No.2277 – Private Peter Wilson – 51st Battalion AIF
No.7812 – Private Frederick Wilson – 11th Battalion AIF
Peter John "Jack” Wilson was born in 1894 and Frederick Gladstone "Son” Wilson was born in 1899 in Fremantle to Peter John and Sarah Wilson. They had two sisters Enid & Doris and the children spent their first years living at 45 Suffolk Street Fremantle.
Their father Peter was an Architect and the kids were initially schooled in Fremantle but the family then moved and Peter and Frederick completed their schooling at the James Street School in Perth.
After leaving school Peter took up an apprenticeship with the WA Government Railways in the Midland workshop. He assisted in engineering and other works and after his five year apprenticeship began work as a Turner.
Frederick, on the other hand, continued with his study when he left James St School as he wanted to become an accountant. He, therefore, attended a commercial college in Perth. During this time he also began his military service by serving with the 30th Signal Company Engineers.
With the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, both boys continued with their careers, and being under 21 years of age, both would have needed their parent’s permission to enlist.
Below is a picture of Peter.
Below is a picture of Frederick.
On 25 March 1916, Peter, just three months past his 22nd birthday, went to the Francis Street Drill Hall in Perth to enlist. He was accepted as fit for service with the medical examiner stating that Peter was 5 feet 6 & ½ inches tall; weight of 129lbs; chest measurement of 31-34 inches; fresh complexion; grey eyes and light brown hair. His religious denomination was Church of England and his next of kin was listed as his mother.
Upon his successful enlistment Peter was sent to Blackboy Hill Camp where he was allotted to No.57 Training Depot. Just a few days later he was transferred to the 4th Reinforcements to the 51st Battalion who were training in the south west of the state in Bunbury. The next few months were taken up with basic infantry training as Peter and his group were put through their paces.
At the end of July 1916 they were trained up to Fremantle Harbour where they boarded the HMAT Miltiades. The ship set sail on 9 August 1916 and headed for England, arriving at Plymouth on the 25th September 1916.
Peter and his group were disembarked and sent into the 13th Training Battalion at Rollestone Camp. More hard training took place here, though the men were given leave to see the sights of England. Peter would spend several months in England and it wasn’t until 3 February 1917 that he was put in a draft of soldiers that proceeded to Folkestone Harbour where they boarded the SS Victoria and set sail across the Channel for France.
Peter arrived in Etaples where he was marched into the 4th Australian Division Base Depot. He only spent a few days here, however, as on 11 February 1917 he was taken on strength of the 51st Battalion. His Battalion were then in the Flers sector of the Somme battlefield but just after he joined his unit the Germans began their withdrawal to their pre-prepared defensive position known as the Hindenburg Line. The 51st Battalion took part in the chase of the Germans and Peter’s unit took part in the capture of Noreuil on April 2nd.
Casualties were heavy at Noreuil but Peter came through unscathed. They remained in this sector for the next few weeks and were in reserve during the 4th Division’s assault at Bullecourt on April 11th.
In May the 4th Division were transferred to the Ploegsteert sector in southern Belgium where they joined the 3rd Australian Division. Peter would fight with his unit in the Messines action from June 7th – 10th and fortunately came through unscathed once again. Peter and the 51st Battalion remained in the Messines sector through to August 1917. He had a few days in hospital due to dental work being required but was only away from the 51st Battalion for a short time. Peter had been assigned as a batman to Lieutenant Colthurst and so was with this officer for much of his service in 1917.
In September the 51st Battalion were transferred to the Ypres front to take part in the current offensive. Peter saw action at Menin Road, Polygon Wood and Zonnebeke and came through those actions safely. The advance continued despite the horrendous muddy conditions and on 12 October a further drive was attempted towards Passchendaele. Though the 51st Battalion were not involved in this advance they were required to hold reserve positions near Broodseinde Ridge.
The Germans plastered this area with shells and the 51st Battalion lost thirty four men killed on 12 October. According to Signaller Johnson (No.3397) of the 51st Battalion, Peter was badly wounded. "We were in support at Ypres October 12th. He was in a dugout and I was just behind when a shell came and wounded him in the stomach; I got hit at the same time. He was carried down to the dressing station and was there when I was, being then still alive but he was badly wounded. The two men who carried him there were killed just after. He may have got as far as the C.C.S [Casualty Clearing Station] but probably died the same day.”
