction as to the date of death. Thus, the appearance of what is usually termed a ghost proved the means of correcting an erroneous date in the despatches of a Commander-in-Chief, and in the certificate of a War Office.
Thanks to John Nicholson for tracking down the information.