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Private 2370 John William Wilson
“B” Company
5th Battalion, Alexandra Princess of Wales’s Own Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards)


John (also called Jack) William Willson (at some point the second ‘l’ in his surname was dropped) was born on 11th October 1882. He was one of six sons in 11 children of John Henry and Kate Eliza (nee Birkett), of 18 St John’s Walk, Bridlington, East Yorkshire. John was educated at the Priory Church National School. He became a joiner.

According to the War Memorial Book in St Mary’s Church, Sledmere, John Willson joined the Burlington Rifles in 1901.

John Willson’s life as a volunteer soldier is often mentioned in the Annals of Bridlington (see the Reference Library in Bridlington’s Main Library in King Street).

The 5th Yorkshire Regiment camped at Bridlington for two weeks from 11th July, 1908.

In the Annals for 1909 pages 25, 87, 100, 158, 175 and 316 carry news concerning John Willson. Page 175: Local Terriers at Windsor on Saturday 19th June 1909; page 317: Annual Prize Distribution.

During 1910 the Annals carry reports concerning to John: On page 25: Burlington Rifles annual dinner; page 166: Drill Orders for “B” Company, 5th Battalion, for shooting at Boynton. J. W. Wilson is listed in No. 1 Section led by Col.Sgt. Stephenson; page 171: Friday 1st July: On Sunday last 5th Battalion were at a Military Service at Priory Church. Hundreds of officers and men paraded from Drill Hall, Swindon Street; page 174: Friday 8th July. Regiment camped at Richmond; page 255: On 26th September, Pte Wilson scored 22pts in shooting competition, 7pts at 200yds and 15 at 500yds; page 343: On 22nd December, Pte Wilson won 3s. for his 22 pts in shooting competition during the annual prize distribution.

The following year, 1911, there are further references to the Yorkshire Regiment on pages 145 and 279. Page 145: June 1911: Regiment camped at Bellister, near Haltwhistle, Northumberland (see photo below); page 279: Prize distribution; 7th April: Terriers at dinner on the 3rd. Seventy privates in attendance; 289: Photo of Cup presented to Burlington Rifles.

For 1912 the Annals of Bridlington carries reports on pages 175 and 295. 23rd February 1912: At Field’s Oriental Lounge: Dinner for The Burlington Rifles, “B” Company, 5th Battalion, Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment); page 175: 2nd August 1912, Regiment on parade and marched to Priory Church; 175: 5th Battalion to camp at Scarborough (photographs in Bombardment!); 295: Annual prizegiving. Recruits prizes: Pte Wilson scored 33 pts and won 7s.6d.; Pte Wilson scored 18pts from 7 shots at 200 yds.

It is noted in 1912 annals that 5th East Riding Rifle Volunteers became Burlington Rifles then “B” Company 5th Battalion Alexandra, Princess of Wales’ Own Yorkshire Regiment.

Kelly’s Directory for 1913 has the entry: Territorial Force: 5th Battalion Alexandra Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment), “B” Company, at Drill Hall, Swindon Street. Captain J. B. Purvis; Sgt. J. W. Webster, drill instructor. On 8th April 1913 at 7pm: At Field’s Oriental Lounge: Dinner for The Burlington Rifles, “B” Company, 5th Battalion, Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment).

Bridlington Electoral Rolls, 1914, for Hilderthorpe Ward Polling Station No.2: 1284 Wilson, John William, 33 Westbourne Avenue.

5th March 1914: The Oberon Restaurant by invitation of Major W. A. Wetwan: Dinner for The Burlington Rifles, “B” Company, 5th Battalion, Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment)

5th August 1914: On Wednesday morning, the Burlington Rifles left Bridlington at 19.13 to take part in the defence of their country. With them went Major Wetwan, Lieut. Dufty, 2Lieut Cranswick and 2Lieut George B. Purvis.They all looked fit and well, and were in the best of spirits. A number of relatives and friends saw them off and raised a hearty cheer as the train steamed out of the station. The men returned the cheers with interest.

J. W. Wilson re-enlisted in the Territorials on 11th August, 1914, his time having expired in the Volunteers and Territorials.

On 7th September, several men of the Bridlington Territorials (B Company, 5th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment) left to join their regiment, which it is understood is shortly to leave for service abroad. The men had had a few short hours leave of absence to see their wives and friends. Sgt.-Instructor Webster accompanied the men.

In December the battalion was in Scarborough guarding Electric Supply Works.

On Sunday, 4th April, 1915: John’s father (Goosey) died. Henry Willson was famous for having a pet goose and was widely known as Goosey Willson. On Monday, 5th April, 1915 (Easter Monday) an inquest was held into Goosey Willson’s death, and on Wednesday, 7th April, the funeral of Goosey Wilson took place.

