Wetherby War Memorial - The Great War 1914 - 1918

Corporal William Wilkinson (Thomas William Wilkinson)

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

1st/5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment
Died Thursday 25th April 1918, age 21

Cemetery : Tyne Cot Memorial, Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium
Grave Reference of Panel Number : Panel 42 to 47 and 162

Son of Mrs Alice Jane Wilkinson, of 75 Denmark Street, Harrogate, and the late Thomas Henry Wilkinson.

Thomas William Wilkinson was born at Withington, south Manchester, on the 25th May 1896 to parents Thomas, a Joiner, and Alice Jane Wilkinson (nee Calvert), the family residing at Number 13, Albert Grove, Withington.

Upon the untimely death of his father in 1899, the 1901 Census records that the Wilkinson family, now comprising of Alice, Thomas William, Kate and Ruth, had relocated to Wetherby. The family now took up residence with Alice's brother and mother, the former a Publican/Farmer of the Fox Inn, Bank Street. By the year of 1911, the family along with Alice's mother Elizabeth Calvert, had moved to premises located in West End (West Gate), Thomas finding employment as a Mill Hand, possibly at Westerman's Timber Mill.


'William' enlisted at Wetherby on or about the 30th May 1913. It is of interest to note that one other Wetherby 'Lad' also enlisted on this date, Jesse Adkin also a resident of West End. One may surmise that both were 'Pals' and upon reaching the ages of 17 years, the minimum age for enlistment into the Territorial Force, they both took the "King's Shilling" at Wetherby Town Hall. Both William and Jesse were about to enlist in the 5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, a battalion of the Territorial Force. Formed as a result of the Haldane Reforms from the old Militia and administered by the Territorial Force County Associations, the men of the battalion were recruited locally. With company drill halls located across the county and with Headquarters located at Colliergate, York, the various companies would be assembled together for annual camp once a year. William, allocated the serial number 1428 (Jessie Adkin, 1430), would join the ranks of "F" Company who in addition to having a Drill Station located at Harrogate, also had a station located in Wetherby Town Hall. The men would train either in the week or at weekends in the Town Hall, enlistment requiring that the men attended a specific number of drills during their term of engagement in addition to fulfilling other conditions of service. The Officer Commanding the Wetherby Station was soon to be one Second-Lieutenant Charles Ellis Foulds, commisioned in June 1913 and a Bank Clerk employed by the London City & Midland Bank, Wetherby. A notable Hockey player, Foulds was also a member of Wetherby Golf Club and in later life would reside in premises located at Boston Spa.

The terms of William's enlistment into the Territorial Force were of 4 years service in the United Kingdom with no obligation to serve overseas however if the man signed the Imperial Service Obligation he then became liable to serve in any place outside of the United Kingdom in the event of National Emergency. The man would then be issued with the Territorial Force Imperial Service Badge, a clear statement of his intentions to serve overseas, the badge being worn over the right breast pocket.

Witnessing the Attestation was Sergeant Harry Westerman, a long standing member of the Territorial Force and a resident of the High Street, Wetherby. The Attesting Officer was one Captain Edward Peel Cross who had formerly served with the 1st Volunteer Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment before its creation into the 5th Battalion of the Regiment, an amalgamation of the York and Claro Rifle Volunteers with stations located at Knaresborough, Harrogate and Ripon. A Harrogate solicitor, Cross would later be appointed Adjutant to the 5th Battalion in October 1914.

A rudimentary medical examination was then conducted by Lieutenant Percy Gordon Williamson, a medical practitioner from Harrogate and an officer with the 5th West Yorkshire Regiment. This examination determined height, weight, chest measurement and eyesight in addition to physical development. Considered "Fit" for service with the Territorial Force, the Certificate Of Primary Military Examination was then signed by the Recruiting Officer, Captain Cross before being signed at York by the Approving Officer, Hon. Major & Quartermaster James Richard Hill for the Lieutenant-Colonel. (Authors note: Arthur Robert Morrell).

The battalion were contained in the 1/1st West Riding Brigade, 1st West Riding (Territorial) Division, the former consisting of the following battalions:-

5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment

6th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment

7th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (Leeds Rifles)

8th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (Leeds Rifles)

Brigade Commander   Colonel O'Donnell Colley Grattan D.S.O.

