Details recorded for RICHARD EDWIN WILKES on the Newhampton Road (Cranmer) Wesleyan Church Memorial and Roll of Honour are as follows:
“WILKES RICHARD EDWIN Private 18998 10th Bn East Yorkshire Regiment He served as a sniper. Killed in Action 03/05/1917 Grave/Memorial Reference: Bay 4 and 5. Cemetery: ARRAS MEMORIAL”
Richard Wilkes was born at Wolverhampton on 12 October 1882. I found this date on the Cartledge Family Tree on the ancestry website. At the time of the 1891 Census he was living at 26 Waltho Street in St Marks ward with his parents, father William, age 33. occupation described as Hay Trusser and mother Matilda, born in Dawley, Salop who was 34, and his siblings William age 6, Arthur age 4, and John age 1 year.
By 1901 Richard was an 18 year old commercial clerk, still living with his parents, but the family had moved to 317 Hordern Road in Dunstall. William, 16, was an Apprentice Carpenter, and in addition to Arthur age 14, and John 11, there were now 3 girls, Ethel age 9, Annie M age 7, and Rose L. age 3.
At the time of the 1911 Census Richard was living at 23 Hordern Road as the 28 year old Head of the household, whose occupation is described as Stock Clerk at a Brass Foundry and Manufacturer, with his brother Arthur age 24, who was a Locksmith and his sister Rose who was 13 and at school. Emily Mary Hobley was also living at the house as a co-occupier. She is age 42, single and a Dressmaker, born in Rugby.
I wondered whether as he was now the head of a household, Richard’s father had died, and I have found on freebmd the death of a William Wilkes of Wolverhampton, age 49, registered in Wolverhampton in the Quarter to June 1907. I could not trace his mother Matilda Wilkes on the 1911 Census, so I looked to see if she might have re-married, or indeed died, but I haven’t traced anyone recorded who looks likely to be the same person.
There is no trace of Richard Wilkes being married, so he was probably a single man when he signed up. This was in Wolverhampton, according to the East Lancashire Regiment records.
I searched for his military records via the findmypast and Ancestry websites, but with no success. The website http://www.greatwar.co.uk/research/military-records/british-soldiers-ww1-service-records.htm tells us that ” There were about 6-7 million soldiers (Other Ranks and Non-Commissioned Officers) who served with the British Army in the First World War. Each soldiers’ record of service was stored by the War Office after the First World War was over. Unfortunately about 60% of the soldiers’ Service Records were irretrievably damaged or lost completely as a result of enemy bombing in 1940 during the Second World War. The exact number of serving British soldiers is not known because of the loss of the records.
Approximately 2 million were saved from destruction. These records are known as the “Burnt Records”.They are classed as WO 363 records, the reference number given to them by the National Archives. The “WO” in the classification code stands for “War Office”.
As a result of the loss of so many of the First World War Service Records, there is now only a 40% chance that the Service Record of the individual you want to trace will be available to examine.
I have searched the National Archives (NA) catalogue, and found that Richard Edwin Wilkes’ Medal Card is held there. From my previous experiences with Medal Cards, this will have only his name and Army number. However, as you can see from the screen print below, they do have the Diaries for the East Yorkshire Regiment. A visit to inspect these Diaries is on the agenda, though I understand that diaries are unlikely have information about particular individuals.
Richard was a sniper. Information about snipers is available at http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Sitemap.htm
“Soldiers in front-line trenches suffered from enemy snipers. These men were usually specially trained marksmen that had rifles with telescopic sights. German snipers did not normally work from their own trenches. The main strategy was to creep out at dawn into no-man’s land and remain there all day. Wearing camouflaged clothing and using the cover of a fake tree, they waited for a British soldier to pop his head above the parapet. A common trick was to send up a kite with English writing on it. Anyone who raised his head to read it was shot.”
British fake tree used by snipers and spies.
In January 1916, a British sniper officer produced a teaching pamphlet, Notes From the Front, saying that “It is absolutely essential that the use of the telescope be taught from the stalking of Big Game point of view. If we had one Officer teaching it in every battalion of our army in France, we should kill a lot of Germans. Not only this, but the work of the Intelligence Officer would be greatly facilitated. With 4 good telescopes on every battalion front, very little can happen in the enemy line without our knowing it.”Robert Graves, in Goodbye to All That (1929) says:
“The Germans had the advantage of having many times more telescopic sights than we did, and bullet-proof steel loop-holes. Also a system by which snipers were kept for months in the same sector until they knew all the loopholes and shallow places in our trenches, and the tracks that our ration parties used above-ground by night, and where our traverses occurred and so on, better than most of us did ourselves.
British snipers changed their trenches, with their battalions, every week or two, and never had time to study the German trench-geography. But at least we counted on getting rid of the unprofessional sniper. Later we secured an elephant-gun that could send a bullet through enemy loopholes and if we failed to locate the loop-hole of a persistent sniper, we tried to dislodge him with a volley of rifle-grenades, or even by ringing up the artillery.”
Richard is buried at the Arras Memorial so he must have fought and died at the Battle of Arras.
I found information about this battle at the website http://ww1centenary.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ created by the Learning Technologies Group, IT Services, University of Oxford. I have summarised from the article by Everett Sharp, a subject expert on the World War One Centenary: Continuations and Beginnings project, below:
“The Battle of Arras was a major British offensive during the First World War. From 9th April to 16th May 1917, troops from the four corners of the British Empire attacked trenches held by the army of Imperial Germany to the east of the French city of Arras. …………………With the Battle of Bullecourt, the Arras offensive ended………….. the battle might be summed up for the majority of the troops involved by the Australian nickname The Blood Tub. This term, although used by Australians to describe ‘their’ Bullecourt, can equally evoke the experience of many in a battle that took a greater daily death toll than any other fought by the British Empire in the First World War.”
Our Wolverhampton man Richard Wilkes was just one of the men killed. The figures are chilling:- Third Army casualties were 87,226; First Army 46,826 (including 11,004 Canadians at Vimy Ridge); and Fifth Army 24,608; totalling 158,660, based on the returns made by Lt-Gen Sir George Fowke, Haig’s adjutant-general, whose figures collate the daily casualty tallies kept by each unit under Haig’s command.
I have searched the microfilmed copies of the Express & Star, Wolverhampton Chronicle, and the Midland Counties Express (MCE) but there is no record of Richard’s death that I could trace. The MCE publishes a regular feature called “Our Pictorial Roll of Honour” which is worth looking through if you are trying to find a picture of one of our local fighting men, but, sadly, I could not find one of Richard Wilkes.