Private George Wilson, 4691057, 1st Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.
George Wilson was born in Ossett on the 15th April 1917, the son of Harriet Mary Wilson, born in Ingoldsby, near Grantham, Lincolnshire on the 18th November 1887. Harriet appears to have had two other children out of wedlock: Fred, born 1908 and Dorothy, born 1914.
Several years later, on the 23rd December 1922, Harriet, now aged 35, married 48 year-old widower, coal hewer, Stafford Whittles at Dewsbury Registry Office. In 1911, Stafford had been living at 5, King’s Buildings, Healey, Ossett, but at the time of his marriage to Harriet in 1922, Stafford was living at 2, Langley’s Buildings, Town End, Ossett. Harriet was living at the Dewsbury Union Workhouse, Healds Avenue, Dewsbury. It is possible that her children, including George, were also living in the Dewsbury Union Workhouse with their mother.
There were two sons from Stafford and Harriet’s marriage, both born in Ossett, and half brothers to George: Stanley, born on the 21st May 1925 and Clifford, born on the 17th February 1927. Sadly Clifford died very shortly after his birth, and Harriett had more tragedy when her husband Stafford Whittles, born 27 September 1874, died in Ossett, aged 52 years, on the 22nd May 1927, just three months after the birth and death of his younger son.
In September 1939, Harriet M. Whittle was living at 49, Baptist Lane, Teall Street, Ossett with Stanley, a sheet metal worker. Also in the household were, Harriet’s daughter, Dorothy Wilson (born 15th April 1914) and John W. Whittle (born 1903), who was Stafford’s son by his first wife.
George’s surviving half brother, Stanley, also served his country in WWII, in Burma, as a cook with the Royal Scots Fusiliers. At the time of Stanley’s birth the family lived at 8, Langley’s Buildings, Town End, Ossett. George Wilson married Anne Speakman in early 1942 at Littleborough, Lancashire, where the couple made their home. There were no children and there is no record of George Wilson's widow remarrying. Harriett Mary Whittles died in Ossett on 24th January 1964.
The Allies’ Italian Campaign began with the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. After 38 days of fighting, the U.S. and Great Britain successfully drove German and Italian troops from Sicily and prepared to assault the Italian mainland. The 1st Battalion of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry was a battalion of regular soldiers and during the invasion of Sicily were part of the 15th Infantry Brigade of the XIII Corps, 8th Army.
After their landing at Syracuse, as part of Operation Husky, and the taking of the port of Augusta, 15th Brigade, consisting the 1st Battalion K.O.Y.L.I., the Green Howards and the North Hants were ordered to move on and take Carlentini and Lentini and then move in land towards the Catania plains and Gerbini airfield. Their first two objectives were easy, but at Straz Valsavoia the Germans decided to make a stand and blew up a road and bridge to delay any advance. They also had good defensive positions in concrete pillboxes.
It is believed Private George Wilson was killed during the Battle of Gerbini, between the 18th and 21st July 1943. This was a very hard fight against Herman Goering's Luft Division Paratroops, who were first-class, highly trained troops. Some of them had been flown in from the Russian front to hold Sicily until reinforcements arrived.
The "Ossett Observer" had this short obituary for George Wilson:1
"Death After Wounds In Sicily - Private George Wilson (25), eldest son of Mrs. H. M. Whittles, 49, Baptist Lane, Teall Street, Ossett, died on July 21st, as a result of wounds received in Sicily the previous day. Information to this effect has been received by his wife, who lives at The Summit, Littleborough, Lancs. Born in Ossett, he attended Holy Trinity C.E. School, and was afterwards employed by W. Walker and Sons, Limited, Highfield Mill. He enlisted in the Regular Army (1st Battalion, K.O.Y.L.I.) five years ago, and since then has served in France (he was evacuated from Dunkirk), Norway, Egypt, Iraq and Sicily. He was well-known in cricketing circles in the Ossett Common area and acted as groundsman to the St. Aidan's Club for two seasons. He was married two and half years ago to Miss Anne Speakman, Littleborough. There are no children."
Private George Wilson died on the 21st July 1943, aged 26 years, and is buried at grave reference VIII. D. 4 in the Syracuse War Cemetery, Sicily. Syracuse War Cemetery is located in the Contrada of Canalicchio in the Commune and Province of Syracuse. It lies 3 kilometres west of Syracuse.
On the 10th July 1943, following the successful conclusion of the north African campaign in mid May, a combined allied force of 160,000 Commonwealth and American troops invaded Sicily as a prelude to the assault on mainland Italy. The Italians, who would shortly make peace with the Allies and re-enter the war on their side, offered little determined resistance, but German opposition was vigorous and stubborn. The campaign in Sicily came to an end on the 17th August 1943 when the two allied forces came together at Messina, but failed to cut off the retreating Axis lines.
Commonwealth forces made their landings in the south-east corner of the island between Pachina and Syracuse, and the majority of those buried in Syracuse War Cemetery died during those landings or in the early stages of the campaign. Many graves belong to men of the airborne force that attempted landings west of the town on the night of 9-10 July, when gale force winds forced 60 of the 140 gliders used into the sea and blew others wide of their objectives.
Syracuse War Cemetery contains 1,059 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, 134 of them unidentified. There is also one First World war burial, that of a merchant seaman whose grave was brought to the cemetery from Marsala British Cemetery.2
Above: British troops in Sicily, July 1943.
1. "Ossett Observer", Saturday, August 28th, 1943.