Annual Training Obligation: Aberystwyth 1913

Attending drills at Wetherby Town Hall, it was in late July 1913 that William attended his first camp. For men not accustomed or have the means to take a holiday away from home, the chance to travel to pastures new must have proved to be quite a novelty. The 1/1st West Riding Territorial Brigade now found itself camped at Bow Street to the north-east of Aberystwyth, west Wales, the 2nd Brigade at Lovesgrove and the 3rd Brigade at Dol-y-Pandy respectively. Infantry, artillery and engineers to name but a few of the constituent units that formed the division now busied themselves in glorious summer weather performing a myriad of excercises and tasks under the watchful eye of Major-General Thomas Stanford Baldock C.B., G.O.C., West Riding Division, whose Headquarters were located at Lovesgrove.

The weather for the time of year was stifling to say the least and for some men, the hot weather proved to be too much to bear, pushing their tolerance to and over the limit. Provost Sergeant John Walsh of the 7th Battalion, West Riding Regiment, was in charge of the Guard Tent and had confessed to one Private Hills that "life was not worth living" and had asked to borrow a razor. Quartermaster-Sergeant John Day had also noticed that something was wrong when Walsh arrived at the camp noticing that he "looked depressed and downhearted" but he could not get to the bottom of what was wrong with him. At about 7.50 on the morning of the 31st July he was discovered in the Guard Tent by Private J. Pontefract in the act of cutting his own throat with a razor. Horrified, the Private grabbed Walsh's arm causing him to drop the razor and immediately shouted for the ambulance whereupon Major Louis Petro Demetriadi M.D., F.R.C.S. who was instructing men close by ran to the tent. The scene was horrific and the self inflicted wound to Walsh of a deep and severe nature, the Sergeant being supported by two men. Walsh was removed to the field hospital and later to the hospital at Aberystwyth but unfortunately died of his injuries on the 2nd August with his wife present at his bedside. A native of Huddersfield with a large family, John Walsh aged 45 had previously served with the Colours for a period of twenty one years and had witnessed service in the South African War. Complaining of pains in his head upon return, a verdict of "suicide whilst of unsound mind" was returned at his inquest, John being buried with full military honours on the afternoon of the 6th August.

Despite the tragic suicide, the division continued to carry out its training schedule. At Church Parade on the 4th August, Sergeant Frederick Valentine Acton, 392, a native of York, Was presented with the Territorial Efficiency Medal by the Officer Commanding 5th West Yorkshire's, Colonel Morrell. The event was no doubt overshadowed by another attempt at suicide when a Caterer, supplying the needs in the Officers Mess of the 7th and 8th Battalions, Leeds Rifles, attempted to cut his own throat. Worried by the lack of supplies and also affected by the heat, this well known Caterer from Leeds attempted suicide with a table knife but fortunately this proved to be too blunt to cause serious injury. So violent was intent however that it took six men to hold him down, the unfortunate man upon showing no improvement in his mental state, being removed to the Camarthen Asylum some days later.

The Final Exercise

During the afternoon of the 4th August, the West Riding Division were inspected by Lieutenant-General Sir Herbert Charles Onslow Plumer K.C.B., General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command, who had arrived to observe and pass comments on manoeuvres. The culmination of the annual camp would take place for William and the men of the 5th West Yorkshire's on Friday the 8th of August. With the West Riding Division assembling over 9000 men, the exercise would involve the landing of a supposed Irish Force near Aberystwyth, this force being engaged by a Welsh Force of 'supposed equal strength' but in fact comprising of a 'skeleton' force representing a larger body of men for the duration of the excercise. The Welsh Force, under the command of Captain Robert Kingsbury Healing, Deputy Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster-General, Commands and Staff, Territorial Force, had previously sent forward detachments to try and prevent the initial landing of the 'Irish' represented by the West Riding Division. The main body of the 'Red Force' (The Welsh), sallied forth from Brecon and upon reaching the  Devil's Bridge about twelve miles from Aberystwyth, orders were received from Headquarters. The Yorkshire Post dated August 9th reported the exercise in great detail:-

"Secret agents report that at least one division of the Blue (Irish) Army has already landed at Aberystwyth and is in bivouac south of the Rheidol River. The remainder of the army is expected to have completed its disembarkation by the evening of the 9th August. Get in touch with the Blue division reported south of the Rheidol River, ascertain its movements, and should any portion of the Blue Army move eastwards south of the Rheidol River, delay its advance as far as possible. I shall reach Rhayader on the evening of the 8th August, and Devil's Bridge on the evening of the 9th August."

