Wilson, Ernest James

Pte, Ernest James Wilson, 11th EYR

Hull Pals Memorial Post. PRIVATE ERNEST JAMES WILSON 22348. Born in January 1894, Ernest was the second of five children to James and Lydia Wilson of 79 Redbourne Street, Hull (War pension address). A Railway Clerk by trade, he enlisted at Hull City Hall on 18th November 1915 originally in the 14th (Reserve) Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment, but later transferred to the 12th on his arrival in France in June 1916. He was wounded in the right hand at Oppy Wood when so many of his comrades fell to the raking machine guns and high explosive shells in the small hours of 3rd May 1917. Transferring to the 11th when the battalions merged in February 1918, Ernest was listed as missing on 27th March 1918 during the German Spring Offensive. It was during the period of uncertainty which followed, that a tragic error occurred. A letter in his file explains:
“With reference to the above casualty, a report received from the British Military Mission, Berlin, that a Private Wilson was repatriated from Parchim via Warnemunde was carded for the above soldier but he was not accepted as a Prisoner of War and no action would have been taken on the report if the relatives had not had news from Private AE Fletcher (late 13/43 East Yorkshire Regiment), a repatriated POW, stating that Private Wilson was at Parchim. From Private Fletcher’s reply to War Office inquiry it would appear that the man he referred to was not 22348.”
By a mistake in the paperwork, Private Fletcher inadvertently gave James and Lydia Wilson hope that their son would soon be returning home. Truth is, he had been killed in action on 27th March and his body never recovered. The War Office later dashed their hopes officially. Ernest is commemorated on the Arras Memorial; he was 24 years old.
The Hull Daily Mail reported that Ernest was the servant to Sec Lieutenant Reuben Frank Pitz, and that they had both gone missing on 27th March 1918. Officer Pitz, however, really was a POW, and was repatriated in Nov 1918. (Unfortunately for Officer Pitz, his wife gave birth to an ‘illegitimate’ child whilst he was away, and he was granted a divorce on the grounds of her adultery 3 weeks after his repatriation.)

The attack on Oppy Wood, part of the Battle of Arras, was a significant battle for the East Yorkshire Regiment and particularly for the city of Hull.  All four Hull Pals battalions were involved on 3 May and all suffered heavy casualties, with 40% of those present killed or injured. 2nd Lieutenant Jack Harrison, a local teacher and rugby player with Hull FC, won a posthumous Victoria Cross for his bravery in rushing a machine gun position to protect his platoon. His body was never found.
The village of Oppy in France had been in German hands since October 1914 and was part of a formidable defensive system including trenches, dug-outs and thick barbed wire defences. During the Battle of Arras, which began in April 1917, the British tried to take Oppy. The first attack was a failure. A second attack was partially successful. The third attack on 3 May, known officially as the Third Battle of the Scarpe, was again unsuccessful with significant loss of life. The troops were ordered to attack at 3.45am, rather than at dawn, and the defending Germans could easily see the line of British soldiers clearly lit by the full moon. The British continued to attack Oppy and were finally successful the following year. The City of Hull Memorial at Oppy was unveiled in 1927 and commemorates the men of the Hull Pals who were killed on 3 and 4 May 1917.

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Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France