Lieutenant Charles Leslie WILKINSON


Regiment/Service:
Sherwood Foresters
(Notts and Derby Regiment)
Unit:
"D" Company 6th Battalion
Attached: 2nd/5th Battalion
Service Number:
n/a
Date of Death:
21 March 1918 - Killed in Action
Age:
20
Cemetery / Memorial:
Memorial Reference:
Bay 7


Personal History:

Charles was born on 22nd June 1897 at "Underwood", Manchester Road, Buxton, the son of Charles Edward (M.D. Spinning Works) and Minnie Alice (née Scott) Wilkinson (married December quarter 1895). However, the 1901 Census (RG 13/3270) shows his mother's name as Mary, aged 40. This is undoubtedly an error as in 1911 (RG 14/21236) Charles Edward and Minnie Alice are shown living "Ardean", Marlborough Road, Buxton. After the war they moved to "Sunnyside", Buxton. (CWGC Record) Charles Leslie would seem to have been their only child.
Between 1911 and 1914 Charles Leslie was boarded at Trevelyan House, Haileybury School, Hertford. Probate Records show that on his death Charles left £312 17s 7d [£312.87], to his Father Charles Edward Wilkinson, a relative value today [2014] of £15,300.00.

Military History:
Charles was Gazetted 2nd Lieutenant on 8th September 1915 (London Gazette 7th September 1915

Whilst originally enlisted to the 6th Battalion, Charles' Medal Index Card only listed service with the 2/5th. It is likely that he had enlisted in the 2/6th which had been formed at Chesterfield on 14th September 1914 as a second line unit and on 2nd November moved to Buxton, with the Battalion HQ occupying the Empire Hotel. In January 1915 it moved to Luton and placed under command of 2nd Notts. & Derby Brigade in the 2nd North Midland Division. In August 1915 the Division became the 176th Brigade, 59th (2nd North Midland) Division and moved to Watford after a few weeks at Dunstable.

They moved to Ireland in April 1916 to quell disturbances, before returning to Fovant on 12th January 1917 and finally landing at Boulogne 25th February 1917. It is most likely that at some time before this Charles had been attached to the 2/5th Battalion, whose movements mirrored the 2/6th, though landed at Le Havre on 26th February 1917. According to his Medal Index Card Charles entered France as a Lieutenant on 26th October 1917 and was killed in action 5 months later.

On 21st March 1918 the village of Bullecourt was defended by the 59th Division, but the Germans broke through and the village remained in German hands until September 1918. On the morning of March 21st the 59th Division, including the 2/5th (and 2/6th) Sherwoods, held a position on the right flank of the front line round Bullecourt.

According to "The Green Triangle" (page 148) the Germans attacked at 4.30 a.m. with a heavy bombardment of gas shells. The Companies put on their gas masks and moved to their allotted positions - 'B' Coy. right front (Noreuil Switch); 'A' Coy. left front (Sidney Avenue); 'D' Coy. in reserve and 'C' Coy. in support.

About 5.00 a.m. the bombardment intensified and switched to High Explosive shells and 'A' and 'B' Companies suffered many casualties from the weight and intensity of the barrage which lasted about 4 hours. During this time various messages were sent from HQ to ascertain the state of the Battle but by 1.00 p.m. the enemy had taken the Noreuil-Longatte Road and were in the village of Noreuil. A short time later it became apparent that the Battalion had been overwhelmed.

Martin Middlebrook (see 'Sources' below) gives the number of men escaping to the rear as 4! However, the battalion suffered the 5th highest British loss of KIA during the day of 109 men. The following is an account of the Battle from the British Official History:

"In the Battle Zone, where the fog had completely lifted, an attack on the defences covering Noreuil, held by the 2/5th Sherwood Foresters and an R.E. [Royal Engineers] detachment, began as early as 10.40 am, being preceded by a heavy barrage. Met by fire from the defences and the covering batteries, the enemy ceased his frontal attack to wait for the effects of the advance around both flanks of the position, that in the Hirondelle valley being already perceptible. To meet these turning movements, the right flank of the defence was thrown back, whilst, on the left, a line was manned along the road from Noreuil towards Longatte. The movement up the Hirondelle valley gained ground so rapidly, however, that the right flank of this position was soon driven in, Noreuil was captured, and the men still holding trenches in front of it were cut off.

At noon, the 2/5th Sherwood Foresters, reduced to 150 men, was still clinging on near the south-west corner of Noreuil, with its right flank thrown back fronting the Hirondelle valley, and its left flank on the Longatte road, facing north-east. It was well supported by batteries of 295th Brigade RFA, which however found difficulty in selecting targets, as British and German parties kept appearing alternately only some 300-400 yards apart. At this time the German infantry, although its detachments constantly advertised their position by means of white Very lights, had not effective help from the artillery, which put down a barrage on the western edge of Noreuil, some thousand yards in rear of the advanced troops. About 12.30 pm a message reached the Sherwood Foresters, stating that supports were being moved up to a trench 500 yards behind Noreuil, and a runner arriving from the rear at that moment reported that he had seen men in the trench. Lieut-Colonel HR Gadd thereupon decided to fall back on this support. It was just too late, the greater part of the survivors were surrounded from the north and cut off. Some held out until 3 pm but only a few managed to join the supporting force which had moved forward from behind Vraucourt about noon."

The Battalion War Diary was lost during the Battle, but has been partially reconstructed and can be read using the link below. The C.O. Lieutenant Colonel H R Gadd, M.C., was recorded in the figures as missing, but was taken prisoner. His second-in-command, Major C. R. C. TRENCH, distinguished himself during the Battle and was Mentioned in Despatches. He was, however, killed in action on the same day as Charles. On his repatriation, Colonel Gadd wrote to General Stansfield, giving his account of the Battle - also below.


                                     

                                     

According to the CWGC Records, Charles was one of 105 Officers and men to be killed on the 21st March 1918. Only 6 have a known grave, the rest, like Charles are commemorated in Bay 7 of the Arras Memorial. [The 2/6th Battalion lost 126 men and the 2/7th a further 150.]


Footnotes:
· Pt 5847 John Marsden ROBINSON - 5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters, and Pt 268202 Alfred WARDLE - 2nd/5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters,
  both Buxton men, were killed in in the same action on 21 March 1918.

Sources:
· 'The Buxton Advertiser'
· The Haileybury Register 1862-1994
· "Men of the High Peak - A History of the 1/6th Battalion The Sherwood Foresters, 1914 - 18" - Capt. W D Jamieson (ISBN 0952964864)
· "The Kaiser's Battle" - Martin Middlebrook (ISBN-10: 184415498X)
· "The Green Triangle: Being the History of the 2/5th Battalion the Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment) in the Great European War, 1914-1918" by W.G. Hall (ISBN-10: 1847349773 Paperback - 8 Jul 2009)
· I am grateful to Sue Light for the transcripts from the War Diary and Col. Gadd's letter.
· I am grateful to Chris (Johnno) for the photo of the name on the Arras Memorial


Link to CWGC Record
The Arras Memorial
Lt. Wilkinson's name on the Arras Memorial
poppy
War Diary extract and notes
Letter from Lt. Col Gadd to Brigadier Gen. T. W. Stansfield