In accordance of orders received, the 'Red Force' advanced a distance of six miles from Devil's Bridge and proceeded to take up a strong defensive position on the slopes of the mountains to cover the main road on which it was anticipated that the 'Blue Force' would advance. In the scheme of the exercise, this defending force were supposed to comprise of a brigade of infantry along with its associated artillery but this force had one major advantage as in sound miltary tactics, they had chosen the place in which to defend.

In regards to the 'Blue Force,' intelligence was issued to Major-General Baldock from the Commander-in-Chief, that a small detached enemy force, strength assumed as above, were still in possession of ground at Devil's Bridge. This position it was decided upon was to be seized by the 'invaders' on the 8th of August. Orders stipulated that:-

"I have received reliable information that a hostile force, estimated at one infantry brigade, with a proportion of guns, is at Devil's Bridge. You will advance to-morrow (8th August) at 7.30 a.m. on the Aberystwyth-Tafarncrug- Devil's Bridge Road, ascertain the movements of the hostile force, and take every opportunity of crushing it. Do not proceed east of Devil's Bridge without further orders."

Baldock proceeded to assemble the men of the West Riding Division on the road near Tafarncrug at about 8.30 a.m. on the morning of the 7th. The 1/1st West Riding Brigade had a particularly trying march over some distance from their camp located at Bow Street however with the roads choked with infantry, artillery, engineers and field ambulances, they made te allocated rendezvous in time. To organise such a large body of men, General Baldock was ably assisted by Brevet Major Reginald Seaburne May, a veteran of the South African War and General Staff Officer of the West Riding (Territorial) Division. The division were disposed of as follows; the 1st Brigade consisting of the West Yorkshire's on the left flank, in the centre, the 3rd Brigade comprising of two battalions of the York and Lancaster Regiment and two of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry respectively, and the 2nd Brigade containing the four battalions of the West Riding Regiment (Duke of Wellington's). With Lieutenant-General Plumer taking up a position in the centre that afforded an excellent view of the 'battlefield,' the exercise was about to commence.

Colonel Grattan, O.C. 1st West Riding Brigade, now ordered forward both the 7th and 8th Battalions of the Leeds Rifles with instructions to engage the enemy force and in accordance with orders, both battalions advanced along a northerly ridge and locating the enemy at about 9.30 a.m. This enemy force, numbering about a company and a half though were located in a sound tactical position and the first attack launched by the Leeds Rifles pushed too far, the latter suffering the first 'casualties' of the day however further companies were sent up and the two battalions, supported by two batteries of artillery, were in the words of the Yorkshire Post, "masters of the situation."

As the other brigades of the division reached their positions, a certain amount of 'imagination' had now to be conducted as the exercise developed. In order to preserve continuity, it was envisaged that the commander of the 'Red Force' had now been able to reinforce this point in the line until attacks by the other brigades of the 'Blue Force' commenced. As a consequence of the exercise programme, 'hostilities' were suspended for a period of time, Healing, commander of the 'Red Force' taking the opportunity to observe the terrain through binoculars whilst his men slept.

