The Wilkinson Brothers

The Wilkinson Brothers

Mate (Engineer) Edgar Wilkinson
Royal Navy

TR/5/21638 Lance Corporal Wilfred Wilkinson
6th Training Reserve Battalion, 2nd Reserve Brigade

Holbeck Lodge (Leeds Library & Information Services)

The Wilkinson family originated in Rotherham, and all the twelve children in the family were born there. William Wilkinson was from Kimberworth, and spent his working life working as an inspector of the Permanent Way for various railway companies. Ann Wilkinson, née Badger came from Brinsworth. Of the twelve children born to the marriage, six died in infancy or childhood.

The family moved to Holbeck from Kimberworth in the 1890s, taking up residence in Holbeck Lodge, off Water Lane. Although the building is long since demolished, it was an important building in the industrial heritage of Leeds, being built for the engineer Matthew Murray, the first engineer to make practical use of steam power in locomotive engines. During the time the Wilkinson family was resident in the building, it was shared with another family.

Soon after the Great War began, the production of printed electoral rolls was suspended until the middle of 1918, so between 1915 to the summer of 1918, no registers of electors were printed, but it is during this hiatus that William and Ann Wilkinson moved to Badger Terrace, on Main Street in Scholes. William was still working on the Permanent Way, and it is likely that he had some responsibility for overseeing the teams that worked on the line that passed through Scholes.

At this point, neither of their sons whose names appear of the Scholes Roll of Service lived in Scholes, and their names appear, it seems, at the request of their parents.

Royal Dockyard, Chatham (no detail for security) (National Library of Scotland)

Wilfred Wilkinson was eldest surviving son of the family. He was born in Rotherham on 24th September 1884. His first job, after leaving school was as a telegraph messenger boy, delivering telegrams from the local office to recipients in the Holbeck area. Later, he would go to work as a grocer, possibly for Mr Thomas Dougill at 75 Sweet Street where, presumably he met Eva Dougill, Thomas’s daughter. The couple married in the Wesleyan Chapel on Czar Street on 22nd May 1910, and shortly thereafter, set up home at 120 York Road, in the Burmantofts area of Leeds, where they set up a confectionary business together.

Edgar Wilkinson was the youngest son of the family. He was born on 23rd May 1892, and three months after his 16th birthday, he joined the Royal Navy at Chatham to train as a Boy Artificer. At the time, the Royal Navy maintained three manning ports, Chatham, Devonport and Portsmouth, and between them, they carried out the training of new recruits, training for those pursuing trades in the Navy, and much of the administrative work needed to ensure the sailors’ careers were managed properly. The ports all had dockyard facilities where warships were built and brought in for repair, and there was accommodation and medical facilities for the personnel in the ports.

Royal Naval Barracks, Devonport

During the first two years of his service, Edgar Wilkinson lived aboard the hulk training ship HMS Tenedos. Naval tradition dictated that while afloat, boys under training went barefoot. On passing from Boy Service to Man Service, he was transferred to HMS Indus, the Artificer Training Vessel, also at Chatham. While serving on HMS Tenedos, Edgar Wilkinson’s training would concentrate on basic seamanship before moving on to raising the educational standards of the boys to a level whereby they would be able to tackle the technical training for the trade they would follow later, and this would include mathematics to a high standard to enable the boys to use the technical measuring instruments they would use in their working life looking after the engines on ships. They would also follow a programme of learning the skills they would need to inspect and repair the wide variety of machinery that they would have responsibility for at sea. As fitters and engineers on warships across the world, their captains would depend on them to be able to repair every mechanical problem they faced. After moving to HMS Indus, all the skills that the trainees had learnt would be put into practice and applied to the more realistic scenarios that could be created in the engine rooms of Indus. On the completion of his training, Edgar Wilkinson qualified as an Engine Room Artificer, 5th Class (ERA5), and was transferred to HMS Vivid, the Royal Naval Barracks at Devonport in July 1912 to await a posting to working ship of the line.

HMS Chatham

His first posting came in August 1912, when he was posted to HMS Berwick, a Monmouth Class Armoured Cruiser that worked out of the China Station, however, in March 1913, he was posted back to England, for a period ashore at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Barracks in Chatham while he waited for a posting to a new ship, HMS Chatham.

HMS Chatham was almost brand new, being completed in December 1912, and was serving in the 2nd Battle Squadron on the Grand Fleet in Home Waters but was earmarked for service in the Mediterranean with 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron. Edgar Wilkinson would remain with this ship until February 1916.

