Lieutenant Edmund Wilkinson (1872 – 1914) came from a long line of Lancashire men. He was one of at least 7 children of Joshua Wilkinson (1848-1924) and Christina Williams (b. abt 1851). Edmund came from working class stock and grew up to be a war hero. This post explains his origins and his story.
Joshua and Christina lived at 22 Queen Street, Colne. Joshua’s father was Edward Wilkinson (1810 – 1867) whose father was John Wilkinson (b. 1799), whose father was James Wilkinson of York. Joshua is first recorded as a “cotton weaver” in Burnley, Lancashire in the 1871 census. As a cotton weaver, Joshua would have endured great hardships during the 1860’s when English textile factories were forced to shutter their doors as cotton exports played into American Civil War strategy.
Interestingly there was a folk song popular among Lancashire Cotton weavers which expresses sympathy for Napoleon of all people! Hand Loom weavers of the area had made their living through weaving cotton at their own hand-looms in their cottages and were economically threatened by the technological advances in production that came about through the Industrial Revolution. The reference to the Napoleonic Wars dates to the pre-industrial period, not long before the ‘Industrial Revolution’. The song in the video below was written sometime around 1808 but was sung by Lancashire weavers for decades afterwards.
Edmund Wilkinson was born in Colne. He joined the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment around 1888 when he was only 15 years old and was given the number 2677.
At the age of 27, in 1899, he was fighting in the Boer war where he endured 4 months at the Siege of Kimberley. His rank by this time was Colour-Sergeant.
On 7 October 1899, an artillery battery and four companies of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment were dispatched to secure the town under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Kekewich. Five days later, with the start of hostilities, Boer forces arrived and began to besiege Kimberley. For the next 126 days, the North Lancs and the local militias would be cut off and subjected to regular shelling from the Boer artillery. The siege was finally lifted when Brigadier-General Sir John French’s Cavalry Division was able to breakthrough the Boer lines on 15 February 1900.
In 1905, at the age of 32, Edmund married Eliza Harriet Parkhouse (1880 – 1945) in Bideford, Devon. Eliza, like many in the Rowsell family tree, was from the West Country; her father was William Parkhouse (1850 – 1930) of Parkham, Devon. Eliza had four children by Edmund, three of which survived past infancy. Interestingly Eliza was one of 13 children, some of whom lived until well over 100 years of age.
Edmund received his commission into the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in June 1912 and sailed to France with the 1st Battalion on 12th August 1914.
Edmund was 43 when he was killed in Belgium at the First Battle of Ypres on 31st October 1914. He was promoted to the rank of Honorary Lieutenant for his service in WWI.
The following is an excerpt from The Bond of Sacrifice:A Biographical Record of All British Officers Who Fell in the Great War
LIEUTENANT and QUARTERMASTER EDMUND WILKINSON, 1st BATTALION, LOYAL NORTH LANCASHIRE REGIMENT, was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Wilkinson, of 22, Queen Street, Colne, and was forty-three years of age at the time of his death.
He served twenty-six years with the Colours, and had a
distinguished career having risen from the ranks through his ability, courage, and good conduct. He served through the Boer War, having been besieged in Kimberley for four months, and was presented with the Kimberley Star. He was awarded the South African medals and the Distinguished Conduct medal for distinguished gallantry at Hartbeesfontein, leading the company in a charge when the officers were out of action, which gallant act probably saved the whole column. He received his commission in June, 1912.
He was killed in action on the 31st October, 1914, and the news of his death was conveyed in a letter written by Lieutenant-Colonel Carter, D.S.O., of his battalion, himself soon afterwards killed in action, who wrote : “We
have lost officers and men, but the greatest loss to me personally is caused by poor Wilkinson’s death. He was the whitest man that ever breathed, with the heart of a lion. He fell lighting at the head of a number of men of various corps on the road near Ypres. He attempted to stem the on-flood of the German advance down the road — and apparently did so with the men he collected. It has been said he should be given the Victoria Cross. His duty did not lie with the battalion in the fighting line, but he was ever present where the fighting took place. The regimental Sergeant- Major of the 1st K.R.K.C. witnessed his last heroic action, and the words he used to me were,
‘ If ever soldier earned a V.C. your Q.M. did the night of the 31st October, 1914.’ ”
Lieutenant Wilkinson was mentioned in Sir John French’s Despatch of the 14th January, 1915.
He was a great sportsman, a fine athlete, probably the best in the regiment for several years, and as a cyclist he had few equals. He was generous to a fault, a staunch friend, and beloved by everyone who had dealings with him.
Lieutenant Wilkinson married Eliza Harriet, daughter of William Parkhouse, of Parkham, and left three daughters : Irene Ethel, born November, 1907 ; Audrey Dora, born December, 1911 : and Edwina Mary, born after her gallant father’s death, in January, 1915,
These are Edmund Wilkinson’s medals.
Edmund’s three daughters mentioned were Irene, Audrey and Edwina. Edwina was not born until after Edmund was killed, a not unusual circumstance in the Great War. Edmund is buried in Ypres Town Cemetery. The portrait below is of Edmund’s second daughter, Irene Ethel Wilkinson (1907–1968).