Wilson, Robert Victor. Died 13th Apr 1918

Robert Victor WILSON was born in 1897, in Stockton on Tees.  His birth was registered there in Q4, 1897.

He was the son of John George Wilson, born in about 1868 in Stockton on Tees, and Frances Mary, née Kenyon, Wilson who was born in about 1872 in Sunderland.  Their marriage was registered in Stockton on Tees in Q3, 1896.

In 1901, the family were living at 74 ?Iilery Road, Stockton on Tees.  Robert was aged three, and had a one year old sister, Doris Mary, who died aged four in mid 1904.  Robert’s father was now an ‘… Engineering Draftsman’.

Before 1911, the family moved to Rugby and in 1911, they were living in a six roomed house at 52 York Street, Rugby.  Robert’s father was still an ‘Engineering Draftsman’.  There had been four children, but only two were still living – Robert who was now 13 years old and still at school and a sister, Elsie Marie, aged four.  On census night Robert’s widowed maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Kenyon, was visiting them.

Robert was educated at the Elborow and Lawrence Sheriff School and indeed was a scholar of the Lower School of Lawrence Sheriff, Rugby.  He intended to become a member of the scholastic profession, and became a student teacher at Eastlands Boys’ School and later became an Assistant Scoutmaster of the School Troop.[1]

The CWGC site[2] provides an unusual amount of detail on Robert’s military career, and states that Robert joined up with the HAC in May 1916, and his Medal Card confirms that he was initially a Private, Number: 7691, in the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC), and the Rugby Advertiser reported this in June 1916, soon after he became 18.

R V Wilson (Old Laurentian), son of Mr J G Wilson, York Street, Rugby, has joined the H.A.C. Infantry Division.  The Old Laurentians have supplied a great many members to this distinguished Company.[3]

Assuming this was the 2nd Battalion of the Honourable Artillery Company (Infantry,) it was raised at Finsbury on 2 September 1914.  It moved to Belhus Park, going on in November to Blackheath, in February 1915 to the Tower of London, in August to Richmond Park, in November to Wimbledon, in January 1916 to Orpington, in July to Tadworth (Surrey), and it returned to the Tower in September 1916.  On 3 October 1916, the Battalion landed at Le Havre and was placed under command of 22nd Brigade in the 7th Division.  The CWGC site states that Robert went to France to join his Battalion in December 1916.

Later in December 1916, the Battalion was in trenches at Beaumont Hamel where some trenches were ‘obliterated’.  During the earlier part of 1917 the Battalion was much involved with training – however, the CWGC advised that in February 1917, Robert returned to UK to train for his commission.  He was later gazetted in June 1917, and joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 26 June 1917, when they were on the Isle of Wight, as also noted on his Medal Card, and as later reported in the Rugby Advertiser in July 1917.

R V Wilson (Old Laurentian), late H.A.C, son of Mr J G Wilson, York Street, has been gazetted Second-Lieutenant, and has received a commission in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, Parkhurst, Isle of Wight.[4]

Although apparently then appointed to the ‘1st/2nd Battalion’, such a unit does not seem to exist, and this may have been an administrative device.  It seems that Robert was initially with the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion or the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion, which were both stationed at Warwick at the outbreak of war and then were at Portsmouth in August 1914 and on the Isle of Wight until November 1917.[5]  These Battalions probably served as training and reinforcement Battalions.

Robert was then attached to the 2nd/7th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (RWR).  Four RWR Battalions – the 2/5th, 2/6th, 2/7th and 2/8th Battalions – landed in France as part of the 182nd (2nd Warwickshire) Brigade in the 61st (2nd South Midland) Division in May 1916 for service on the Western Front, and their stories are broadly similar, and several other Rugby men served, and were killed in action in March/April 1918 with these Battalions.

Robert’s Officer’s Military Service Record file[6] is held at The National Archives, but has not been consulted at present, as a sufficient outline of his military career is available from the CWGC and the local paper.  The CWGC notes that Robert returned to France in August 1917.

2nd/7th Battalion RWR was formed in Coventry in October 1914 as a second line Battalion.  It became part of the 2nd Warwickshire Brigade, 2nd South Midland Division and then in August 1915 it was re-designated as part of the 182nd Brigade, 61st (2nd South Midland) Division.  The Battalion landed in France on 21 May 1916.[7].[8]  Robert joined the Battalion later, going to France for a second time in August 1917.  He could have arrived in time to take part in the Battle of Langemarck (16-18 August 1917) toward the end of the Third Battles of the Ypres, and then after being in reserve for the Battle of Cambrai, the Battalion was used to reinforce the units under counter-attack in the area of La Vacquerie at the end of November 1917.

The Battalion War Diary[9] gives details of the Battalion’s activities throughout the war, but the following information has been abstracted for the period before Robert’s death.

In early December 1917, the Battalion was in the Welsh Ridge sector, near the Hindenburg line.  To start the New Year, the Battalion was in training, but on 1 January, ‘2/Lt Wilson – to hospital – sick’.

The battalion moved to Savy, then toward the end of the month the Battalion was at Holnon Wood, and then at Berthavcourt.  The Battalion strength was then 29 Officers and 388 Other Ranks.

During February 1918, the Battalion was in support and then relieved the 2nd/6th RWR on 3 February, who relieved them in turn on 6 February.  On 14 March the 2nd/8th RWR were transferred to the Battalion, with 8 Officers and 256 Other Ranks.  In March the Battalion continued turn and turn about in Holnon Wood, improving the line and with training in the days from 14 to 20 March.

The anticipated attack by the Germans, Operation Michael, was launched on 21 March 1918, against the British Fifth Army and the right wing of the British Third Army.  The German artillery targeted command and communications; then, the destruction of artillery; and then the front-line infantry.  The artillery bombardment began at 4.40am on 21 March 1918, and hit targets over an area of 150 square miles, the biggest barrage of the entire war.  Over 1,100,000 shells were fired in five hours.

