WILKINSON John “Jack” William 1900-1918


51054 Private John William Wilkinson MM, 11th Battalion, The East Yorkshire Regiment died 8 September 1918, aged 18.  He is buried at Pont-D’Achelles Military Cemetery, Nieppe, France[1] and commemorated on the Witton Park war memorials

Family Details

John William Wilkinson (Jack) was born 1900 [2] at Spennymoor, the son of Samuel and Ann Wilkinson.  There were 5 children:[3]

  • Fred bc.1890 at Crook
  • Kate bc.1892 at Spennymoor
  • Mary Elizabeth bc.1895 at Byers Green
  • Sarah Ann (Sally) bc.1898 at Spennymoor
  • John William born 1900 at Spennymoor

In 1901, the family lived at Gateshead where 32 years old Samuel worked as a coal miner (hewer).[4]  By 1911, the family lived at John Street, Witton Park.  Samuel, now 42, and Fred, 20, worked as coal miners. 

Military Details

The service records of John W. Wilkinson have not been traced therefore much of the following is speculation.  Family details suggest that he joined up at 14 years of age, which would be at the beginning of the war and that he served in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, probably at training camps before entering France and that he was killed at Nieppe, Nord, France.[5] 

It is known that he enlisted at Sunderland and joined the East Yorkshire Regiment, 11th battalion (D Company) [6] and was allocated the service number 51054.[7]  The 11th (Service) Battalion (2nd Hull) was formed in Hull in September 1914 by Lord Nunburnholme and the East Riding Territorial Force Association and it was commonly known as the Hull Tradesmen’s Battalion.  In June 1915, it came under the orders of the 92nd Brigade, 31st Division and moved to Egypt 15 December 1915.  It went to France in March 1916.[8] The 92nd Brigade consisted of the following units:

  • 10th Bn., the East Yorkshire Regiment (10/EYR) Hull Commercials
  • 11th Bn., the East Yorkshire Regiment (11/EYR) Hull Tradesmen
  • 12th Bn., the East Yorkshire Regiment (12/EYR) Hull Sportsmen
  • 13th Bn., the East Yorkshire Regiment (13/EYR) Hull t’Others
  • 92nd Machine Gun Company joined 20 May 1916 and moved to 31st Bn., MGC 21 February 1918
  • 92nd Trench Mortar Battery joined 11 April 1916
  • 11th Bn., the East Lancashire Regiment (11/ELR) Accrington Pals, joined February 1918

After leaving the no.3 Sector of the Suez Canal defences, the 31st Division sailed for Marseilles for service on the Western Front where it took part in the Battle of the Somme 1916, the Arras Offensive 1917 and the First Battle of the Somme 1918, the Battles of the Lys, the Advance in Flanders and the Final Advance in Flanders 1918.[9]

The date when Private John W. Wilkinson entered France is not known.  He did not travel overseas prior to 31 December 1915 since there is no record of him being awarded the 1914-15 Star.[10]  He may well have seen action in 1916, 1917 and certainly in 1918, in which case he would have been involved in heavy fighting during the German Spring Offensive. 

The German Offensive, Spring 1918: an overview [11]

3 March, Soviet Russia made peace with Germany and her allies by virtue of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.  As a result, Germany could now transfer troops from the Eastern Front to the Western Front.  More importantly, these Divisions included the original elite of the German Army – the Guards, Jaegers, Prussians, Swabians and the best of the Bavarians. In all, 192 Divisions could be deployed in the West.  The Allies could field 178 Divisions.  A single division numbered about 19,000 men.  Ludendorff could call upon about 3,650,000 men as opposed to the Allies 3,380,000.  Thus, the Germans now held superiority in numbers.  

The German High Command needed victory to be gained before the American Forces arrived in Europe in huge numbers.  America entered the war 6 April 1917 and in the July, Pershing General of the Armies of the United States asked for an army of 3 million men.  The first of her troops arrived in France 26 June 1917.  The training and build-up of troops obviously took time but eventually by June 1918, the Americans were receiving about 250,000 men a month in France.  This amounted to 25 divisions in or behind the battle zone and another 55 in the United States ready to join the action.

Elsewhere in the Alliance, the French were able to draw on a new annual class of conscripts after a year of inactivity but the British were worn down by continuous fighting during the summer of 1917 with major offensives at Arras, Messines, Passchendaele and Cambrai.  The strength of the British infantry had fallen from 754,000 in July 1917 to 543,000 in June 1918 producing a manpower crisis.

21 March 1918:  the German Offensive was launched.  There were 5 phases:

  • 21 March – 5 April: Operation Michael, against the British, the Battle of Picardy (otherwise known as the First Battle of the Somme 1918)
  • 9 – 11 April: Operation Georgette, against the British, the Battle of Lys sector near Armentieres
  • 27 April: Operation Blucher-Yorck, against the French sector along Chemin des Dames, the Third Battle of Aisne
  • 9 June: Operation Gneisenau, against the French sector between Noyan and Montdider, the Battle of the Matz
  • 15 – 17 July: Operation Marne-Rheims, the final phase known as the Second Battle of the Marne.

