Served with Southend Borough Constabulary from March 10, 1915 and died on September 20, 1917.
Alfred Wilson was born in 1890 at Billinghurst, Sussex. One of a large family, he was about six feet two inches tall and well built. On leaving school, Alfred joined the Merchant Navy serving as a steward on the Oceanic and the Lusitania which was tragically sunk, some years later, following German action on 7th May 7, 1915, with the loss of 1,198 lives.
During his visits home, between trips, he met a young nurse who worked at the nearby Hospital. Nellie came from Hanningfield, Essex and when they were married he took the opportunity to leave the Merchant Service and applied to join Southend Police. He was attested as Constable 83 on the March 10, 1915. At this time Alfred and Nellie had one child Wilfred George who had been born on October 26, 1913, and Nellie was pregnant with Emrys Lewellyn who was born in October 1915. They lived in Brighten Road Southend.
Just nine months after joining the Police, in December 1915, Alfred volunteered to enlist with the 16th Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own) - raised by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee of the London Borough of St. Pancras. The 16th Rifle Brigade formed part of the 117th Brigade in the 39th Division – part of Kitchener’s Volunteer Army. His good friend Constable 97 George Shipgood also enlisted about the same time.
Following initial training in Aldershot, Alfred moved to northern France with the 39th Division at the end of February 1916, they were based in the vicinity of Blaringhem (north east of Bethune). During the next few months they gained experience in trench warfare where the battalion took its turn in the line and was active on numerous raids and patrols.
In August 1916, the 39th Division were moved south from the Bethune area to provide support to the major offensive that had commenced on the Somme on July 1, 1916. They were deployed in a line west of Theipval and a Divisional attack was ordered on September 3, north west of the River Ancre. Operations around this part of the Somme had been suspended after the initial action in July. Like the earlier attacks this autumn attack failed and severe casualties were incurred.
The 39th Division remained in the Somme area until the offensive ended on November 18, 1916. They were engaged in a number of important and successful actions. The Battle of Thiepval Ridge, September 26 to 28, was followed by the capture of two of the enemy’s heaviest defended positions – the Schwaben Redoubt on October 14, and Stuff Trench on October 21. The Division advanced northwards on November 13, from the Schwaben Redoubt towards St Pierre Divion and the German Hansa Line, which ran from the Theipval Ridge to the river near Beaucourt. In appalling conditions all the objectives were taken including some 1000yards of the Hansa Line.
During their two and a half months on the Somme the 39th Division suffered 50% casualties amongst officers and 66% of other ranks.
The division was withdrawn from the line at the end of November 1916, and did not take part in any major action until July 31, 1917, when it fought as part of the XV111 Corps in the Third Battle of Ypres – Passchendale. Initial action was seen at Pilckem Ridge from July 31 to August 2 in the first engagement of the offensive. The division were then deployed in the Ypres area seeing action at Langemark on August 16,17 and18 and along the Menin Road between September 20 and 25.
Ypres and the surrounding area was the scene of four major battles over a period of three years during which time hundreds of thousands of men had their lives terminated or ruined for the sake of a few square miles of battered mud and broken trees. No wonder then that a Scots soldier remarked on the appropriateness of the name of the town of Ypres which is also the Gaelic for Sacrifice. It was here on September 20, 1917, close to the Menin Road, that Lance Sergeant S/14598 Alfred Wilson gave his life. He was twenty-seven years old.
The War Diary of the 16th Rifle Brigade records
19 09 17
Bn., in front line system ‘Battle Wood’ prior to attack.
20 09 17
Attack made by 39th Division on area to west of Bulgar wood.
05.45 assembly complete.
06.00 Barrage commenced and Bn. Moved forward and immediately came under machine gun fire. Good progress made but then Germans retaliated using snipers. Incendiary bullets used which set clothing of several men on fire. Flames Extinguished by rolling men who were hit in the mud. Approx 58 prisoners taken from Bulgar wood and a number of others killed. All objectives achieved.
21 09 17
Enemy retaliated with heavy artillery fire which became intense between 2pm and 7pm. Bn. Relieved by 1/6th Cheshire Regt. And went back to original battlefront.
Casualties 2 officers killed 11 injured. 27 other ranks killed 159 injured.
The Chief Constable of Southend was notified of the death of Alfred Wilson and duly informed the Watch Committee at their meeting on November 29, 1917. It was agreed that ‘the force should continue to pay his war service allowance to the officers widow until the end of the year’.
Nellie Wilson was informed of the death of her husband by the Military Authorities; she also received letters from some of his soldier colleagues who wrote many tributes in praise of him. One soldier who had been present when he was killed wrote ‘He stopped and sat at the side of the road on an oil drum. There was a loud explosion and I turned round and he was gone.’
Alfred’s body was never recovered and like many others his remains probably lie in the countryside around Bulgar Wood; now a peaceful and appropriate resting place.
Alfred Wilson is one of the 34,888 commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at Tyne Cott British Cemetery, Zonnebeke, Belguim.
Nellie Wilson, a hard-working woman all her life, faced a number of difficulties when Alfred volunteered for army service. With two infant children she arranged for her parents, who still lived in the countryside at Hanningfield, to look after young Wilfred and he remained with them till he was about eight years old. Wilfred can recall seeing his father, ‘a tall man in soldier’s uniform riding a bike’, who cycled from Southend to see him at Hanningfield in the summer of 1917. His father made him a wooden cart that Wilfred promptly climbed into and rode down the hill near his grand- parents home. It was the last time he saw his father who died some two months later.
With the loss of the family income following her husband’s death and just a widow’s pension from the Army, Nellie could not afford her accommodation in Southend and was obliged to find work to support her two children. She went into service in the Chelmsford area and managed to raise her two boys. When he was about eight, Wilfred moved to Chelmsford to live with her and his brother Emrys. Nellie never married again and continued to work hard for most of her life. Eventually after her hard struggle, with the change in the Police Pension Regulations in 1956, she was awarded a police pension but of course it was not backdated. She died whilst still living in Chelmsford at the age of ninety-seven.
At seventeen years of age, then a tall well-built young man, Wilfred lied about his age and joined the Grenadier Guards, serving with them for three years.
On leaving the Guards he successfully applied to join the City of London Police but at a final interview was dismissed for having made a fraudulent declaration to join the Army whilst underage. Southend Police were a little more understanding and, in 1934, welcomed the six feet four inches upright Guardsman who became Constable 163. Following the outset of World War 2 in 1939, ‘Tug’ Wilson re-enlisted serving with the 8th Battalion Grenadier Guards in the Western Desert where he was seriously injured in the leg.
At the end of the War he returned to Southend but was concerned that he may not be accepted back with the Police because of his injury. Taking the bull by the horns he went to see the Police Surgeon and confided in him. The wise Police Surgeon told Tug to walk across the room and said ‘You look alright to me’ and then confirmed he was fit for duty. Tug completed thirty years service to the people of Southend in 1964 and retired in the rank of Sergeant. Tug died on August 19, 2005, just two months after the death of his wife, Beatrice.
Police Sergeant Wilfred G Wilson
Like father – like son.
Asleep they lie – son – husband - father – lover,
At home in France, or further overseas.
The earth enfolds them, and the grasses cover,
Who live in proud and loving memories.
One by the Menin Road, maybe is lying,
One where the Somme’s bird-haunted rushes wave,
O’er one the un-cooled desert wind is sighing,
One has the deep sea for his silent grave.
F W D Bendall