Signaller Johnson was correct as Peter had been wounded when shrapnel penetrated his stomach and chest. Despite his terrible wounds he survived the journey on stretcher to the 37th Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) but he died later that day and he is buried at Godewaersvelde British Cemetery France in plot I.P.30. He shares his grave with a soldier from the 34th Battalion AIF, No.211 Private Arthur Edward Watters who died of wounds at No.37 CCS the day after Peter.
When Peter died his younger brother Frederick was in England. Fred, having just turned 18, had enlisted in Perth on the 23rd March 1917. The medical examiner had passed him as fit for service, recording his details as being 5 feet 7 inches tall; weight of 129lbs; chest measurement of 32-34 inches; dark complexion; brown eyes and dark brown hair. His religious denomination was Church of England and his next of kin was listed as his mother.
Upon his successful enlistment Frederick was sent to Blackboy Hill Camp where he was soon assigned to the 26th Reinforcements to the 11th Battalion with the regimental no.7812. He trained with this group in WA for the next few months learning the basics of soldiering such as drills, route marches and shooting practice at the Osborne Rifle Range. Their departure orders soon came through and on 29 June 1917 they arrived at Fremantle Harbour where they boarded the HMAT Borda. The ship then set sail for England, reaching Plymouth on 25 August 1917.
After being disembarked, Fred was sent to the 3rd Training Battalion at Durrington. He commenced on his hard training on the Salisbury Plains but on 12 September was sent to the Fargo Military hospital suffering from tonsillitis. Fred spent six days in hospital and returned to the 3rd Training Battalion on 18 September. Fred would remain in England for the rest of 1917, though in November he was transferred into the 2nd Training Battalion. Though there was a lot of hard work for Fred he was also given leave to see the sights of England. It was while he was training that the sad news came through of his brother Peter’s death at Ypres.
On 8 January 1918 Fred was put in a draft of soldiers that was proceeding to Southampton Harbour. They boarded a troopship which took them across to France and on disembarking at Le Havre, Fred was marched into the Australian Infantry Base Depot. He spent a few days there and then joined the 11th Battalion in the field near Messines on 22 January 1918. It wasn’t a very active front except for the constant shelling and sniping as both sides endured the cold winter weather.
The 11th Battalion war diary for 20th March 1918 states: "Enemy was fairly quiet with his artillery, but machine guns and trench mortars are very active. Inter Company relief carried out at night without incident, "A” & "B” Companies being in the front line. Casualties: 1 killed and 1 wounded.”
Unfortunately Frederick was the one soldier killed that day but the records do not state how or when he was killed. He was buried by his battalion mates at the time but it appears that there was later a mix up with his burial which would provide grief for his family.
When the war was over his family were told that Fred was buried at Ration Farm Military Cemetery at Armentieres but after the body was exhumed, the Imperial War Graves Commission discovered that the body in Ration Farm Cemetery was that of Private B.F. Wilson of the 24th Battalion was buried. He was initially identified as Fred Wilson due to the fact that he was buried in a groundsheet marked ‘Frank Wilson 11th AIF’. This was confusing to all because, while the first name was incorrect, the Battalion was correct in the case of Fred Wilson and in the case of Frank Wilson, the first name was correct, but the Battalion was incorrect.
So where was Frederick Gladstone Wilson?
It was reported that he was buried after he was killed but the only reference that the Imperial War Graves Commission could find was that Fred was named on a Memorial Cross in Duhallow A.D.S. Military Cemetery in Belgium at sheet map reference 28.I.36.c.2.7. The Imperial War Graves authorities apparently investigated this cemetery and recorded that Frederick could not be located; there are currently many unknown soldiers in this cemetery so Frederick could be one of them.
With no certainty of Fred's resting place, Frederick Gladstone Wilson is commemorated on the Menin gate Memorial in Ypres.
Back at home in Australia, it was a terrible few months for Sarah Wilson, for as well as losing her two sons, her husband Peter died in Sydney in February 1918. She was left to bring up her two daughters alone.
Many thanks to Andrew Pittaway for writing and sharing this story and the accompanying imagery.