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Captain Eric Fitzwater Wilkinson M.C


‘A’ Company, 8th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment (Leeds Rifles), 146th Infantry Brigade, 49th Division, Age 26, Killed 9 October 1917. Tyne Cot Memorial Panel 42 to 47. Son of Herbert Ashburn Wilkinson and Mary E. Wilkinson, Nethergrove, Portesham, Weymouth, Dorset. Eric was educated at Dorchester Grammar School, Ilkley Grammar School, and at Leeds University. He failed his finals in Engineering at Leeds and returned to Ilkley Grammar School as a master in 1911. He was gazetted a 2nd Lieutenant in the 8th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment in October 1914 and in April 1915 went with the Battalion to France arriving in the trenches at Laventie in May.

 

On 15 July 1915, when on a patrol in no man’s land along with two Riflemen Clough and Mudd, near St Julien, Mudd was wounded in the chest his cries attracted the attention of the Germans. Wilkinson and the other man carried the wounded Rifleman back 120 yards to the British trenches under German fire. Eric was awarded the Military Cross and Rifleman Clough a D.C.M. the War Diary recorded the action:


War Diary

From February 1916 to July 1916 he was Battalion Intelligence Officer and was wounded in the attack on Thiepval in July 1916 and wrote of the surgery: ‘So far, we have extracted one piece of bomb casing and half a tunic, but we suspect the presence of a pair of trousers as I came back the night it happened practically without, and they seem to have gone somewhere.’ He was promoted to Captain in February 1917 and was mentioned in despatches in May 1917 for a raid he led on enemy trenches at Aubers Ridge. While the Battalion was in the line at Nieuport on the 21/22 July 1917, on the coast north of the Salient, they came under mustard gas attack and all but forty-four men went to hospital. The War Diary:

 

War Diary

Eric was temporarily blinded and spent two months in hospital at Dieppe convalescing and he wrote this poem:

 

FRANCE

(August 1917)

 

Her head unbowed, her knees unbent,

Her sad, proud eyes unfaltering,

Her white robe soiled and stained and rent,

Her red sword-point unwavering.

 

Her banner in her strong left hand,

Unconquered, free as Freedom, waves;

She stands amidst her ruined land,

Her broken homes, her children’s graves.

 

Her mighty heart beats firm, although

Her breast with patriot blood is wet,

And victory shall find her so,

Heroic and undaunted yet.

 

He rejoined the Battalion in September 1917. In early October 1917, the Battalion was preparing for its part in the attack on Passchendaele Ridge which took place on 9 October.


Linesman Map

The Battalion advanced some 300 yards despite the ground and weather conditions however, the casualties were heavy and they fell short of their objective. The Battalion Commanding Officer Lt Col R.A. Hudson was killed early in the attack and command fell to the Adjutant Major Brooke who at one time had two officers besides himself available. Battalion HQ was established at Kronprinz Farm and the Battalion dug in. Eric was among the eight officers killed, seven wounded and 301 Other Ranks killed wounded and missing.

 

His poem ‘Death’ discussed how a man may find life in losing it:

 

What is it? Though it come swiftly and sure

⁠Out of the dark womb of fate,

What that a man cannot dare and endure,

⁠Level heart steady, eyes straight?...

 

The fight shall roll o'er us—a broad crimson tide,

⁠Feet stamp, shells wail, bullets hiss,

And England be greater because we have died:

⁠What end can be finer than this?

 

His body was lost and he is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing.

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