Remembrance Day

War sacrifice devastates Tatura’s Wilson family

By Liz Mellino

The story of Tatura’s Wilson family is one of devastation.

The family was torn apart from the effects of World War I after their two sons enlisted to serve.

Richard Noble Wilson and Harold Edward Wilson were just young boys when they enlisted in WWI in 1914.

Harold, 19, joined the Australian Imperial Force on August 17, 1914.

Joining the 2nd Infantry Brigade, Harold suffered wounds to his head at Gallipoli on April 26, 1915, the day after the landing and the day after his younger brother Richard was killed.

Suffering from shrapnel wounds, Harold was in and out of hospital for many months before being invalided to Australia in October that same year.

After being home for more than a year and a half he re-enlisted on May 25, 1916, however he worked as a clerk and did not seek active service again.

Harold’s younger brother Richard was just 17 when he enlisted in the war.

Joining the 7th Battalion, he was killed in action at the landing of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915.

Originally reported as missing in action, a court of inquiry was held in France in June 1916, 14 months after his death, to find out what happened to him.

It was not until August 25, 1919, that Richard’s status as killed in action was certified.

Richard’s great nephew Steven Lake said there were conflicting reports surrounding his death.

Steven Lake with his great uncle’s service medals.

While some soldier accounts reported Richard being taken away after he was injured, others said they saw him getting blown apart on the battlefield.

In a mad panic and through utter desperation to find his son, Richard’s father, Harold Wilson Snr, enlisted in the war.

‘‘When the family got the telegram that Richard was missing they were living in Tatura . . . they just closed the doors and moved to Melbourne and that’s where Harold enlisted,’’ Steven said.

‘‘Harold went to Gallipoli to try and find out what happened to his son and that was about all we were told of what happened.

‘‘After that they were a pretty dysfunctional family, Harold Snr and his wife Margaret went their separate ways after he came back from the war . . . it was all very tragic, it was never the same after that.’’

Harold Snr, 43, enlisted on July 12, 1915, three months after being informed his son Richard was missing in action.

‘‘He was a gunner, he was in and out of hospital with back problems and ended up being discharged in January,’’ Steven said.

Harold Snr spent more than two years in the war before leaving England to return to Australia on January 30, 1918.

He was discharged from the AIF on April 24, declared medically unfit due to Myalgia in his lumbar region.

Upon returning to Australia Harold Snr took up a soldier’s settlement in Toolamba, however he eventually had to give this up due to continuing issues with his back.

‘‘The death of Richard shattered the family really, the stress took its toll and Harold Snr died when he was 68 and his wife Margaret died when she was 57,’’ Steven said.

‘‘It was different back then, with nationalism it was your duty to go and die for your country. It must have been terribly hard on the family . . . both of the parents died very young.’’

Steven and his wife Julie have spent many years collecting information on the Wilson men.

They now have detailed accounts from their time in war, along with two of Richard’s service medals.

Steven said he could remember growing up and playing with his great uncle’s medals, not knowing at the time the significance they held.

‘‘I can remember playing with Richard’s two medals, they were in a drawer in the lounge room of my grandmother’s house,’’ he said.

‘‘My family also had Richard’s Dead Man’s Penny . . . my uncle and his mates used to play with them and the story is they rolled the Dead Man’s penny down the street and it went into a drain.’’

A reply letter to Harold Edward Wilson from the Major Officer Base Records on March 14, 1918, stating Harold Snr would be returning to Australia.
A letter from Harold Edward Wilson to Base Records commanding officer on March 8, 1918 asking for information about his father’s whereabouts.

Letters from the Australian Red Cross Information Bureau in 1916. The letters outline soldiers accounts of what they believed happened to Richard.

Private D. James No. 87, 7th Battalion — October 10, 1916

We landed on April 25; after advancing inland we were ordered to retire. On the retirement, casualty was behind Pte D. H. Dunn, since killed, and when we were relieved a little later on to join up with the 2nd Brigade Headquarters I heard from Dunn that Wilson was killed under his eyes. He was wounded in the chest with a spent shrapnel case. The enemy were strongly entrenched and we were forced to evacuate, and I cannot say if the body was found, but very much doubt it, probably he was buried by the enemy.

Pte A. G. Graham No. 968, 8th Battalion — March 22, 1916

Reported missing April

Informant states that casualty is a prisoner at Constantinople. On July 3, at Gaba Tepe, informant’s battalion followed casualty’s. Casualty was hit in the thigh and informant saw him picked up by the Turks.

January 10, 1916

Mentioned in our cable of January 7 as missing in April

A returned soldier, Pte G. T. James, No. 930, 7th Btn, states he was in the same company and was told by a soldier named Dunn, D. H. No 100, 7th Btn, who was killed in action on June 3, that the casualty was shot in the leg on April 25, between noon and 1pm on the retreat, and the Turks picked him up about 10pm on the same day with some others. He was then about five miles out.

Pte R. Dunden, No. 99, 7th Btn, A Company — March 29, 1916

Officially reported missing April 25, 1916

Casualty was severely wounded on the afternoon of April 25. Informant did not actually see him die, but states that he had no possible chance of recovering from his wounds. He was hit by what informant believed to be an explosive bullet in the left side, tearing a big piece of flesh out, and judging by the manner in which the blood started pouring from his mouth, penetrating his lung. At the time he was hit, we were about three miles in front of where our front trenches were, and it was impossible to get any attention. Informant, after bandaging casualty’s wound to the best of his ability, was forced to leave him and that was the last he saw or heard of him, although he made inquiries of all the members of his company who knew casualty, but none of them could give any information.

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