Trooper Thomas William Wilkinson, 1700, Household Battalion
Thomas William Wilkinson was born in Denby (Dale) in 1892, the son of plasterer and painter, Albert Wilkinson and his wife, Sarah Jane (nee Atkinson), who married at Denby Parish Church on the 20th August 1890.
In 1901, the couple are living on Hilda Street, Ossett, with their three children aged between 1 and 9 years. Thomas William was the eldest child.
By 1911, the family has moved to Station Road, Ossett where Albert has been joined in his painting and decorating business by his eldest son Thomas William, aged 19. Albert and his wife have four sons aged between 4 and 19 years. A fifth child, also a boy, died before 1911. The Wilkinson family lived at 59, Station Road, Ossett in 1917.
Private Thomas W. Wilkinson's army service record has not survived and his medal card records his award of the British and Victory medals, but not the 1914-15 Star, indicating that he did not serve abroad before 31 December 1915.
Thomas William’s younger brother, Stanley, born 1897, married Violet Jessie Storer at Mount Zion Primitive Methodist Chapel, Ossett Green, on the 5th May 1920. Their son was born in Ossett on 16th April 1921. They named him Thomas William Wilkinson.
The Household Battalion was an unusual unit, formed as an infantry battalion at Knightsbridge Barracks in London on the 1st September 1916. The troops were drawn from the reserve units of the Household Cavalry (the 1st and 2nd Life Guards and the Royal Horse Guards). Much retraining and re-equipment was necessary to convert the cavalry troops into foot soldiers, capable of conducting the increasingly mechanised war on the Western Front.
The new infantry battalion trained in Hyde Park and later in September, moved to camp in Richmond Park. Shortly after The Household Battalion entrained for France, on 8th and 9th November 1916, the Reserve of the Battalion moved from London to Combermere Barracks. Windsor, with the Reserve Regiment of The 2nd Life Guards. From here, drafts of over 2,000 men were sent out to the Western Front to replace casualties suffered by the Household Battalion during its 14 months of combatant service. The men were paid the cavalry rate of pay, a few pence more than the infantry, and they wore cavalry service dress on furlough with a distinctive cap badge, the design of which is perpetuated in the present day Household Cavalry Forage Cap Badge.1
They landed in France as a unit on the 9 November 1916 and shortly afterwards was posted to join the 10th Brigade of the 4th Division, an experienced formation of the regular army that had been in France since August 1914. The Division was heavily engaged for the first time in the Battle of Arras in April 1917.
The misfortunes of Britain's allies in 1917 dictated circumstances in which three major battles, Arras, 3rd Ypres and Cambrai, were planned and fought. The Household Battalion was involved to the hilt in all three. The French commander Nivelle was replaced by Marshals Foch and Petain in Spring 1917 after part of the French army mutinied. Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig launched the Arras offensive on Easter Monday 1917 to draw German attention away from the disaster which had overtaken the French army, further South. As a cavalry officer, he saw the mission of cavalry as the exploitation of the eventual break through in the trench war stalemate and put the 3rd Cavalry Division into the attack on the Hindenburg Line at Monchy le Preux on Easter Monday, 9th April 1917. There was a general advance of the infantry north and south of the 45 foot wide, 6 foot deep Scarpe River flowing east to west through Arras.
North of the Scarpe, the Household Battalion, as part of the 10th Brigade in the 4th Infantry Division were allotted the task of advancing along the swampy banks of the muddy little river on the hamlet of Fampoux, (formerly pop. 1,015 but now flattened and enemy held). While their brothers of The 1st and 2nd Life Guards and Blues rode against barbed wire and machine guns with the 3rd Cavalry Division to Monchy, The Household Battalion stalked towards Fampoux with rifles and bayonets in the sleet. With them were the Warwicks, Seaforth and Royal Irish Fusiliers. It took the Brigade 11 days to take Fampoux and The Household Battalion lost 9 Officers and 166 non Commissioned Officers and Men killed in action, including Trooper Thomas W. Wilkinson.
The "Ossett Observer" 1 had this obituary for Thomas W. Wilkinson:
"Ossett Trooper Killed In Action - The war's toll upon Ossett men has been increased by the death, in action, on April 11th, of Trooper Thomas William Wilkinson (25), of the Household Battalion of Infantry (formerly Household Cavalry), eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Wilkinson, of Station-road, Ossett. Deceased, who used to work for his father in the painting and plastering business, joined the colours in November last year, and proceeded to the Western theatre of war on February 20th this year. A month later he moved up the line, and a field post-card dated April 6th, was the last message received from him. Official intimation of his death was received by his parents on Monday morning from Windsor. He was a member of the Queen-street Primitive Methodist Sunday School."
Private Thomas W. Wilkinson, died on the 11th April 1917, aged 26 years and he is remembered on Bay 1 at the Arras Memorial, 3 Pas de Calais, France. The Arras Memorial is in the Faubourg-d'Amiens Cemetery, which is in the Boulevard du General de Gaulle in the western part of the town of Arras.
The Arras Memorial commemorates almost 35,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between the spring of 1916 and 7 August 1918, the eve of the Advance to Victory, and have no known grave. The most conspicuous events of this period were the Arras offensive of April-May 1917, and the German attack in the spring of 1918. Canadian and Australian servicemen killed in these operations are commemorated by memorials at Vimy and Villers-Bretonneux. A separate memorial remembers those killed in the Battle of Cambrai in 1917.
During the Second World War, Arras was occupied by United Kingdom forces headquarters until the town was evacuated on 23 May 1940. Arras then remained in German hands until retaken by Commonwealth and Free French forces on 1 September 1944. The 1939-1945 War burials number 8 and comprise 3 soldiers and 4 airmen from the United Kingdom and 1 entirely unidentified casualty. Located between the 2 special memorials of the 1914-1918 War is the special memorial commemorating an officer of the United States Army Air Force, who died during the 1939-1945 War. This special memorial, is inscribed with the words "Believed to be buried in this cemetery". In addition, there are 30 war graves of other nationalities, most of them German.
Above: The Wilkinson grave at St. John's Methodist Chapel showing the memorial to Thomas William Wilkinson, the son of Albert Wilkinson. Picture courtesy of Lisa Jennings.
1. The Diary of a Forgotten Battalion by Gerald William Harvey
2. "Ossett Observer", 5th May 1917