39162 Private James W. Wilkinson, 15th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 22 October 1917 and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.[1]  He was 40 years old and is commemorated on West Auckland War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, West Auckland Memorial Hall.

Family Details

James W, Wilkinson was born 1877[2] at West Auckland, the son of Isaac and Martha Wilkinson.[3]  There were at least 9 children:[4]

  • Martha bc.1869 at Middleton-in-Teesdale[5]
  • Emma bc.1871 at Middleton-in-Teesdale
  • Isaac bc.1873 at Middleton-in-Teesdale
  • John bc.1875 at West Auckland
  • James born 1877 at West Auckland
  • Richard bc.1881 at West Auckland
  • Rebecca bc.1884 at West Auckland
  • Margaret bc.1886 at West Auckland
  • Lottie bc.1892 at West Auckland [6]

In 1891, 49 year old Isaac from Newmarket, Cambridgeshire and 47 year old Martha from Thetford, Norfolk lived at Johnson Terrace, West Auckland.  Isaac worked as an engineman, 22 year old Martha was a dressmaker, 20 year old Emma was an assistant teacher and both 18 year old Isaac and 16 year old John were labourers.[7]  By 1901, 59 year old widower Isaac was employed as a “Gas Manager” and lived at the Gas House with 30 year old Emma an Assistant School Mistress, 26 year old John a green grocer (own account), 20 year old Richard, a butcher, 17 year old Rebecca, 15 year old Margaret a dressmakers’ apprentice and 9 year old Lottie.  James William Wilkinson married Isabella House in September 1900.[8]  In 1911, 33 year old James William lived with 31 year old Isabella at Front Street, West Auckland.  There was 1 child:

  • Annie born 1903 at West Auckland. [9]

James worked as a fruiterer (own account).[10]

Isabella lived at 30 Front Street, West Auckland[11] and at a later date 13 Post Office Square, West Auckland.[12]

Military Details

James William Wilkinson attested 17 November 1915 aged 38 years and 6 months.  It is confirmed that he was a fruiterer living at Front Street, West Auckland.  He was a Wesleyan Methodist. [13]  He undertook at medical examination at Durham 15 June 1916 when 39 years 1 month.  He was 5’5½” tall and weighed 137lbs. and considered fit for service.  It is recorded that he joined the 4th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry and was given the regimental number 39162. [14]

10 February 1917: Private J.W. Wilkinson entered France and was initially posted to 14/DLI then 3 March 1917 he was posted to 15/DLI.[15]  Private J.W. Wilkinson joined his battalion 4 March 1917 and admitted to the Field Ambulance 25 May 1917 with an illness.[16]  Private J.W. Wilkinson served with “C” Company, 15/DLI.[17]

The 15th (Service) Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was formed at Newcastle in September 1914 as part of K3, Kitchener’s New Army.  It came under the orders of the 64 Brigade, 21st Division[18] together with:

  • 9th, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI)
  • 10th, KOYLI
  • 14th, Durham Light Infantry (DLI)
  • 1st, East Yorkshire Regiment (EYR)
  • 64th Machine Gun Company (MGC) joined 4 March 1916
  • 64th Trench Mortar Battery (TMB) joined 16 June 1916

The Division landed in France at Boulogne 11 September 1915 and served with distinction on the Western Front seeing action at the Battle of Loos, 25 September 1915 and the Battle of the Somme (various phases).[19]  Private J.W. Wilkinson did not enter France March 1917 therefore did not see action at Loos or the Somme but served with 15/DLI during 1917 and id likely to have seen action at the following engagements and battles: [20]

The German retreat to the Hindenburg Line: 14 March-5 April

The Arras Offensive:

  • 1st Battle of the Scarpe: 9-14 April
  • 2nd Battle of the Scarpe: 23-24 April
  • Bullecourt: 3-17 May

The Third Battle of Ypres: 31 July – 10 November

The Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) – an overview [21]

The offensive had 8 distinctive phases:

  • Battle of Pilckem, 31 July to 2 August
  • Battle of Langemarck, 16 to 18 August
  • Battle of the Menin Road, 20 to 25 September
  • Battle of Polygon Wood, 26 September to 3 October
  • Battle of Broodseinde, 4 October
  • Battle of Poelcapelle, 9 October
  • First Battle of Passchendaele, 12 October
  • Second Battle of Passchendaele, 26 October to 10 November

Many Divisions visited the Ypres Salient during the Third Battle of Ypres and on more than one occasion.  A total of 54 Divisions were thrown into battle.  The offensive cost the British nearly 310,000 casualties, the Germans slightly less and it consumed all of the available reserves.

6 November 1917:  the village of Passchendaele was entered and the whole campaign ended a few days later when more of the ridge was taken.  It achieved none of its objectives although the Germans could no longer look down on the Ypres Salient which had been deepened by about 5 miles and they had been prevented from attacking the French when its army was in disarray following the failure of the Nivelle Offensive.

From the outset, it was obvious to the German Fourth Army that a new attack was being prepared and the previous year they had begun to strengthen their defences.  The British did not force home their initial advantage and it was not until 11 July that an air offensive began.

18 July:  a massive artillery bombardment commenced.

31 July:  the attack commenced when the British Fifth Army attacked north-east from the Ypres salient.  Initially, good progress was made but a strong counter-attack resulted in only a 2 mile advance.  Heavy rain fell on the first night flooding the swampy ground whose drainage system had been totally destroyed by the 10 day bombardment.  As a result the whole operation was held up but offensive actions still took place.