Jack’s war started on 17th April 1915. At 11.00am (RH)*, 5th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, left Newcastle-upon-Tyne railway station. An 11-hour train ride saw the regiment arrive in Folkestone at 10.00pm (RH). There they embarked on H.M. Transport Onward.

Boulogne was reached at 1.50am (RH*)/1.15am (JS) and the men marched uphill to St Martin’s Rest Camp, on the south-west outskirts of the town.

On Monday, 19th April, the men left St Martin’s Camp at 12.15am (JS) and marched about five miles to Pont-de-Briques. There they entrained at 3.15am (JS). They arrived at Cassels at 6.00am (RH)/9.00am (JS). The regiment then marched the 12 miles to Steenvoorde, where they went into billets.

Three days were spent in the Steenvoorde billets and on Friday the 23rd, the men travelled on London buses to Vlamertinghe, by way of Abeele and Poperinghe. From Vlamertinghe, the men marched to “A” Huts near Ypres (RH). JS records their destination as Brielen, north west of Ypres.

At 1.15am (RH)/2.15am (JS) on Saturday 24th the regiment was ordered to the banks of the Yser Canal. They arrived at the front at 4.20am (JS).

During the afternoon of Saturday the regiment proceeded to St Jean (RH). During the night of Saturday, one man was killed, and several wounded.

At 3.00am on Sunday, the men proceeded to Fortuin, arriving at 5.00am (RH).

At some point during the day, 2370 Private John William Wilson was killed. He was buried “in St Julien,” but he has no known grave and his name is engraved on the Menin Gate in Ypres.

[*RH means this is from the regimental history; JS from the memoirs of James Stevenson MM].

The Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium. This monument records the names of 54,900 soldiers who have no known grave, killed between 4th August 1914 and 15th August 1917. Jack Wilson’s name appears on Panel 33.

Top and bottom left: Pte J. W. Wilson recorded on the Priory Memorial Tablet.
Centre top and bottom: Wilson J. W. 2370 recorded on the Menin Gate at Ypres, in Belgium.
Top  and bottom right: Wilson J. W., 5th Yorks, recorded on Bridlington Cenotaph.
Left: John William Willson, Pte. 2370, in the Sledmere Book of Remembrance.

Left: It is thought that Jack is in the centre of this group, wearing a bandolier.

Above: It is thought that Jack is at the right-hand end of this group.

Above: This group shows a group of the 5th Batallion the Yorkshire Regiment at Bellister (Northumberland) in June 1911. Is Jack among them?

Left: The CWGC page relating to Jack.
Centre: The scroll from Lord Kitchener.
Right: The scroll from King George V.

From the Bridlington Chronicle, 14th May, 1915:

Private John William Willson (5th Batt. A.P.W.O. Yorks. Regiment). Private Willson was killed in action near Ypres on the 25th April. He was formerly in the Bridlington Rifles, but withdrew on the formation of the Territorial Force, and enrolled himself with the National Reserves. On the outbreak of war he enlisted in the 5th Yorks and left for the fighting line about a month ago, taking part in the fierce fighting near Ypres. Up to last Saturday no news had been received as to his welfare by his wife and family, but on that day Mrs Wilson, who lives at No.33 Westbourne Avenue, Bridlington, received a letter from Captain J. B. Purvis, stating that Private Willson had met his death in action on the 25th April. He was a brave man and died like a true British soldier. He leaves behind him a widow and five young children, the eldest of which is only nine years of age, and for these the utmost sympathy is felt in the great loss they have sustained. Private Willson was the son of the late John H. Willson, who died suddenly about five weeks ago, whilst delivering newspapers in Brett Street.

St. Julien, 25th April 1915

Smudger Smith went yesterday,
Nobby Clark we lost this morning.
It seemed the right thing to do
when we were supping ale at the Green Dragon.
Friends as kids, now we were men,
ready to answer the call.
But why didn’t they tell us?

Dusty Rhodes got his last Friday,
Chippy Woods stopped one next day.

Sunday there was a lull.
We saw a skylark, but couldn’t hear it . . .
our heads were full of German thunder.
Why didn’t they tell us?

Blinker Hall took a Blighty.
He could’ve been smiling.
We couldn’t see his eyes in that wasted face.
Coxy Taylor was shot.
Lack Of Moral Fibre, they said.
He wasn’t a coward, his mind had gone . . .
He couldn’t go over the top any more.
Why didn’t they tell us?

There’s only me left of the Bridlington gang:
Private John William Wilson.
I’d just reached the wire,
When I copped mine . . .
I’m just resting here.
Where my legs were hurts,
the trees are blurred and red,
And all I hear are cannons, screams, and skittering rats.
Why didn’t they tell us they just sent us to die?

The above poem was written in honour of my grandfather, a man my father never knew, lost in the horrendous conflict of World War One.


Mike Wilson