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Albert Wilman

Private Albert Wilman, DM2/224015, Army Service Corps, 971st Mechanical Transport Company

Albert Wilman was born in Ossett in 1888 in Ossett, the son of Joseph Wilman and his wife Eliza Ann (nee Parkinson), who married in 1878 in the Dewsbury Registration District. Joseph and Eliza also had two girls, Susan (born 1879) and Mary Anna or Hannah (born 1880). Sadly, Eliza Ann Wilman died in 1889 at the early age of 30 years.

Joseph Wilman, widower, married Elizabeth Annie Adams at Batley on the 21st December 1889 and in 1891, he was living on Wakefield Road, Chickenley Heath with his new wife. His daughter, Mary Hannah was living in the household and she has a half sister, Lottie, aged 7.

In 1891 and 1901 Albert Wilman was living with his grandparents, William and Mary Parkinson on Leeds Road, Ossett. His five aunts and one uncle were also living in the household. In 1911, Albert was working as a printer’s errand boy and has moved along Dewsbury Road to live with his aunt and uncle Ann (nee Parkinson) and Robinson Brook with their two teenage children. By now, Albert was working in the local coal mine as a hurrier.

The 971st Mechanical Transport Company was a part of No. 1 Mechanical Transport Column in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that was based in Mesopotamia during WW1. Each Division of the army had a certain amount of motorised transport allocated to it, although not directly under its own command. The Divisional Supply Column Companies were responsible for the supply of goods, equipment and ammunition from the Divisional railhead to the Divisional Refilling Point and, if conditions allowed, to the dumps and stores of the forward units. Used, of course, where loads were heavy. A Company initially comprised 5 officers and 337 other ranks of the ASC, looking after 45 3-ton lorries, 16 30-cwt lorries, 7 motor cycles, 2 cars and 4 assorted trucks for the workshop and stores of the Supply Column itself. All Companies served in France unless otherwise mentioned.

The Mesopotamia Campaign is an over-looked part of the history of WW1, with most attention understandably focused on the sub-human conditions of Trench Warfare. Yet, conditions for the troops in Mesopotamia were likewise truly abominable: extremes of temperature, regular cases of flooding, and diseases from vermin, flies and mosquitos which rapidly spread through the troops all contributed the high casualties in the campaign. The unexpected and underestimated fierceness of the Ottoman army and the appalling medical and logistical arrangements only made matters worse.

"A campaign with humble beginnings, the British Army had first set foot in Mesopotamia on the 6th of November 1914.The original task of the landing force, consisting mostly of Indian troops of Indian Expeditionary Force ‘D’, had been the 'protection' of the Anglo-Persian oil pipeline, refineries, and tanks which had supplied most of the Royal Navy’s fuel. The initial objective had been achieved without too much bloodshed and the British Government had subsequently ordered the British Army Commander in Mesopotamia, General Sir John Nixon to seize the nearby city of Basra. The city had been taken on the 21st of November 1914 with the loss of a hundred British lives; the Turks had lost nearer a thousand.

Not content with the capture of the oil fields and Basra and with no definite military advantage to be made, the British had eventually had eventually embarked on an advance northwards with the intention of capturing the whole of Mesopotamia, including the city of Baghdad, which lay almost five hundred and seventy blistering miles to the north of the Persian Gulf. Without realising the difficulties that lay in store for an army stretching its supply lines to the limit as it had moved further upstream from the Gulf. There had never been enough shallow draught boats, nor enough mules or camels to adequately supply the fighting forces that would eventually be up to five hundred miles from their base depots at Basra.

The British offensive in Mesopotamia had continued during the autumn of 1917. By the end of September Ramadi had been captured, a month later they had marched into the dusty town of Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein. In the middle of what had seemed a run of British triumph, disaster had befallen the Army with the death from Cholera of its fifty-three year old Commander in Chief, Brigadier General Frederick Stanley Maude on the 18th of November. The saviour of the British effort in Mesopotamia, Maude had become what Kitchener had been to the British armies in Europe and his loss had been a bitter blow." 1

Albert Wilman's service record has not survived. He was awarded the British and Victory Medals and did not serve overseas before the 31st December 1915. It is most likely that his death was from disease or sunstroke.

Private Albert Wilman died on the 14th September 1917, aged 29 years, and is buried at grave reference I. B. 18. at the Basra War Cemetery 1Basra, Iraq. Basra is a town on the west bank of the Shatt-al-Arab, 90 kilometres from its mouth in the Persian Gulf. The cemetery is about 8 kilometres north-west of Basra.

During the First World War, Basra was occupied by the 6th (Poona) Division in November 1914, from which date the town became the base of the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force. A number of cemeteries were used by the MEF in and around Basra; Makina Masul Old Cemetery was used from December 1914 to October 1916 and the Makina Masul New Extension was begun alongside the old cemetery in August 1917. These two sites, enlarged later when more than 1,000 graves were brought in from other burial grounds, now form Basra War Cemetery.

The cemetery now contains 2,551 burials of the First World War, 74 of them unidentified. The headstones marking these graves were removed in 1935 when it was discovered that salts in the soil were causing them to deteriorate. The names of those buried in the graves affected are now recorded on a screen wall.

References:

1. Casualties of the war in Mesopotamia

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site