Thus commenced the Battle of St Quentin and the Actions at the Somme Crossings.  The 61st (2nd South Midland) Division was holding the forward zone of defences northwest of Saint Quentin in the area of Ham and lost many men as it fought a chaotic, but ultimately successful, withdrawal back over the Somme crossings over the next ten days.

In the initial clash, the South Midland Division faced three enemy Divisions and only began to retire on the afternoon of 22 March, when ordered to do so, in consequence of the enemy’s progress in other parts of the line.

On marching out on 21 March, the Battalion now comprised 21 Officers and 556 Other Ranks.  Robert Wilson seems to have still been away – and would have missed the initial heavy fighting.  In the period to the end of March, there were 30 Officer casualties (some additional officers had joined in the period) and 488 Other Ranks casualties.

The remnants of the exhausted Battalion – and the 61st Division – were transferred from the XVIII Corps on 10 April 1918.  Lt. General Ivor Maxey wrote a message of congratulations to the 61st Division, which had ‘… established for itself a high reputation for its fighting qualities and its gallant spirit …’.

The Battalion were moved north to what had been a quieter part of the line near Bethune.  On 10 March 1918 the Battalion went to St Roche via Amiens, and then entrained for Berguette which was further north and where they arrived at 10.30pm.  On 11 March, they took up positions to the rear of the Robecq-Calonne Road.

On 12 March the enemy were active and by 10.30am all that remained of the 2nd/6th RWR were withdrawn though the line to a support line.  The ‘estimated casualties’ included ‘… 2/Lt R.V. Wilson wounded;…’.  On 13 April, the British artillery was more effective and the line was being held, with troops back in the old line and reoccupying captured houses.  That night they were relieved by the 2nd/6th RWR and returned to Hamet Billet for breakfast.

The Battalion Diary for 14 April recorded ‘…2/Lt R.V. Wilson died of wounds 13/4/18; …’.

Several other Rugby men in the 2nd/6th and 2nd/7th Battalion RWR were killed from 11 to 14 April, during this second major German attack, on this ‘quieter part of the line’, [see: Sidney George HALL – Rugby Remembers – 11 April 2018 and William Harry Packwood – Rugby Remembers – 12 April 1918. ]

Robert was probably evacuated to the Battalion Aid Post or an Advanced Dressing Station and then to a Casualty Clearing Station, probably the 18th at Lapugnoy, or possibly the 23rd at Lozinghem, which were both some 20kms south-west of their front line positions.  He died there – or en route – of his wounds and was buried in the nearby Lapugnoy Military Cemetery, in Grave Ref: VI. D. 10A.

Lapugnoy is a village 6 kilometres west of Bethune.  The first burials were made in Plot I of the cemetery in September 1915, but it was most heavily used during the Battle of Arras, which began in April 1917.  The dead were brought to the cemetery from casualty clearing stations, chiefly the 18th and the 23rd at Lapugnoy and Lozinghem, but between May and August 1918 the cemetery was used by fighting units.

When his temporary wooden cross was replaced by a gravestone, his family requested the inscription, ‘Late Member of H.A.C – He Died that We Might Live’.

An obituary was published in the Rugby Advertiser on 27 April 1918,

The death from wounds received on April 12th of 2nd Lieut R V Wilson has now been confirmed in a letter from his commanding officer to Mr J G Wilson of York Street.  The letter states that Lieut Wilson ‘was a most gallant officer, and showed promise of becoming a good leader; in spite of his youth he had command of a company in action under difficult conditions, and was one of the most capable officers in the Battalion.  His brother officers loved him.’  The deceased officer was educated at the Elborow and Lower Schools.  Intending to become a member of the scholastic profession, he became a student teacher at Eastlands Boys’ School.  In May, 1916, he joined the H.A.C, and served in France.  Later he accepted a Commission with the 1/7 R.W.R.  The news of his untimely end was keenly felt by boys and staff of Eastlands School and by all who knew his cheerful personality.  It seems that his battalion was attached at 6 a.m, and at 7 a.m he was sent forward to relieve another officer, and reached the post alright, but was almost immediately wounded by machine gun fire.  When being carried back he was full of cheerfulness and of regret that he had to leave the field.[10]

Robert Victor WILSON is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gates; and on the WWI Lawrence Sheriff School Plaque,[11] which reads

‘In Commemoration of our Brother Laurentians who Fell in The Great War, 1914-1918, Orando Laborando.’

His Medal Card and the Medal Roll showed that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

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This article on Robert Victor WILSON was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the RFHG, January 2018.

[1]       School information from CWGC, https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/54980/wilson,-robert-victor/.

[2]       Military career from CWGC, https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/54980/wilson,-robert-victor/.

[3]       Rugby Advertiser, Saturday, 17 June 1916. William Harry PACKWOOD, later in the 2nd/6th RWR, who died the day before Robert Wilson on 12 April 1918, had also served in the HAC before he was commissioned.

[4]         https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2017/07/28/28th-jul-1917-rugby-school-farming-squads/; and see also, Rugby Advertiser, 28 July 1917.

[5]         https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/units/316/royal-warwickshire-regiment/.

[6]       Lieutenant Robert Victor WILSON, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment, TNA file ref: WO 339/96716.

[7]         http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/61st-2nd-south-midland-division/.

[8]       Based on: https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/units/316/royal-warwickshire-regiment/.

[9]       WWI War Diaries, 1914-1920, 2/7 Bn., Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 61st Division,

[10]     Information from https://www.rugbyfhg.co.uk/lawrence-sheriff-school-plaques.