Wetherby War Memorial - The Great War 1914 - 1918

Sergeant Thomas Alfred Wiggins

Gunter, R B N
Durrant, C M
Weston, C G
Kelly, K G
Armitage, G J
Durrant, H M L
Hargreaves, J P
March, G
Dukes, W
Fowler, R
Westerman, H
Kirk, J C
Wiggins, T A
Telford, G
Harper, J W
Alexander, H W
Mason, T F
Wilkinson, W
Brown, C
Adkin, J
Barton, F
Hobman, A
Webster, A E
March, E A
Miller, G
Hannan, E
Utley, G
Walker, F
Bygrave, E W
Chapman, E
Varley, N W
Bowen, F J
Byrom, F
Backhouse, S
Dalby, M
Crossland, A
Crossley, J S
Dean, R
Frost, A E
Hodgson, F H
Holt, J
Hood, W H
Hill, W
Kitchen, T
Linfoot, E
Metcalfe, J C
Marsden, J
Pawson, W
Precious, G
Scutt, T G
Wiggins, J
Walker, E
Wood, A
Young, T
Pratt, W
Taylor, H
Dawson, G W
Lister, J
Binge, T
Atack, G
Durham, E F
Precious, G R
Wheelhouse Smith, W
Backhouse, H
Swann, J W
Burnsides, G A
Coles, W
Kelly, H W
Miles, J G
Tapsell, K

5th  Battalion, Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
Died Wednesday 26th November 1919, age 33

Cemetery : Wetherby Cemetery, Wetherby, West Yorkshire
Grave Reference or Panel Number : BB. "U"38

Son of Thomas and Sarah Wiggins of 4, Grafton Square, Wetherby.
Thomas Alfred Wiggins was born at Wetherby in 1886 to parents Thomas, occupation, a Tailor, and Sarah Wiggins (nee West), a native of Milton-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire, the family residence at this period being located at 4, Victoria Street. The 1901 Census details record that at this juncture Thomas, aged 14 years, had found employment as a Wood Sawyer, possibly in the employ of the Westerman family at Wetherby Mill. One of 7 children, two having died in infancy, by 1911 Thomas had changed his occupation to that of a Tailor like his father, the family residence now being located in premises consisting of five rooms at Grafton Square.
Despite the lack of any surviving service records, an analysis of various serial numbers issued to Thomas during his military service reveals the following information. Thomas had initially enlisted at Harrogate into the ranks of the 2/5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment circa mid 1916. Numbered in a sequence 439*, possibly 4394, he was re-numbered in 1917 as were all the Territorial Regiments of the British Army to 201991 before being transferred to the 5th Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in August 1918 upon the disbandment of the 2/5th West Yorkshire's.
Formation of the 2/5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment
The Battalion was formed at York on the 28th September 1914 and titled the 5th (Reserve) Battalion, Officer Commanding, Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Arthur Augustus Bottomley, originally placed on the Retired List but granted the Temporary Rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, London Gazette dated 26th October 1914.
Forming part of the then designated 2/1st West Riding Brigade of the 2nd West Riding Division, Divisional Commander Major-General Sir James Keith Trotter, the Brigade also contained the following units:
2/6th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment
2/7th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment
2/8th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment
Brigade Commander, Colonel Henry William Newton Guinness.
Formation of the 2nd West Riding Division
It was on the 31st August 1914 that the War Office issued instructions to units of the Territorial Force to form Reserve or Second Line Battalions from which drafts could be sent to their respective First Line Battalions. In the case of the 2nd West Riding Division these drafts were destined to join the ranks of the 1st West Riding (Territorial) Division, later to be redesignated the 49th (West Riding) Division.
The early movements of the 5th (Reserve) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment
Originally quartered in York and with the city accommodating thousands of men, it was in October of 1914 that the Battalion moved to the spa town of Harrogate, the officers and men, numbering just over 300, being billeted in various buildings and institutions throughout the town.

Mobilization and  early operations on the Western Front

The brigade, in Division, were posted to the Western Front in January 1917 eventually concentrating in the Beaumont Hamel Sector, Somme, in mid February 1917.

The Division were involved in many of the major actions that took place in 1917. Operations involved the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, the disastrous attack at Bullecourt, near Arras, in which it suffered many casualties, and the Battle Of Cambrai in November, most notably, the capture of Bourlon Wood.

1918; Restructure of the 62nd Division

As the New Year dawned, it became clear that a major reorganisation of existing British units was needed due to the shortage of man power available to replace mounting casualties. Consequently, it was deemed unwise to reduce the number of divisions that were serving in the War, so it was decided that this restructure  had to take place at a brigade level, the solution being to reduce the number of battalions in a brigade from four to three. This reorganisation was based entirely on New Army and second-line Territorial Divisions and amounted to one hundred and fifteen battalions being disbanded.

In late January, the 2/8th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment were amalgamated with the 1/8th Battalion of the 49th (West Riding) Division, to form the 8th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment. This battalion continued to serve with the 62nd Division. The 2/6th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment however were completely disbanded, its personnel divided between 2/7th and 2/5th battalions, and the 1/6th battalion, 49th (West Riding) Division respectively.

