Born in 1889 at Lees near Oldham, son of William Thomas (Cotton Carder) and Sarah Anne Wilkinson. 1891: With his family at 568 Lees Road, Clarksfield, Oldham. 1901: A Scholar with his family at 1 Clarksfield Street, Clarksfield, Oldham. 1911: A Grocers Manager with living with his parents and siblings at 316 Oldham Road, Rochdale. In all his parents had 9 children, and most secured employment within the cotton industry. He was a resident of Bredbury Cheshire when he enlisted in Stockport, and was allocated to 1/6 Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment, part of 118 Brigade, 39 Division.
By 02.00 on 20th September 1917, 6 Cheshire occupied assembly positions to the south east of Ypres at Shrewsbury Forest in preparation for the Battle of Menin Road Ridge. Designated as Divisional reserve troops, two companies were in a forward position supporting a battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. One of the reserve companies advanced at 07.40am to support the KRRC, followed soon after by the other which reinforced the left flank.
Later in the day, one of those two forward companies was ordered into an attack on a German strongpoint near Basseville Beek. The Official History of the Cheshires describes them as advancing "with great gallantry" under machine gun fire, capturing their objective at 19.10, and holding it all night. In the morning, they found that the troops on the flanks had failed to advance sufficiently. Although initially retaining control of the captured German fortification, they came under sustained fire from both sides leaving them no option but to retire to the Divisional line. William Wilkinson was among those Killed in Action during 20th September 1917 and not recovered.
The electoral roll for 1918 reveals that his parents William Thomas and Sarah Anne were living at 2 Hill View Villas, Lower George Lane, South Woodford. His brother Frank was also resident there, but away with the Forces. This would account for William’s casualty notifications being sent to “S. Woodford”, and the presence of his name on the memorials of two local churches. Contemporary newspaper reports gave an address for him of 475 Lees Road, Oldham, and his name also appears on the war memorial in that town.
What brought his parents and brother from the cotton industry of Lancashire to a terrace house in south west Essex is not recorded. Equally because he lived in Bredbury on enlistment it is unclear whether William Wilkinson ever visited South Woodford, or the churches in which he is commemorated.
Research by Adrian Lee, Local Historian
British Newspaper Archive
1918 Electoral Roll