The Germans enjoyed spectacular territorial gains particularly during the initial phases of the offensive.  23 March, the Kaiser declared a “victory holiday” for German schoolchildren. 

The cost in manpower was enormous:

  • Between 21 March and 10 April the 3 main assaulting armies had lost 303,450 men – 1/5th of their original strength.
  • The April offensive against the British in Flanders was eventually computed to have cost 120,000 men out of a total of 800,000.

The German High Command calculated that it required 200,000 replacements each month but only 300,000 recruits stood available taking into account the next annual class of 18-year olds.  There were 70,000 convalescents available from hospitals each month but even counting them, the strength of the German Army had fallen from 5.1 million to 4.2 million men in the 6 months of the offensive.  It could not be increased on the estimated scale required. 

In June 1918, the first outbreak of “Spanish Flu” laid low nearly 500,000 German soldiers.  This epidemic was to reoccur in the autumn and wreak havoc throughout Europe and the wider world.  Added to this the poor diet of the German troops, battle fatigue, discontentment with the military leadership, social unrest at home and a general realisation that their great effort was beginning to wane, the Allies counter attack in mid-July began to seize the initiative. 

Sweeping victories over demoralised German forces, what became known as the “Hundred Days” or the “Advance to Victory”.  The term “Hundred Days” is a British one and refers to the period between the Battle of Amiens on 8 August and the Arnistice on 11 November 1918, a total of 95 days. Between 18 July and 11 November the Allies sustained upwards of 700,000 casualies while the Germans lost at least another 760,000 men. [12] It eventually led to the resignation of Ludendorff 27 October, the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm 9 November and the signing of the Armistice 11 November 1918. 

11th Bn., The East Yorkshire Regiment in 1918

In 1918, up until Private John W. Wilkinson’s death, 8 September 1918, the battalion was at the following positions: [13]

  • January: Mont St. Eloi, Ecoivres, Ecurie.
  • February:  Arleux sector, Ecoivres, Ecurie.
  • March: Acheville sector, Ecoivres, La Thieulove, Orlencourt, motor buses to St. Pol and Doullens, Bailuellyal, Hamelincourt, in reserve at Ervillers, in the line in front of Courcelles, Pommier, Monchy-au-Bois.
  • April: Beaudricourt, La Thieulove, Merris in XIV Corps area, Egerneest, La Breade, Vieux Berquin, Meteren – Becque road.

The action of the 31st Division, 13 April is explained in this extract from “The Times” April, 24th 1918:[14]

“On April 13th the 31 Division was holding a front of some 9000 yards east of the FOREST DE NIEPPE.  The Division was already greatly reduced in strength as a result of previous fighting and the enemy was still pressing his advance.  The troops were informed that their line had to be held to the last to cover the detraining of reinforcements and all ranks responded with the most magnificent courage and devotion to the appeal made to them.  Throughout a long day of incessant fighting they beat off a succession of determined attacks.  In the evening the enemy made a last great effort and by sheer weight of numbers overran certain portions of our line, the defenders of which died fighting, but would not give ground.  Those of the enemy who had broken through at these points were however met and driven back beyond our line by the reinforcing troops, who by this time had completed their detrainment.”

  • May: La Brearde, Hazebrouck defences, Meteren sector.
  • June: Val de Lumbres, Racquinghem, Le Grand Hasard, the Forest du Nieppe.

Between 28 and 30 June, there was a successful attack by 11/EYR on the enemy trenches system around VERTE RUE and NORTH.

  • July: Le Grand Hasard.

12 July, operations NW of VIEUX BERQUIN for the capture of TERN FARM, with the 1st Brigade Australians.  The War Diary records:[15]

“A very successful operation was carried out by C & D Coys in conjunction with the Australians on our left.  As a result of this operation, our line was advanced and 1 officer and 60 OR were taken prisoner.”

 A report prepared by Lieut. Col. C.H. Gurney, Commanding, 11th (S) Bn., East Yorks. Regt., confirmed that 1 officer, 60 prisoners, 4 machine guns were captured and some 50 Germans were killed whilst “our casualties” were 2 killed, 3 missing and 13 wounded.[16]  A second narrative prepared by Lieut. – Col. C.H. Gurney DSO stated:[17]

“So ended a very novel little battle; novel in its inception and in many of its incidents – chiefly perhaps in the youth of those who took part in it, most of whom were little more than boys…owing to the extreme youth of the battalion, due to the hurried replacement of our terrible losses of March and April 1918, (so far as I can remember our average age was 19) the irreverent Aussies has nicknamed us the “crèche” with many impertinent enquiries as to where they had been grown and after the show of congratulations  were showered on the plucky little “beggars” in the crèche…”

Private Jack Wilkinson was in D Company, he was 18 years old, one of the young lads in the crèche.[18]

August:  Trucaderd, Bois D’Aval in reserve, Le Cornet Perdu in the front line.  The War Diary records for the 20th and 21st:

“The policy of peaceful penetration was continued.  By 5.30pm a line [full details given] was maintained and consolidated…At 8.30am advance continued.  No opposition was met with & front line coys took up the line [full details given]…however, heavy machine gun fire from houses east of ROOSTER FM & BECKETT CORNER…heavy barrage with gas”

Casualties were given as:

  • Officers – 3 killed, 3 wounded
  • ORs 19 killed, 8 died of wounds; 55 wounded; 22 wounded by gas and 2 wounded at duty. 