The 21st Division was involved at:

  • Polygon Wood: 26 September – 3 October
  • Broodseinde: 4 October

The Battle of Broodseinde:  The 21st Division was in the line east of Polygon Wood and 15/DLI was selected for the part of the assault.

2 October: battle stores taken at Ridge Wood.  The Brigade took over the line that night.  15/DLI led astray by guides.

3 October: dug in by 1.30am southeast of Glencourse Wood.  German artillery hit the area from the front line back to Hooge and 15/DLI suffered severe casualties that day so they were replaced by a KOYLI battalion.  15/DLI survivors were reorganised into 2 companies.

4 October: 6.00am wind and rain:  to the right was the Hooge-Reutel road; 300 yards ahead was Joist Farm; Polygonbeke stream then Reutel.  Joist Farm was taken after fierce fighting and the stream was crossed with the brigade suffering from enfilade fire from the right.  The 3 Yorkshire battalions tackled the German pill-boxes on the higher ground.  Second Lieutenant J. Sedgwick, 15/DLI leading A/B Company was sent up to Joist Farm and the company established themselves to the south of the farm along the north edge of Cameron Covert.  The East Yorkshires prolonged the line.  British guns broke up a counter-attack from the south east.  The Germans threw in another attack with great determination entering Cameron Covert in large numbers.  Second Lieutenant J. Sedgwick’s company held the enemy at bay.  By 9.00pm contact was made with the 5th Division on the right.  Colonel Falvey-Beyts came forward with the rest of 15/DLI and joined A/B Company. Private C.W. Sedgewick from Cockfield was killed in action 4 October 1917.[22]

5 October: an attack on the pill-boxes containing 3 German machine-guns was organised to take place but the Germans surrendered to Lieut. C.S. Herbert.  Hostile shelling continued all day and the Germans counter attacked again in the evening.  Colonel Falvey-Beyts was killed.  15/DLI was relieved during the night and reached dug-outs at Zillebeke on the morning of the 6 October.

The total losses to the battalion amounted to 20 officers and 410 men, including the third commanding officer of the 15/DLI to be killed or mortally wounded in action. [23]

Later research provides details that the following officer and other ranks serving with 15/DLI were killed in action or died of wounds:

  • 3 October: 7 other ranks
  • 4 October: 38 other ranks
  • 5 October Colonel J. Falvey-Beyts and 13 other ranks
  • 6-10 October: 7 other ranks

In total, between 3 and 10 October, 1 officer and 65 other ranks were killed in action or died of wounds. [24]  Private J.W. Wilkinson survived this ordeal.

11 October:  15/DLI was at Ypres.  5 days’ work and 1 day of rest followed.

20 October: 15/DLI was at Zillebeke Bund.

21 October:  15/DLI relieved 12/DLI.  The line ran roughly north east from the site of Reutel cemetery.  The German positions were difficult to locate.  Enemy shelling of the communication tracks leading to the front line and battery positions hardly ever ceased.  German aeroplanes were active during night time.

“The rains had converted most of the country into a morass and a man had to keep to the duckboards unless he was very lightly equipped.” [25]

15/DLI was relieved on the night of 22/23 October during heavy hostile shelling.

23 October:  The battalion went to support positions near Joist Farm and Clapham Junction.

Private J.W. Wilkinson was killed in action 22 October 1917.  Later research records that between 21 and 24 October 1917, 15/DLI lost 22 Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds, 18 on the 22nd. [26]

Private J.W. Wilkinson served a total of 1 year 340 days, 1 year 85 days at home and 255 days on the Western Front.[27]  He was awarded the British War and Victory medals.[28]


Private J.W. Wilkinson is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial located in the Tyne Cot Cemetery, some 9 kilometres north east of Ypres, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.  The Memorial to the Missing is one of 4 memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient which stretched from Langemarck in the north to Ploegsteert Wood in the south.  The Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing forms the north-eastern boundary of the Tyne Cot Cemetery and bears the names of almost 35,000 officers and men whose graves are unknown.  The memorial was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and was unveiled in July 1927. [29]


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.269 Auckland 1877 Q2 & England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.23 Auckland 1878 Q1 possible

[3] 1891 census, Note There was another James Wilkinson bc.1880 at West Auckland, son of Abraham & Sarah Wilkinson who also lived at Johnson Terrace, West Auckland

[4] 1891 & 1901 census

[5] Middleton-in-Teesdale from Chamberlain family tree

[6] Army Form W. records her as Lily

[7] 1891 census

[8] England & Wales Marriage Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.434 Auckland 1900 Q3 & Army Form Descriptive Report on Enlistment

[9] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.277 Auckland 1903 Q4 & 6 November 1903 on Army Form Description on Enlistment & Army Form W.

[10] 1911 census

[11] Effects Form 25 February 1918

[12] Army Form W.

[13] Army Form B.2512 Birth probably March/April 1877

[14] Army Form B.178

[15]Army Form B.103,  Statement of the Services & Military History Sheet

[16] Army Form B.103: much cannot be deciphered

[17] Army Form B.2090A

[18] www.1914-1918.net/dli & http://www.1914-1918.net/21div.htm

[19] http://www.warpath.orbat/battles_ff/1915.htm

[20] http://www.warpath.orbat/battled_ff/1917.htm

[21] Various sources including “In Flanders Fields” 1959 Leon Wolff, http://www.warpath.orbat/battled_ff/1917.htm

[22] CWGC

[23] “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-1918: The Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry” Captain Wilfrid Miles 1920 p.190-192

[24] Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War

[25] Miles p.196

[26] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[27] Military History Sheet

[28] Medal Roll

[29] CWGC


WILKINSON James William


Fruiterer c.1908