Service Number WR/310193
Battalion Inland Water Transport Coy
Regiment Royal Engineers
Geoffrey William Wilkinson was born in Leeds on the 11th October 1883, the son of Professor Charles William Wilkinson (Professor of Music) and his wife Anna Martha Emilie Josephine Wilkinson (nee Klei). Geoffrey had an elder brother Robert Ernest, who was a blouse manufacturer, and a younger sister, Dorothy Beatrice Emilie.
In 1911, the family were living at 10 De Grey Terrace, Leeds and Geoffrey was an insurance official. A year later, in 1912, Geoffrey married Lilian Mildred Benson in Nottingham.
Geoffrey enlisted for military service in the First World War on the 11th December 1915 in Leeds, giving his address as Wharfedale Terrace, Collingham. He was immediately posted to the reserve until his services were needed and he was eventually mobilised on the 20th July 1916, when he was posted as a Sapper in the Inland Water Transport Company of the Royal Engineers. On the 5th August 1916 he was serving in this role in Sandwich.
The Inland Water Transport and Docks Section of the Royal engineers was set up in December 1914, as part of the Railways Directorate, to deal with transportation along the canals and waterways in France and Belgium. It seems mainly to have recruited from the waterways and harbours of Great Britain. Its role was to operate the French and Belgian canals and rivers of the area held by the British Forces. At first, only the northern waterways connecting Calais, Dunkirk, Armentieres and Bethune were utilized, but the value of the service became so apparent that in the summer of 1915, it was extended to the River Somme, and in September 1916, to the Seine. In July 1917, it was extended to the River Scarpe and eventually to a coastal service between Dunkirk and Le Havre, and a cross-channel service between Calais and Richborough. The tonnage moved by IWT increased from just under 200,000 tons in 1915 to over 2,800,000 tons in 1918. There were many different types of craft in use, ranging from tugs, to standard barges including Ambulance Barges. In addition to actually handling their craft, the men also did pumping, filtering and salvage work, and had a Constructional Section which repaired and improved the waterways. The headquarters of the section was in Richborough, Kent. Sappers operated in a variety of roles, and worked to maintain communication and transportation of food, supplies, ammunition and the evacuation of wounded. At the end of the Great War of 1914-1918 the total personnel in the Inland Water Transport and Docks Service amounted to 1,666 officers and 29,436 other ranks.
Geoffrey gained several promotions during his service - to acting Lance Corporal on the 8th December 1916, to acting Corporal on 1st March 1917, to acting Sergeant on the 2nd August 1917, and acting Company Sergeant Major on the 22nd December 1918. He was eventually demobilised on the 18th April 1919.
During the war, on the 10th April 1917, Geoffrey and Lilian had a son, Robert Geoffrey Wilkinson who was born in Headingley, Leeds.
1911 Census. The National Archives. Class RG14 Piece 27021
First World War British Army Service Records. The National Archives (WO363).
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