When the Great War broke out, HMS Chatham was patrolling the Mediterranean near the southern tip of Italy, and was tasked to search for SMS Goeben and SMS Breslau, thought to be in the Straits of Messina, between the toe of Italy and Sicily. Despite their work, the two German ships were able to evade the British Mediterranean Fleet and seek sanctuary with their Turkish Allies. HMS Chatham was then sent to patrol the Red Sea, until in September 1914, the ship was ordered south to Zanzibar to hunt for SMS Königsburg along the East African coast. HMS Chatham arrived in Zanzibar on 28th September 1914, but in unfamiliar waters, and without proper charts, the ship ran aground on 1st October, and though the damage was slight, HMS Chatham had to withdraw to Mombasa to undergo repairs.

SMS Königsburg on the River Rufiji

With repairs complete, HMS Chatham resumed the hunt for SMS Königsburg, and on 19th October, a tender ship of the Königsburg, SMS Präsident was sighted upriver from the coastal town of Lindi, in German East Africa (now Tanzania). The Germans claimed that SMS Präsident was a hospital ship, but the ship was neither ‘dressed’ in the livery of a hospital ship, nor was it fitted out as one. Further, there had been no previous notification that the ship was operating as a hospital ship. The Royal Navy captured the ship and claimed prize rewards on it. Documents captured aboard the ship showed that it had been used as a supply ship for SMS Königsburg. When the ship was inspected, the engines were found to be broken down, and in an operation that would be highly likely to have personally involved the recently promoted ERA4 Edgar Wilkinson, the engines were permanently disabled. Following the capture of SMS Präsident, HMS Chatham was ordered to rejoin the hunt for SMS Königsburg.

HMS Chatham was successful in locating Königsburg, and a supply ship named Somali on the Rufiji River on 30th October, but owing to shallow water in the river delta, HMS Chatham was unable to close in on them. HMS Chatham opened fire on the Somali on 7th November, scoring a hit with a single shell which started a fire that would spread and destroy the ship. A few days later, with the Königsburg staying in the relatively safe shallow waters of the river, the British scuttled an old collier, the Newbridge, in the main channel of the river delta to prevent the German ships escaping to the open sea. HMS Chatham resumed patrols along the East African Coast but was ordered back to the Mediterranean in early January 1915.

Admiral Weymss

From May 1915, HMS Chatham was tasked to support the Gallipoli Campaign, and in July, provided naval fire support to the attack at Achi Baba Nullah by troops of the British 52nd Division. Although the attacks began with promise, with the Turkish front-line trenches being captured, the attack quickly descended into chaos and panic as the troops advanced too far, breaking communications, and becoming isolated and disorganised. Major General Egerton, the commander of 52nd Division was suspended from command after protesting about the treatment of his troops by his commanders.

During August, the ship provided fire support for the landings at Suvla Bay, during which time, Rear Admiral John de Robeck used HMS Chatham as his Flagship. HMS Chatham returned to the Gallipoli Peninsula in December 1915 to act as Flagship for Admiral Weymss during the evacuation of troops from Suvla Bay and ANZAC Cove following the decision to abandon the campaign and evacuate the peninsula.

In the New Year of 1916, HMS Chatham was recalled to Home Waters to become a part of the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet, and on 25th February 1916, Edgar Wilkinson, now promoted to ERA3, left HMS Chatham to spend three months ashore at HMS Pembroke, before joining HMS Actaeon, an accommodation and storage hulk at the Torpedo School at Sheerness in Kent, on 18th May 1916. Although HMS Actaeon was not a sea-going vessel, it appears that officers and ratings on its strength may have been loaned out to ships on patrol at sea. On 13th January 1917, a letter was published in the Rothwell Courier and Times from Edgar Wilkinson thanking the people of Scholes for a gift parcel of comforts that had been sent out to him from the committee that had been raised in the parish to send gifts to those serving away from home.

“What a surprise and a pleasure awaited me today on arriving in Harbour after a Christmas at sea to find a parcel from you. I feel I must write and thank you for your kindness and let you know how much I appreciate the fact that you should so kindly remember one who is almost stranger to you. It is very hard to be away from home at Christmas time, but it takes a lot from the pain to know that those at home remember us, whose lot it is to be away from happiness and comfort, and I do hope you will tender my sincere thanks to all concerned. May the New Year hold happiness and prosperity for all, and bring the safe return of all the absent ones is the sincere wish of E.W.”

RN Hospital Great Yarmouth (George Plunkett)

On 6th May 1917, Edgar Wilkinson left HMS Actaeon when he was commissioned as an Acting Mate (Engineering), Mate being a rank equivalent to that of a Sub-Lieutenant, but peculiar to craft trades of the Royal Navy at the time. Before he up a commission it was noted that was qualified to take charge of the engines on a small ship and was recommended for advancement to Chief ERA after his posting to HMS Actaeon.

