Mike Wilson’s wartime memories

Picture supplied by Mike Wilson
Picture supplied by Mike Wilson

Last week, we called for you to share with us your family memories passed down by those involved in the First World War.

Bridlington author and historian Mike Wilson sent us the story of his grandfather Jack Wilson...

I came to know much more of my own life when I fully understood what the cenotaph at Bridlington meant.

My grandfather, Private John William (Jack) Wilson, No. 2370, 5th Battalion, Princess of Wales’ Own Yorkshire Regiment, was one of millions who died on the battlefields of the Great War.

He left Bridlington on 18th April, 1915, and was killed at St Julien, near Ypres, in Belgium, on Sunday, 25th April, 1915.

He is commemorated at Menin Gate in Ypres, along with 54,388 others who have no known grave and who died between the start of the war and 16th August, 1917.

Those with no known grave who died after that date are remembered at Thiepval.

Jack’s widow, my grandmother, was left with five children, including my father at two-years-old. She remarried Otto Kirby, but John William’s photograph hung on Grandma’s wall until her death, and my mother’s wall until she died. John William served but a few days at the front.

I have seen the field in which he probably died.

There was grass - and mud. It was difficult to visualise murderous fighting at that place, as it was so calm and peaceful in 2000 on my first visit. My grandfather was one of six others from Bridlington who died on 25th April, 1915, the worst day for Bridlington in the war.

In 2011, Chris Bonnett’s research about the men on Bridlington’s cenotaph was published in The Great War Heroes of Bridlington, and in 2012 the letters from Second Lieutenant Topham Becher Dabridgecourt Hough were published as Nothing More To Say. I am privileged to be connected to both ventures.

Now that it is a hundred years since these terrible events, I think that there should be no military flags and uniforms at Remembrance Day, and certainly no clerics.

The men and women who are remembered were ordinary people sent to carry out a terrible task. Our families paid the price, not regiments and battalions or Christian soldiers.

Those who died in that war were just people, just like my grandfather, and may be yours too.

Think of them, not as


Think of them, but

not at war,

Remember them as

fathers, brothers, sons,

And their loss aches

even more.

Think of them, but not in uniform

ranked and filed, the same.

Remember them as

loved ones

alive in memory’s flame.

Think of them, not as


Think of them, but not their pain,

Remember each and every one of them

At the Cenotaph

once again.

This is my poem about that day. It includes the names of all the other men who lost their lives with my grandfather.

St Julien, 25th April, 1915

We clambered on to the buses only a day ago,

full of derring-do and bravado.

It seemed the right way to be.

We’d discussed it when we were supping ale at the Queen’s Head.

Friends as kids, now we were men, ready to answer the call.

George Denny got his first thing.

He was only sixteen, and his last gasp was for his Mam.

Joe Elliott went down next,

A hawk-eyed Jerry sniper caught a glimpse.


Then a shell caught Charlie Fowler and that was him gone too.

As for Arthur Fewster,

well, he was still smiling when the shrapnel hit him.

David Denby had just climbed over the top.

One second he was there,

the next . . .?

Another wasted life.

“We need a stretcher

bearer,” Purvis shouted.Tommy Barnett


He shrugged his shoulders, grinned, and said: “I’ll do it.”

And then he was gone.

For ever.

There’s only me left of the Burlington Rifles:

2370 Private John

William Wilson.

I’d just reached their wire when I copped mine . . .

I’m just resting here.

Where my legs were hurts, the trees are blurred

and red,

And all I hear are cannons, screams, and skittering rats.

Why didn’t they tell us they just sent us to die? Why?