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This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of the author Tom Rowsell.

Lieutenant Edmund Wilkinson (1872 – 1914) came from a long line of Lancashire men. He was one of at least 7 children of Joshua Wilkinson (1848-1924) and Christina Williams (b. abt 1851). Edmund came from working class stock and grew up to be a war hero. This post explains his origins and his story.

Joshua and Christina lived at 22 Queen Street, Colne. Joshua’s father was Edward Wilkinson (1810 – 1867) whose father was John Wilkinson (b. 1799), whose father was James Wilkinson of York. Joshua is first recorded as a “cotton weaver” in Burnley, Lancashire in the 1871 census. As a cotton weaver, Joshua would have endured great hardships during the 1860’s when English textile factories were forced to shutter their doors as cotton exports played into American Civil War strategy.

Interestingly there was a folk song popular among Lancashire Cotton weavers which expresses sympathy for Napoleon of all people! Hand Loom weavers of the area had made their living through weaving cotton at their own hand-looms in their cottages and were economically threatened by the technological advances in production that came about through the Industrial Revolution. The reference to the Napoleonic Wars dates to the pre-industrial period, not long before the ‘Industrial Revolution’. The song in the video below was written sometime around 1808 but was sung by Lancashire weavers for decades afterwards.

Edmund Wilkinson was born in Colne. He joined the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment around 1888 when he was only 15 years old and was given the number 2677.

At the age of 27, in 1899, he was fighting in the Boer war where he endured 4 months at the Siege of Kimberley. His rank by this time was Colour-Sergeant.

On 7th October 1899, an artillery battery and four companies of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment were dispatched to secure the town under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Kekewich. Five days later, with the start of hostilities, Boer forces arrived and began to besiege Kimberley. For the next 126 days, the North Lancs and the local militias would be cut off and subjected to regular shelling from the Boer artillery. The siege was finally lifted when Brigadier-General Sir John French’s Cavalry Division was able to breakthrough the Boer lines on 15 February 1900.

ew kimberley

The Loyal North Lancashires marching in Kimberley

In 1905, at the age of 32, Edmund married Eliza Harriet Parkhouse (1880 – 1945) in Bideford, Devon. Eliza, like many in the Rowsell family tree, was from the West Country; her father was William Parkhouse (1850 – 1930) of Parkham, Devon. Eliza had four children by Edmund, three of which survived past infancy. Interestingly Eliza was one of 13 children, some of whom lived until well over 100 years of age.


Lieutenant Edmund Wilkinson

Edmund received his commission into the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in June 1912 and sailed to France with the 1st Battalion on 12th August 1914.

Edmund was 43 when he was killed with the 1st Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment at the First Battle of Ypres on 31st October 1914.

The following extract from Military Operations, France and Belgium 1914 describes the events on the day Edmund, and 68 other men of the Battalion, were killed.

..on the 31 Oct. enemy turned his attention to the two companies of the 1 /Loyal North Lancashire, about two hundred and fifty strong, and the detachment of the 2 /Royal Scots Fusiliers, numbering a hundred and twenty, who were to the south. These troops were holding a little over half a mile of front in a line of small rifle pits — each holding a couple of men — some fifteen yards apart, hastily dug the previous night with entrenching implements. Their orders were not to retire, but to report if reinforcements were required.

Until noon they suffered much from fire, particularly from Zandvoorde, but no attempt was made to close with them, for they had a good field of fire and shot down any Germans who showed themselves. The disaster to the Queen’s on their left was observed, and also that a company of the Bedfordshire in a wood on their right had disappeared ; but the parties still held on and kept the enemy at bay. Reports of the situation were sent back, but none of the messengers reached brigade headquarters. Towards 1.30 p.m. the Germans were all round the small force ; it was under machine-gun fire from the rear at a hundred yards’ range, and infantry were creeping in from both flanks. Eighty of the North Lancashire, including one officer, remained alive to be captured, and half of this number were wounded. Next morning the survivors of the battalion mustered only one officer and thirty-five men.

Edmund Wilkinson

Lieutenant Edmund Wilkinson wearing the Sam Browne belt

.. and printed in the Second Supplement to the London Gazette of 27 November 1914. ‘The fourth Despatch of Field Marshal Sir John French, Commander in Chief of the British Armies in France and Flanders’.

Perhaps the most important and decisive attack made against the First Corps during the whole of its arduous experiences in the neighbourhood of Ypres took place on the 31st October. General Moussy, who commanded the detachment which had been sent by the French Ninth Corps on the previous day to assist Sir Douglas Haig on the right of the First Corps, moved to the attack early in the morning, but was brought to a complete standstill, and could make no further progress. After several attacks and counter attacks during the course of the morning along the Menin-Ypres-road, south-east of Gheluvelt, an attack against that place developed in great force, and the line of the 1st Division was: broken. On the south the 7th Division and General Bulfin’s detachment were being heavily shelled. The retirement of the 1st Division exposed the left of the 7th Division, and owing to this the Royal Scots Fusiliers, who remained in their trenches, were cut off and surrounded. A strong infantry attack was developed against the right of the 7th Division at 1.30 p.m.