Private John W. Wilkinson was awarded the Military Medal for his actions here.[19]  A certificate from the Major General Commanding 31st Division reads:

“Private J.W. Wilkinson MM, 11th Bn., East Yorks Regt.  I have read with much pleasure the reports of your regimental commander and brigade commander regarding your gallant conduct and devotion to duty in the field on 20th and 21st August 1918 and have ordered your name and deed to be entered in the record of the 31st Division.”

Later details do not confirm all the casualties reported in the War Diary.  Only 3 casualties are recorded for 20 and 21 August 1918.  Something seems amiss here.  They were:[20]

  • 11/463 Corporal Fred Harrison MM died of wounds
  • 41934 Private Arthur Raymond Lawson died of wounds
  • 41696 Private Joseph George Broadhead killed in action

Following this engagement, the battalion was south of Warneton on the Messines to Ploegsteert road.

September:  Meteren.  The war diary continues – on the 8th:

“Another attack was launched…and what at the outset seemed like being a most successful attack broke down, we suffering heavy casualties particularly in D Coy.”

The War Diary reports that during the night of 9/10th the positions of the various companies in and around the Nieppe System of trenches.  Casualties were given as:

  • Officers – killed nil; wounded 6; missing 1; wounded at duty 1
  • ORs – killed 25; wounded – 71; wounded at duty 1; gas 1; missing 44; wounded and missing 13

Aged 18, 51054 Private John William Wilkinson MM, 11th Battalion, The East Yorkshire Regiment was killed in action, probably as the attack broke down on 8 September.  Later research records that 11/EYR lost 1 officer and 33 Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds, 8 September 1918.[21]  Between 21 March and 11 November 1918, that is from the commencement of the German Spring Offensive to the end of the war, it is recorded that 11/EYR lost 8 Officers and 338 Other Ranks, either killed in action or died of wounds.[22]

Medals and Awards

Private John W. Wilkinson was awarded the Victory and British War medals.[23]  He was also awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field.[24]

Medal Roll card index

Burial [25]

Private John W. Wilkinson is buried at grave reference III.C.8, Pont D’Achelles Military Cemetery, Nieppe, France.

Effects and Pension

Private John W. Wilkinson’s mother received his pension.  At the time she lived at 22 Garden Street, Witton Park before moving to Shafto Street, Byers Green[26] and later returning to Witton Park.  His father received his effects.[27]


John “Jack” W. Wilkinson was born in 1900 at Spennymoor and by 1911, the family lived at Witton Park.  The family believe that he enlisted at 14.  It is known that Private John W. Wilkinson was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field in late August 1918 (Gazetted March 1919).  Aged 18, he was killed in action 8 September 1918, as the Allied forces pushed for victory in Flanders.  He is buried at Pont-D’Achelles Military Cemetery, Nieppe, France.


John Harbron, Jack Wilkinson’s great nephew.

MILITARY MEDAL CERTIFICATE from Divisional Commanding Officer


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.208 Auckland 1900 Q1

[3] 1901 & 1911 census

[4] 1901 census

[5] John Harbron email dated 17 January 2022

[6] Forces War Records Archive Reference Pals_Battalions 

[7] Soldiers Died in the Great War (SDGW)


[9] http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/31st-division/

[10] Note: There is another John William Wilkinson, 11/1224 who was awarded the 1914-15 Star and the V & BW medals but he survived the war and clearly is not “our” man.

[11] Various sources including www.firstworldwar.net/timeline, www.1914-1918.net/batt22.htm, “The First World War” Keegan J. 1999, “First World War” Gilbert M. 1994

[12] “Hundred Days: the end of the Great War”2013 Nick Lloyd Preface xxx

[13] 11th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment War Diary WO95/2357/2

[14] Sir Douglas Haig’s Despatch dated 23 April 1918

[15] War Diary 12 July 1918

[16] Report dated 14 July 1918, Lieut. Col. C.H. Gurney, Commanding, 11th (S) Bn., East Yorks, Regt. p.2 & 3

[17] “The Great War: An Adventure of the 11th Battn. E. Yorkshire Regiment” Lieut. – Col. C.H. Gurney DSO undated

[18] I believe that 18 was the average age of British recruits in 1918.  Because of the need for men the average age was being reduced and those considered unfit or of poor physical development in 1914 were now acceptable.

[19] London Gazette issue 31227 p.3426 dated 11 March 1919

[20] SDGW

[21] Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War (ODGW)

[22] ODGW & SDGW

[23] Medal Roll card index and Roll dated 12 June 1920

[24] London Gazette issue 31227 p.3426 dated 11 March 1919

[25] CWGC

[26] Dependant’s Pension card index

[27] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929 Record No.787492