This article has been contributed by one of our volunteers, Betty McCann:
Frederick Wilson was born on 10th April 1896, his parents were William Foster Wilson and Louisa Maud Wilson (nee Mason). On the 1901 census the family were living at 28 Raglan Street and Frederick has a young sister, Lily May Wilson. His father is a Cycle Fitter. There were two other children born, Florence Louisa in 1904 and Harry in 1907. There was another child in 1901 called Nancy Louisa but she died of Measles in 1903.
In the 1901 census Fred is staying with his Grandmother Nancy Wilson at 80 Owen Road. The family moved a few times around the same area but finally settled at No. 34 Shepherd Street, a simple two bedroom terraced house with two rooms downstairs. There was no water or toilet in the house, and water was from a tap across the yard in the “Brewhouse”. The toilet was also across the yard. There were six houses together in each yard, with an entry between the middle two houses giving access to the yard and the backs of the houses.
William Foster Wilson, Fred’s father, was a cycle builder, and also drove a horse and cab with a cab stand on Chapel Ash. His mother was a Brass Polisher at a nearby factory.
Fred was attested on 23rd November 1915 in Wolverhampton signing on as a Territorial in the 3/6th Battalion of the South Staffs Regiment. His initial number was 4760 but in 1916 the entire territorial force was re-numbered and Fred became No. 241403. He was 5’7 1/2″ tall, weighed 128 pounds and had a 34 1/2″ chest. He had good physical development and perfect eyesight.
The 1/6th Battalion (the pre-war Territorials) had an obligation for home service only, but at the outbreak of war they volunteered, almost to a man, to extend this obligation to service overseas. They landed in France in March 1915 as part of the 46th North Midlands Division, the first wholly territorial division to serve overseas. When Fred enlisted he signed an “Imperial and General Service Obligation”, waiving the Territorial commitment to home service, in effect volunteering for service abroad.
After training, Fred embarked from Southampton on 17th March 1916, landing at Rouen huge next day. After spending approximately 4 weeks at base he joined ‘B’ Company of the 1/6th Battalion South Staffs, which were part of the 46th North Midland Division. At this time the 1/6th South Staffs were in the Vimy Ridge area, just to the north of Arras. A few weeks later on 6th May they moved to Fonquevillers on the Somme, in preparation for the first day of huge Somme, 1st July 1916. Fred would have been present on 1st July when the 46th Division attacked at Gommecourt, at the extreme northern end of the Somme attack. This was a ‘diversionary’ attack in order that the Germans on their front would not turn their attention to the neighbouring attack at Serre. 82 men of the 1/6th South Staffs were killed on that day, with another 7 dying of wounds over here next few days. Apart from a trench raid on 18th October 1916 at Ransart (near Gommecourt) by ‘B’ Company, Fred’s Company (1/6th) were mainly involved in holding the line.
The second part of the story will continue tomorrow…