Thomas James Wilkinson came to Chelmsford from Enfield by 1900. He joined the army before the war and in March 1915 left England for Gallipoli where he arrived the following month. He was killed there during the Second Battle of Krithia in May 1915. His home was in Queen Street. A nephew was killed during the Second World War.
Thomas was born in Enfield, Middlesex in 1889, the son of George William Wilkinson and Annie Wilkinson (nee Parker). His father had been born in Edmonton, Middlesex around 1862; his mother in 1859 in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire.
His nine siblings included George William Wilkinson (1887-1943), Harriet Wilkinson (1890-1966), Robert Wilkinson (1893-1894), Emerson Robert Wilkinson (1894-1978), Alice Wilkinson (born in 1896) Elizabeth Daisy Wilkinson (1898-1899), and a half-sister Annie Elizabeth Wilkinson (born in 1904). All the children had been born in Enfield except Annie who was born in Chelmsford.
The 1891 census found two year-old Thomas living with his parents at 26 Harman, Road, Enfield. Thomas’ father was a coalman who died in Chelmsford in the summer of 1900.
At the time of the 1901 census 12 year-old Thomas was living with his widowed mother and four siblings at 1 Victoria Road, Chelmsford. His mother was a laundress. By 1910 Thomas’ widowed mother had moved to 1 Arc Cottages (also known as Osbourne Cottages) in Queen Street, Chelmsford.
The census of the following year recorded Annie there with her children George (visiting), Emerson, Alice and Annie. George was a soldier; Emerson, a machinist at an electrical engineer’s; and Alice, a day girl servant. Thomas has yet to be found in the 1911 census.
Thomas lived in Chelmsford and enlisted at Warley prior to war. He served as Private 8607 in A Company of the 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment. The battalion was part of the 88th Brigade in the 29th Division and had been in Mauritius at the outbreak of the war. It returned to England in December 1914.
In March 1915 Thomas’ battalion was based in Warwickshire. It moved to Avonmouth on 21st March 1915 and embarked on S.S. Caledonia on the first part of the journey to capture the Gallipoli peninsular in Turkey from Turkish forces.
The battalion, including Thomas, arrived in Alexandria, Egypt on 2nd April and after a few days in Egypt sailed to Mudros Harbour which was reached on 16th April 1915. There they practised landing techniques, before setting sail for Gallipoli on the evening of 24th April 1917. They arrived off Cape Helles just before dawn the following day, and left their mother ships to land in smaller boats at ‘W’ Beach on the peninsula's south-western tip.
After landing the battalion moved forward and took part in an successful afternoon attack on Turkish forces on Hill 138 with the 4th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment. Enemy counterattacks during the night were repulsed. The following day was spent consolidating those positions prior to an advance towards the inland village of Krithia which began in the late afternoon of 27th April 1915. That evening the battalion entrenched two and a half miles from the village. The following morning an attempt was made to capture the village from the Turks, but progress was halted a mile from it by enemy forces and the battalion was driven back to the trenches that had been vacated that morning. The battalion lost 14 killed, 76 wounded and 33 missing, many from machine gun fire in what was later known as the First Battle of Krithia.
WILKINSON, THOMAS JAMES,
Private, A Company, 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment
The last two days of April were spent reorganising and on 1st May 1915 the battalion went into reserve at Morto Bay. That night the battalion, and the whole of the Allied front line was subject to a heavy attack by Turkish forces which was eventually repulsed. Thomas’ battalion suffered 14 killed, 31 wounded and five missing. The dead included the commander of the 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment.
The battalion went into reserve on the evening of 5th May 1915, but the following day was ordered to move forward to occupy a ridge one mile south-west of Krithia as part of an unsuccessful attempt to capture the village, later known as the Second Battle of Krithia. Over the next three days the battalion lost five officers wounded, 15 other ranks killed and 137 wounded. Among the dead was 26 year-old Thomas who was killed in action on the opening day, 6th May 1915 whilst with A Company.
Thomas has no known grave and is commemorated at Helles Memorial in Turkey, on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford, and the Moulsham Parish Memorial, St John’s Church, Moulsham. Two other Chelmsford men, Herbert Barnard and Cyril John Bird, died in the same battle.
Thomas’s death was reported in the Essex County Chronicle of 4th June 1915:
“Pt. T. J. Wilkinson, of the 1st Essex, was killed in action in the Dardanelles. Deceased was 26 years of age, single, and a son of Mrs. A. Wilkinson, of Osborn Cottages, Queen Street, Chelmsford. The deceased has a brother, Sergt. G. H. Wilkinson in the 2nd Essex, in France.”
The same day’s Essex Weekly News reported:
“Pte. T. J. Wilkinson, of the 1st Essex, has been killed in action in the Dardanelles. The deceased was 26 years of age, single and a son of Mrs. W. Wilkinson, of Queen-street, Chelmsford. Another son, Sergt. G. H. Wilkinson, is serving with the 2nd Essex in France.”
The 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment was eventually evacuated from Gallipoli in January 1916 to Egypt, before sailing to fight in France in March 1916.
Thomas was entitled to the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal. A street directory from 1920 showed his widowed mother still living at 1 Osborne’s Cottages (also known as 1 Noah’s Ark), Queen Street. The property was demolished after the Second World War.
Thomas’ mother died in 1942, aged 80.
His nephew (son of his sister Harriet), Leonard Charles Bailey, was killed in Chelmsford in 1944 by a German V-2 rocket that fell on Chelmsford’s Hoffmann’s bearings factory.