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The real name of the man who served as Henry Wilson was Henry Gibson (and he appears as Henry Gibson on the Hope Terrace Memorial in Lostock Hall, though CWGC records him as Henry Wilson). Henry was born in the first quarter of 1882 in Preston and baptised at Preston St Luke’s on 18 October. His father was John William Gibson (b. 1856 in Preston), a locomotive engine driver. His mother was Ann Shorrock (b. 1854 in Higher Walton). John and Ann were married in Preston in 1878 and they had 6 children, though Henry was the only one to survive into adulthood. At least three of his siblings died in their teens or early twenties (possibly suggesting tuberculosis as the cause?). The siblings were: Alice (b. 1877), John William (1879-1899), Thomas (1890-1901), Annie (1884-87) and Ethel (born and died 1886). John snr himself died in 1911, just before the Census date, so at the time of the Census, Henry was living with his mother at 14 Lupton Terrace, Lostock Hall. Henry was a labourer in the railway depot.

However, we need to take a step back to trace Henry’s history and discover why he used an alias. On 29 December 1898, Henry’s brother Thomas (then aged 18, though he claimed to be 19yrs and 1mth old) enlisted with the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and was assigned service number 6002. Henry’s service number is 6003 and his papers show he enlisted on the same day so it seems the two brothers enlisted together. However, Henry was still only 16, so one possibility is that he adopted the alias Wilson to deflect suspicion about his age and his relationship with his brother. Thomas served in Malta from 20 September 1899 to 5 September 1900 when he returned home and was discharged as medically unfit and he died the following year. Henry served with his brother in Malta and then in 1901 and 1902 in South Africa. In 1902-3, he was at home, then later in 1903 in Gibraltar and 1904 back in South Africa. He transferred to the reserves in 1906. During this part of his career, Henry had a number of minor brushes with authority, often the result of the abuse of alcohol. Most of these warranted no more than a reprimand but in 1905 he was deprived of his Lance Corporal’s stripe for hesitating to obey an order and using offensive language to a 2nd Lieutenant. He re-attested in 1911 and was called up again (now aged 32) in August 1914, landing in France on 27 August. Although his brother was dead and he was old enough to serve, it was inevitable that he would have to continue to serve using his alias. When he re-enlisted his mother is recorded as his next of kin so obviously the use of an alias was not causing him, his family or the army any problems.

There are two key documents which confirm Henry’s use of an alias. One is the record from the Preston Roll of Honour, which shows his name and his address in Lostock Hall. The other is the UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects, which confirms his name as Henry Wilson (alias Gibson) and records his next of kin as his mother Ann; though intriguingly it also records another legatee as his niece, Annie Cook. I have been unable to trace this relative.

At some point, Henry was promoted back to Lance Corporal. In August and September 1914, 1Bn fought in the Battle of the Marne and the Battle of the Aisne, at first halting the German advance and then beginning to force a retreat. In mid September both sides dug in and the period of trench warfare began. However, in mid October, the battalion was moved to an entirely different part of the front, arriving on 21 October near Ypres. From the Regimental History: “During the night of 30-31 October the four companies of the Battalion were strung out along a line of trenches, most of the time under a heavy bombardment; and on the early morning of 31st the Battalion was ordered to retire through the wood to Hooge, where it formed up. On the receipt of fresh orders it went forward again at 9am and, in company with the Gordon Highlanders, made a successful attack, ending with a bayonet charge on the enemy, inflicting considerable loss upon him. Advancing again, the Battalion occupied a position facing the village of Gheluvelt.” Henry Wilson (alias Gibson) was recorded as missing in action and later presumed killed. He was 32 years old.

Rank: Lance Corporal
Service Number: 6003
Date of Death: 31/10/ 1914
Age: 32
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 1Bn
Cemetery/memorial reference: Panel 41 and 43.

(Thanks to Janet Davis who found the key evidence about Henry’s real name).

Bill Brierley

Before taking early retirement in 2007 and returning to his native Lancashire in 2009, Bill Brierley was head of the School of Languages and Area Studies at the University of Portsmouth.Bill has researched his own family history and has developed a further interest in World War 1 especially as it impacted on the villages of Lostock Hall and Bamber Bridge, where his family originates from.Bill has also displayed his work at Lostock Hall library and contributed to other displays at Leyland Library and South Ribble Museum.
Bill Brierley

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