Shortly after this the Headquarters of the 1st and 2nd Divisions were shelled. The General Officer Commanding 1st Division was wounded, three Staff Officers of the 1st Division and three of the 2nd Division were killed. The General Officer Commanding the 2nd Division also received a severe shaking, and was unconscious for a short time. General Landon assumed command of the 1st Division. On receiving a report about 2.30 p.m. from General Lomax that the 1st Division had moved back and that the enemy was coming on in strength, the General Officer Commanding the First Corps issued orders that the line, Frezenberg-Westhoek-bend of the main road-Klein Zillebeke-bend of canal, was to be held at all costs. The 1st Division rallied on the line of the woods east of the bend of the road, the German advance by the road being checked by enfilade fire from the north. The attack against the right of the 7th Division forced the 22nd Brigade to retire, thus exposing the left of the 2nd Brigade. The General Officer Commanding the 7th Division used his reserve, already posted on his flank, to restore the line; but, in the meantime, the 2nd Brigade, finding their left flank exposed, had been forced to withdraw. The right of the 7th Division thus advanced as the left of the 2nd Brigade went back, with the result that the right of the 7th Division was exposed, but managed to hold on to its old trenches till nightfall. Meantime, on the Menin road, a counterattack delivered by the left of the 1st Division and the right of the 2nd Division against the right flank of the German line was completely successful, and by 2.30 p.m. Gheluvelt had been retaken with the bayonet, the 2nd Worcestershire Regiment being to the fore in this, admirably supported by the 41st Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. The left of the 7th Division, profiting by their capture of Gheluvelt, advanced almost to its original line; and connection between the 1st and 7th Divisions was re-established. The recapture of Gheluvelt released the 6th Cavalry Brigade, till then held in support of the 1st Division. Two regiments of this brigade were sent at once to clear the woods to the south-east, and close the gap in the line between the 7th Division and 2nd Brigade. They advanced with much dash, partly mounted and partly dismounted; and, surprising the enemy in the woods, succeeded in killing large numbers and materially helped to restore the line. About 5 p.m. the French Cavalry Brigade also came up to the cross-roads just east of Hooge, and at once sent forward a dismounted detachment to support our 7th Cavalry Brigade. Throughout the day the extreme right and left of the First Corps’ line held fast, the left being only slightly engaged, while the right was heavily shelled and subjected to slight infantry attacks. In the evening the enemy were steadily driven back from the woods on the front of the 7th Division and 2nd Brigade; and by 10 p.m. the line as held in the morning had practically been reoccupied. During the night touch was restored between the right of the 7th Division and left of the 2nd Brigade, and the Cavalry were withdrawn into reserve, the services of the French Cavalry being dispensed with. As a result of the day’s fighting eight hundred and seventy wounded were evacuated. I was present with Sir Douglas Haig at Hooge between 2 and 3 o’clock on this day, when the 1st Division were retiring. I regard it as the most critical moment in the whole of this great battle. The rally of the 1st Division and the recapture of the village of Gheluvelt at such a time was fraught with momentous consequences. If any one unit can be singled out for especial praise it is the Worcesters.

In the meantime the centre of my line, occupied by the Third and Cavalry Corps, was being heavily pressed by the enemy in ever increasing force.

The following is an excerpt from The Bond of Sacrifice: A Biographical Record of All British Officers Who Fell in the Great War

LIEUTENANT and QUARTERMASTER EDMUND WILKINSON, 1st BATTALION, LOYAL NORTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENT, was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Wilkinson, of 22, Queen Street, Colne, and was forty-three years of age at the time of his death.

He served twenty-six years with the Colours, and had a distinguished career having risen from the ranks through his ability, courage, and good conduct. He served through the Boer War, having been besieged in Kimberley for four months, and was presented with the Kimberley Star. He was awarded the South African medals and the Distinguished Conduct medal for distinguished gallantry at Hartbeesfontein, leading the company in a charge when the officers were out of action, which gallant act probably saved the whole column. He received his commission in June, 1912.

He was killed in action on the 31st October, 1914, and the news of his death was conveyed in a letter written by Lieutenant-Colonel Carter, D.S.O., of his battalion, himself soon afterwards killed in action, who wrote : “We have lost officers and men, but the greatest loss to me personally is caused by poor Wilkinson’s death. He was the whitest man that ever breathed, with the heart of a lion. He fell lighting at the head of a number of men of various corps on the road near Ypres. He attempted to stem the on-flood of the German advance down the road — and apparently did so with the men he collected. It has been said he should be given the Victoria Cross. His duty did not lie with the battalion in the fighting line, but he was ever present where the fighting took place. The regimental Sergeant- Major of the 1st K.R.K.C. witnessed his last heroic action, and the words he used to me were, ‘ If ever a soldier earned a V.C. your Q.M. did the night of the 31st October, 1914.’ ”

Lieutenant Wilkinson was mentioned in Sir John French’s Despatch of the 14th January, 1915.

He was a great sportsman, a fine athlete, probably the best in the regiment for several years, and as a cyclist he had few equals. He was generous to a fault, a staunch friend, and beloved by everyone who had dealings with him.

Lieutenant Wilkinson married Eliza Harriet, daughter of William Parkhouse, of Parkham, and left three daughters : Irene Ethel, born November, 1907 ; Audrey Dora, born December, 1911 : and Edwina Mary, born after her gallant father’s death, in January, 1915.

EW Daughter Irene

Irene Ethel Newmark (nee Wilkinson)

Rank: Honorary Lieutenant & Quartermaster
Date of Death: 31/10/1914
Age: 43
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 1st Bn.
Awards: D.C.M, MiD, L.S.G.C.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of the author Tom Rowsell.

Paul McCormick
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