Tuesday, 25 September 2018

64399 Private Alfred William Wilson 28/9/1887-26/9/1918

Edward Wilson was a furnaceman for Dunedin manufacturer A & T Burt when he joined the army.  Possible because he was born in Auckland, he joined its Infantry Regiment.

In February, 1918, he was sent to an isolation hospital in England with a case of rubella, or German measles.  He was in hospital for about a month then rejoined his regiment at the front.

He was wounded in action on August 30th, suffering a gunshot wound to the right thigh.  The action in which he was wounded is described on the official History of the Auckland Infantry Regiment:

It was decided without any delay to attack the enemy in their new position on the line Frenricourt-Bancourt-Riencoutt, which they had organised on the high ground that ran in a northerly direction from Riencourt behind Bancourt to the Cambrai road. Over the whole area of the Ancre and the Somme the country was much the same. Villages scattered here and there were embowered in groves of trees, while, beyond, wide open fields stretched without a vestige of cover for thousands of yards. A succession of chalk ridges, nowhere running to any great height, ran like so many waves across the whole battlefield, and in every case formed admirable defensive positions, giving excellent observation and a splendid field for fire on advancing troops. In accordance with their usual custom, the Huns were holding in depth and relying on their machine-gun nests to hold up attacks made against them. If they had had men behind the guns of the calibre of those who manned the New Zealand guns on Chunuk Bair there would have been little chance of an advance being successful. Fortunately, however, the morale of the German troops was breaking down rapidly, and even where a group or a battalion of brave men put up a resolute resistance there were always faint-hearted ones who gave way long before their position was hopeless.

The attack, which was on a wide front, was to go forward at dawn on the 30th August. On the left the 42/Division was moving on Riencourt, and on the right 1/Wellington had Fremincourt as their objective. Just before zero Major Sinel received information from the English troops that they would be unable to move for some little time. In accordance with instructions received from Brigade, 2/Auckland were thereupon held back, although the rest of the advance continued as arranged. The German artillery opened up at once, and a heavy barrage was put down on the sunken roads in which the Aucklanders had assembled. Many casualties occurred. Major Sinel and Major McClelland were both slightly wounded, but were able to carry on. Dr. Simcox, who was with the Battalion while Dr. Harpur was on leave, was severely wounded. Padre Dobson took over the aid post and superintended the care of the wounded through the rest of the fighting. The padre was one of the few Main Body men still surviving, and had had a long war experience. He was well known for his courage and sang-froid.
When at last the Battalion did advance, the enemy were prepared for the move, and concentrated very heavy machinegun fire on the advancing troops. Bancourt fell to the 6th Company, under Captain Moncrief, a very brave and able soldier, who had left New Zealand as one of the sergeantmajors attached to the original Battalion of the Auckland Regiment. The Haurakis drew up in a long line, set their teeth and went straight for the village, which they took, very largely owing to the dashing leadership of Lieutenant Taylor. Further progress was difficult. On the ridge beyond, which ran astride of the Bancourt-Bertincourt road, were a number of Niessen huts very strongly held by the enemy. From here and from Riencourt, which was as yet untaken, a very heavy rire was poured in. On the open slope, bare of all cover, men went down in scores. Soon all was confusion. The majority simply lay flat and fired if any target presented itself. In one place a dry water-course running up the hill enabled some to creep forward and so obtain a precarious hold on the ridge. Half way up, a large chalk quarry gave cover for a number. Out on the left, which was now several hundred yards ahead of the 42/Division, the danger of a flanking attack by the Huns was a serious one. To meet any danger from this quarter the 3/Company were sent out to form a defensive flank. It was impossible to get further forward, but what ground had been gained was resolutely held against counterattacks, that continued to develop throughout the day. Under cover of darkness the position was roughly organised, and some more ground occupied, while wounded, who could not be approached by daylight, were picked up and sent back.

Two weeks after that attack, Alfred was described by the newspapers as "still seriously ill, progressing fairly."  That progress did not last and he died in the Australian General Hospital, Rouen, at 8.45am, September 26th.


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