His name was published in the Navy List shortly after his commission but does not appear again on the active list of serving officers. Almost exactly a year after Edgar Wilkinson commissioned, an entry on his service records describes how he was transferred from the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar to Royal Naval Hospital Great Yarmouth ‘as a dangerous lunatic’. The absence of his name in the Navy List in subsequent volumes to that in which he did appear suggest that he had been removed from the Active list of officers soon after he was commissioned, and this, in turn, suggests that he had become mentally ill quite soon after he commissioned as an officer.

Royal Naval Hospital Haslar was in Portsmouth and served as a general hospital. As such, it would have had only limited facilities for the treatment and accommodation of those who were suffering from metal illnesses. Royal Naval Hospital Great Yarmouth had served as a ‘lunatic asylum’ continually since the middle of the 19th century and was much better equipped and staffed as a specialist facility than Haslar was.

It isn’t known how long Edgar Wilkinson spent in the hospital at Great Yarmouth, but he appears for the first time on the electoral roll for Scholes in the spring of 1920, as a resident, and presumably, discharged from the Royal Navy. Prior to this, he was neither listed as resident or as an absentee voter. He also appeared, for the first time, on the list of pensioned officers.

The Silver War Badge

Wilfred Wilkinson enlisted into the Army on 11th December 1915 under the Group System, often referred to as the Derby Scheme after its creator, the Director General of Recruiting, Lord Derby. Recruits who enlisted under the Group system were able to either enlist and begin their service immediately, or they could choose to defer their service until the army called them up. Wilfred Wilkinson was, by this time, working as a commercial traveller, and he and Eva were living at 113 Stratford Street of Dewsbury Road in south Leeds.

Very little remains to describe his service history, but when he was discharged from the army on 11th July 1917 due to sickness, the unit he was discharged from was the 6th Young Soldier Battalion of the Training Reserve. This battalion had been re-designated as such in May 1917 from 6th Training Reserve Battalion in 2nd Reserve Brigade, based at Rugeley in Staffordshire.

The 6th Training Reserve Battalion had been formed out of the 13th Battalion the West Yorkshire Regiment on 1st September 1916, which had been a Reserve Battalion since April 1915.

The role of this type of battalion was to receive recruits after the responsibility for recruit training was removed from the regimental depots due to the numbers of recruits the army was putting into training. Each of the Training Reserve Battalions would have a small permanent staff which was responsible for the administration of the battalion, the issuing of kit and uniforms, and the training of the recruits.

Wilfred Wilkinson spent a little under a year with 6th Training Reserve Battalion before he was discharged and returned home to Eva. The couple later moved to Cambrian Terrace in Holbeck, before moving to Cross Flatts Row. Their son, Wilfred, was born in 1921.

Scholes Railway Station

Wilfred Wilkinson died in Mountfields Nursing Home at 77 Clarendon Road on 16th April 1932 at the age of 47 years. He is buried in Beeston Cemetery. Eva Wilkinson Died in Nottingham in January 1969, but was buried in Beeston Cemetery, although in a separate grave.

Following Edgar Wilkinson’s recovery and release from the Royal Navy, he moved into Badger Terrace with his parents. He was able to continue as an engineer, and in 1924, he moved away from Scholes to become an engineering company director in London. Returning in 1929, he married Jane Eyre Smith in Sandal Magna. Despite the wedding taking place in Wakefield, Jane Smith was originally from Laverack Cottages on Long Lane between Barwick and Garforth. In London, the couple lived at 45 Abbey Road, Enfield.

In February 1933, Edgar Wilkinson was in Barwick, visiting his brother in law, Leighton Smith and his family. Due to catch the train to Leeds at Scholes Station, he arrived at the station to see a train at the platform. Mistaking that train for the one he was due to catch, he ran to board the train, and succeeded in getting into a compartment just as the train began to move off. When the train terminated at Marsh Lane Station, a railway employee who was checking the train found Edgar Wilkinson dead in his compartment. At an inquest the following day, after taking medical evidence, which stated Edgar Wilkinson had died from heart failure, and hearing from witnesses, a verdict of ‘Death from Natural Causes’ was returned. He was 40 years old. He was buried in Barwick on 3rd March 1933.

Following the death of her husband, Jane Wilkinson decided to move back home with her family, and lived with her father at ‘Sandal’, 12 Leeds Road in Barwick. Jane Wilkinson lived on Leeds Road for the rest of her life, until she died on 4th February 1980.