Private Wilfred MITCHELL


Regiment/Service:
Sherwood Foresters
(Notts and Derby Regiment)
Unit:
12th (Pioneer) Battalion
Service Number:
69037
Date of Death:
25 June 1917 - Died of wounds
Age:
30
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Reference:
Sp. Mem. E. 21.


Personal History:

Wilfred was born on the 20th February 1887 in Greetland, Yorks and was living there when he enlisted with the Sherwood Foresters. He was the son of William Henry (Cloth Finisher) and Martha Ann (née Jagger) Mitchell and had three older brothers, Joe W., Herbert and Arthur, and in 1891 (Census RG 132/3596) was living at The Crescent, Elland-by-Greetland, Yorkshire.
In 1901 (Census RG 13/4128) the family were still at the same address and unchanged. By 1911 (Census RG 14/26413) the family had moved to 23 Haigh Street, Greetland and Wilfred was employed as a "Printer". A few months later, in the December quarter 1911, Wildred married Florence Louisa Carter and after Wilfred's death she returned to live at 21 Crescent, Greetland, Halifax, Yorks.

In reporting his death in 1917, 'The Buxton Advertiser' reported that he had joined the staff of that newspaper and "The High Peak Times" "about 7 years ago", as ".. a member of the Linotype staff." He had ".. proved a dedicated acquisition, being a reliable and painstaking craftsman". "Wilfred was an ardent sportsman, a regular attender on the Buxton Cricket Ground; a member of the Conservative Club, and a billiard player of no mean order. We mourn his loss and extend heartfelt sympathy to his young widow and relatives."

Military History:
Wilfred enlisted in the Sherwood Foresters at Buxton and his service records do not appear to have survived. His Medal Index Card does not show when he entered the war with the Battalion which usually suggests after 1915, as he was not eligible for the 1914-15 Star medal. 'The Buxton Advertiser' (14th July 1917) said that Wilfred ".. answered the call to arms under the 'Derby Scheme' and was called  up 1st June 1916." [See Footnote below.] 

The Battalion was originally formed on 1st October 1914 at Derby. It formed as part of K3 (Kitchener's Third New Army) and attached as Army Troops to 24th Division as a Pioneer unit, then moved to Shoreham. In April 1915 it converted into Pioneer Battalion for same Division and on 29th August 1915 landed in France. Clearly, then Wilfred was a replacement later in 1916, early 1917.

The 'famous' Wipers Times was also a 12th Battalion publication. The Wipers Times was a trench magazine that was published by soldiers fighting on the front lines of the First World War. In early 1916, the 12th Battalion was stationed in the front line at Ypres, Belgium and came across a printing press abandoned by a Belgian who had, in the words of the editor, "stood not on the order of his going, but gone." A sergeant who had been a printer in peacetime salvaged it and printed a sample page. The paper itself was named after Tommy slang for Ypres itself.

In 1917 the 24th Division were in action at The Battle of Messines (7th - 14th June), a phase of the Arras offensive. But the 12th (Pioneer) Battalion suffered its highest casualties of the war between 19th and 30th June 1917 (so far in the war) whilst working in the Messines area. The Battalion was under heavy shellfire for the whole period whilst working on a light railway and communications trenches.

In that period the Regimental History recorded 1 Officer and 56 other ranks wounded, and 1 Officer and 14 men killed in action. [The CWGC has 18 of the Battalion losing their life in the period 15th - 30th June - but would include those like William to have 'died of wounds'. One other, Pt. Charles William Dwight, is buried with Wilfred in Railway Dugouts Cemetery; 14 of the others have no known grave and are commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial.]

'The Buxton Advertiser' (14th July 1917) reported that "Sgt G. Elliott, of The Sherwood Foresters, [see Footnote below] had written to Mrs Mitchell giving particulars and stating that the men of his platoon would miss him sadly as he was always a good cheerful soldier. His Platoon Commander would have written but he got wounded the following night." It went on to say that Wilfred was buried by his comrades "... and the place marked by a cross, as befitted a man who died doing his duty."

Railway Dugouts Cemetery, where Wilfred is buried, is found to the West of Zillebeke village, where the railway runs on an embankment overlooking a small farmstead, which was known to the troops as Transport Farm. The site of the cemetery was screened by slightly rising ground to the east, and burials began there in April 1915. They continued until the Armistice, especially in 1916 and 1917, when Advanced Dressing Stations were placed in the dugouts and the farm. No doubt it was in one of these Stations that Wilfred died of the wounds he received in action.

Footnotes:
· The Derby Scheme: "Growing battlefront demand however soon outstripped volunteer numbers and in May 1915 Prime Minister Herbert Asquith appointed Lord Edward Derby - himself an opponent of conscription - as Director-General of Recruitment, tasked with rapidly boosting Britain's volunteer army.
Derby's solution was the so-called 'Derby Scheme'.  This encouraged men to voluntarily register their name on the principle that once registered they would be called up for service only when necessary.  As an added incentive married men were advised that they would only be called up once the supply of single men was exhausted.
Announced in a fanfare of publicity the scheme proved unsuccessful however, and was abandoned in December the same year.  Excluding men exempted from military service on account of their occupation (e.g. munitions workers) just 350,000 men had volunteered under the Derby Scheme." [Quote taken from: "Firstworldwar.com" ]

· Sgt. 14930 G. Elliott (12th Battalion) was awarded the D.C.M. [London Gazette, 3 January 1919]. His citation read:
   "For consistent good work, gallantry and devotion to duty for a period of over three years, during which he has shown conspicuous ability.
    His gallantry at all time under fire has had a marked influence on his men."


Sources:
· The Buxton Advertiser, 14 July 1917
· I am grateful to 'British War Graves' for the photo of Wilfred's grave
· I am grateful to Martin McNeela for the notes from "12th (Pioneer) Battalion Sherwood Foresters 1914-18"  by C Housley and J Leivars
   (ISBN-10: 0952964880)
· .... and also to Steve Morse (via the Great War Forum) for the extract from the Battalion History


Link to CWGC Record
Pt Wilfred Mitchell's grave
Pt Wilfred Mitchell
poppy