It was at 11.15 a.m. that Major-General Baldock gave orders for his artillery to commence fire as the infantry prepared to advance. Healing determined that the 3rd Brigade of the 'Blue Force,' under the command of Colonel Robert Dawson, would attack over the central ridge but the only enemy force observed was a battalion of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry who had advanced along the valley road in fours, deploying on the slope of the northern ridge. As they deployed though they came under an effective crossfire from the central ridge but as to the location of the remainder of the brigade there was no intelligence available as to their movements. The 2nd Brigade of the 'Blue Force' under the command of Colonel Edward Fitzgerald D.S.O. had endured a long march through the village of Liantihangel at an exacting pace and at 11.40 a.m. scouts from this force were observed on the left flank of the 'Red Force.' To meet this threat and possible attack, Healing swung his outposts round and as the 2nd Brigade sent forward half a battalion to commence an attack they were met with long range direct fire from Healing's main position and fire in enfilade from the outpost on the central ridges. The advance of this half battalion had been carried out at too fast a pace and it was some time before reinforcements could be brought up in the form of the remaining three and a half battalions of the brigade, their advance along the hill side being clearly visible from the central ridge as they deployed amongst the bracken. It was noted that 'casualties' to this brigade could have been much heavier if the ridge would have been held in greater strength.

It was now the turn of Colonel Dawson's 3rd Brigade whose scouts were observed just after noon and as this brigade deployed along the central ridge, Healing's defenders began a retirement. With the artillery of the 'Blue Force' conducting a bombardment for a lengthy period of time, Colonel Brereton now ordered an advance placing as many men as possible of the 2nd Brigade into the firing line. With the 3rd Brigade now advancing in the centre and the two battalions of the Leeds Rifles of 1st Brigade holding a wood on the northern flank, the Welsh Force were now forced to retire on their main position.

The Conclusion Of 'Battle'

The final advance was conducted at great speed with the 'Red Force' taking cover behind banks and in ditches. The 3rd Brigade had remained relatively unscathed during their advance but as they approached the 'enemy' main position at a distance of about 700 yards, the 'skeleton' army of the Welshmen "rushed to meet them with rare dash" virtually bringing the advance of the 3rd Brigade to a standstill. Rather reminiscent of a boy's game of 'cowboys and indians,' the men blazed away at each other with blank cartridges at short range, the Welshmen, in the scheme of the exercise, afforded better cover and determined not to have suffered as many casualties as those inflicted on the opposing force. The 2nd Brigade were now threatening a flanking manoeuvre when at this moment Lieutenant-General Plumer gave the order to "cease fire" but this order was not without some amusement. The General sent for Buglers to sound the order whereupon two young boys appeared. When asked to blow their bugles to sound the order they replied that they could not. "What can you blow," asked Plumer, the reply he received was that the Buglers could blow nothing whereupon these two young crestfallen Buglers returned to their respective units no doubt to put in some practice. Once more proficient Buglers were found, the order was sounded and the sound of musketry fire gradually ceased across the field of 'battle.' The respective units of the West Riding (Territorial) Division were now formed up and began to file past the Lieutenant-General, this file past taking fifty minutes to complete. As the men began their long march back to their respective camps, they were met at the ninth milestone on the Aberystwyth - Devil's Bridge Road by their respective bands and plyed back into camp. It would be deemed that this years exercise at Aberystwyth was one of the most successful that had yet been experienced but there was however some criticism aimed at the 'quality' of the men in general.


A "Special Correspondent" writing a series of articles in The Times newspaper summed up his news feed on the two weeks annual training camp at Aberystwyth. The correspondent noted that the infantry, especially those of the 1st West Riding Brigade, were "soldier like" on the whole however the presence of so many youths lacking in certain physical attributes somewhat nullified their ranks. Particular criticism was aimed at the men hailing from the cities of Bradford and Leeds, their employers, and the lack of support for the Territorial Force in general. According to the opinion of the "Special Correspondent," this was due to a widespread belief in part of the theories of Norman Angell that militarism was obsolete due to the far reaching integration of the economies of Europe. Comments however proved to be more favourable regarding the divisions artillery and auxiliary arms but the underlying tone of the aforementioned article was that the infantry contained too many youths unfit for military service.

It was true that the Territorial Force did lack support for numerous quarters of the political and military establishment. Employers for example were reluctant to part with an employee even though his terms of service were modest. By 1913 the Territorial Force had suffered a significant fall in recruitment and by the close of the year it was estimated that the T.F. had a shortfall of 1,400 officers and 66,000 men. At a meeting with the Prime Minister, Lord Scarborough, Chairman of the West Riding Association stated that they had been charged with the duty of raising and maintaining a force of over 18,000 officers and men.         


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