The defence of Buquoy and the Battles of the Marne

As the German Army launched its major offensive often referred to as the 'Kaiserschlact' on the 21st March, the division were located in the Arleux/Willerval Sector near Arras. On the 25th, the division was sent to the Bucquoy area, south of Arras, to defend this position against the onslaught of the enemy. On the 26th, the enemy advanced from the direction of Achiet-le-Petit with the intention of capturing Bucquoy but was successfully repulsed suffering heavy casualties. The division continued to be involved in heavy fighting in the area until it was relieved by the 37th Division on the 31st March.

In July, the division found itself involved in the attacks taking place south-west of Rheims and south-west of Soissons. The German attacks of May had resulted in the Allies being forced to retreat south of the Marne, this action resulted in the formation of a large salient with Chateau Thierry at its centre. Consequently, the 62nd and 51st (Highland) Division in conjunction with French and Italian forces were to tasked to attack the west face of this salient in the valley of the Ardre river located south-west of Rheims.

On the 20th July, at 8.00 am., the 185th Brigade, their left flank resting on the Ardre river with the 187th Brigade on the right, attacked the villages of Marfaux and Courmas respectively. Progress was made on the right flank resulting in the capture of the latter village, but on the left flank, the 185th Brigade met obstinate resistance in the form of numerous enemy machine-gun positions. The initial barrage, prior to 'Zero,' performed by French and Italian artillery units, had failed to eliminate these obstacles due to the fact that it had fallen too far ahead of the attacking force. Losses incurred by the 8th and 2/5th battalions were severe and the small amount of ground gained during the attack was later evacuated.

This short narrative of the events of July however, cannot be concluded without mention of the historic attack by the 8th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment on the 28th July that resulted in the capture of the Montaigne de Bligny. For this action, the battalion was awarded the Croix de Guerre, one of only three British Infantry Regiments to have this honour conferred by the French in the Great War.

Disbandment of the 2/5th West Yorkshire Regiment

Although reinforcements had been drafted to the battalion during and after the operations on the Marne, instructions were received that the battalion was to be disbanded on the 9th August due to lack of further man power available. This duly took place on the 13th whilst the division was located in the Pas area.

The men of the battalion were either transferred to the 8th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment to bring the unit up to war strength, or transferred to the various other Yorkshire regiments that constituted the 62nd (West Riding) Division. Thomas was therefore renumbered 65190 and drafted to the 5th Battalion, Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. 

5th K.O.Y.L.I., the last 'Hundred Days.'

The tide of the War had finally began to turn in the Allies favour in early August. On the 8th, the Battle of Amiens resulted in the Canadian and Australian Armies, cooperating with the French First Army, advancing eight miles are great cost to the Germans in men and materiel.

The 62nd Division mounted two offensive operations in the month of August. On the 24th, the division attacked high ground in the area of Mory and Ervillers, and on the 27th, operations were mounted to harass the retiring enemy at Vaulx-Vraucourt. Both these actions resulted in heavy casualties to the division.

On the 2nd September, the British First Army attacked a section of the Hindenburg Line known to the Allies as the Drocourt-Queant Switch Line. The 62nd Division would advance eastwards from the village of Vaulx-Vraucourt towards Morchies, the 187th Brigades attack supported by eight  Mark IV tanks. The attack proved successful but once again proved very costly in casualties particularly to the two attacking battalions of the K.O.Y.L.I.

The German Army had by now, retreated to positions located along the eastern banks of the Canal du Nord. The next phase of the Allies assault involving the 62nd Division would take place in the Havrincourt Sector near Cambrai, thus, the division would find itself attacking over familiar ground which it had previously attacked in November 1917. At 5.25 a.m. on the 11th September the 5th K.O.Y.L.I, in brigade attacked, and by noon had taken all its objectives including the capture of the village itself. Further objectives were added later in the day in which the 5th battalion, in fading light, and in a difficult military manoeuvre performed without sufficient reconnaissance, occupied positions east of the village. Once again, the attack had proved to a resounding success albeit at a high price. The enemy had been well beaten by well trained and determined attackers. The road to victory was open.

The Battle of the Canal Du Nord

The next objective of the Third Army was to drive back the enemy towards the Canal De St.Quentin. The 62nd Division would 'leap frog' an initial thrust made by the 3rd Division as it attacked the Hindenburg Line between the villages of Ribecourt and Flesquires. The attack was scheduled to take place at 5.20 a.m. on the 27th September.

On Armistice Day, the Division was informed that it was to be selected to be part of the Rhine Bridgehead Force and consequently entered Germany on the 15th December 1918. This was the only Division of the Territorial Force to do so.

Thomas is recorded on the Commonwealth War Graves Register, but not on the SDGW C.D.Rom.

If he was a serving soldier at the time of his death, he would have been entitled to war grave status and C.W.G.C. registration. If, however, he had left the service, he would only be entitled to registration if an illness was proven to have been caused by active service.

Post-war, many next-of-kin ascribed the death of a relative to their war experience but this was not always the case. It appears that even if it were, the authorities required firm evidence. Another possibility is that if he had been discharged, the next-of-kin may not have informed the relevant authorities that he had died, in their belief, of war related causes.

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