Battalion 3rd Battalion (attached 4th Battalion)
Regiment Royal Welch Fusiliers
Killed in Action: 6th April 1918
Commemorated at: Pozieres Memorial
|Private||2232||Inns of Court Officer Training Corps|
Neville Inchbald Wilson was born on the 26th August 1892 in Harrogate, the son of Harold Inchbald Wilson, a Leeds solicitor, and his wife Helen Mary Wilson, nee Jessop. Neville's grandfather, Thomas Richard Jessop, was an eminent surgeon in Leeds. Neville was baptised about a month later, on the 21st October at St.Peter's Church, Leeds.
Neville spent much of his boyhood at Linton Cottage, Linton, and we find him there with his father and aunt, Edith Vaux Wilson, on the night of the 1901 census. Later, in 1906, Neville went to Malvern College, and was there as a boarder in No. 2 House on the night of the 1911 census. By that time his father's address was given as 139 Bishop's Mansions, SW London. At Malvern, Neville was a minor scholar and a house prefect. He made Mathematics his special study, and it was intended that he should go to Cambridge; but, owing to a change of plans, he went to Canada and joined Guelph College, Ontario. There he studied at Ontario Agricultural College. After he had finished his course, he was appointed to do work under the Canadian Government, and he was engaged on this when the war broke out. His master at Malvern wrote: "His career at school in a general way, and more particularly the energy and determination he showed in endeavouring to reach the aim he had set before himself, gave certain indications of what might be expected of him when he arrived at the age of manhood."
Neville's army career in World War 1 was as an officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Neville attested for service on the 3rd December 1914 into the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps. He undertook his officer training and served in the UK until the 12th March 1915. He first went to France in 15th August 1915. He was an officer in the 3rd Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers but was later (at the time of his death) attached to the 4th Battalion. This Battalion was a Pioneer Battalion. The men were trained to infantryman standards, yet also trained in lesser engineering tasks. They could take over and hold trenches, but also dig, improve, maintain, wire and revet trenches.
Neville was awarded the Military Cross during his service. The citation reads:
"Thanks to his dauntless courage, splendid leadership, and perseverance, a position captured by another battalion was successfully consolidated by the company under his command, despite intense machine-gun and rifle fire. His contempt of danger, splendid personal example, and devotion to duty inspired his men with the greatest confidence and enabled them to fulfil their task under the most trying and adverse conditions."
The Battles of 5th and 6th April 1918
On the 21st March the German Spring Offensive had begun. The Germans had broken through the British Front lines and made rapid progress. By the 24th, the British Front Line was badly fragmented. These successful German attacks had driven the British Front line back. However by the 30th March, despite gaining much ground, the German attack was losing strength and ended around the 4th-5th April. The Germans had captured 1,200 sq miles of France and advanced up to 40 miles, but had not taken any of the strategic objectives. Over 75,000 British troops had been taken prisoner and 1,300 artillery pieces and 200 tanks had been lost. Along with this around 177,739 British troops had been killed, wounded or were missing.
At 3.30pm on the 29th March 1918 the 4th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers were at Senlis and headquarters was set up in a large chateau. The Battalion relieved another unit in the Bouzincourt-Martinsart Front. Immediately, the Battalion were employed at night to dig a new support trench on a line running from a point on the Bouzincourt to Aveluy Road about 700 yards east of Bouzincourt to the southern edge of Martinsart Wood, and they continued digging and improving the trenches in this area each night until the 4th April, fulfilling one of the roles of a Pioneer Battalion.
Senlis was heavily shelled from 7am on the 5th April and a strong enemy attack was made on the front of the 142nd Brigade resulting in the withdrawal of the British outpost line in the south west corner of Aveluy Wood.
At 1pm orders were received from Division to move the 4th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers forward to the Cross Roads, midway between Bouzincourt and Martinsart. Under heavy shell fire the battalion moved forward from Senlis, and by 3.20pm were disposed as follows:
Battalion Headquarters at the Cross Roads; 'B' company in the trench running along the East edge of the road towards Martinsart from the Cross Roads. 'A' company in a similar trench along the road towards Bouzincourt. 'C' company was in reserve in the trench running due north and south about 700 yards in the rear of battalion headquarters. The War Diary makes it plain that the Battalion was moving from its Pioneer role, to an Infantry role, but it specifically mentions that the Battalion was, at that time, expected to act in a defensive capacity only. However that clearly changed at some point and 4th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers became part of the counter attack at Aveluy Wood.
At 5.50pm 'B' Company, under orders from 142nd Brigade, they moved forward to the North West corner of Martinsart Wood and reported to the officer commanding the support battalion of the 22nd London Regiment, and then moved forward again to a support position about 250 yards south east of Martinsart Cross Roads.
At 7.30pm, 'A' company also moved forward to a support position in the Orchard of the North of the village and Capt JB Howard, acting as second in command of the battalion, took up his quarters at 22nd Battalion HQ in liaison with the Officer Commanding 22nd Battalion.
About 10pm, a warning order was received from the 142nd Brigade that the Battalion would counter attack at dawn to re-establish the brigade front line.
At midnight, the battalion HQ moved forward to Support Battalion HQ North West of Martinsart and then to the Right Front Battalion HQ, 600 yards south east of Martinsart Cross Roads. 'C' Company moved forward from their reserve position to the positions vacated by 'A' and 'B' companies, and shortly afterwards joined these companies in their Support Positions near Martinsart. During the day the Battalion suffered 3 other ranks killed and 16 wounded.
Movements of 4th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers 29th March - 5th April 1918. Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
The 6th April 1918 was fine, and by 4am 'A' and 'B' companies of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers were assembled for the attack along the bank to the West of Aveluy Wood between the Halt on the Albert-Mesnil railway and a point 600 yards due east of the Martinsart Cross Roads,'A' company on the left and 'B' company on the right. The attack was made with a screen of scouts in front and was delivered in depth, each company on a two-platoon front. The companies advanced in extended order to the edge of the wood and then a snake-like formation was adopted with sections in single file. Zero hour was fixed for 5.55am just around the time of dawn.
Attack of 4th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers 6th March 1918. Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
The war diary records:
'B' Company fell back to their original line, while two Platoons of 'A' company succeeded in extending the line held by the left Battalion (24 London Regiment) 70 yards south west of the point at which the one communication trench entered the wood and they subdued one enemy machine gun post by bombing and killing the crew. This position was held and consolidated. However the other machine guns were out of bombing distance and no further advance could be made. The situation remained unchanged throughout the day.
At night, 'A' and 'B' companies occupied the communication trench which they deepened and improved. The 142nd Brigade, with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers attached were relieved by the 106th Infantry Brigade, with the Royal Welch Fusiliers and the 23rd London Regiment in the centre sub-section being relieved by the 17th Battalion Royal Scots. At 7pm, before the relief took place, a violent enemy barrage was put down behind the British front lines and on the village of Martinsart, lasting 20 minutes, but no attack followed and the relief was carried out quietly.
The War Diary concludes : Thus ended the most disasterous day in the history of the Battalion.
The Major-General of the division in which his regiment served, spoke of Neville Wilson as a keen and courageous officer. Neville Inchbold Wilson was killed in action on the 6th April 1918 at Aveluy Wood. The Major of his unit wrote that Neville was leading his men in a counter-attack on
April 6th, when he was killed by machine-gun fire:
"During the whole night before the attack he was very cool and collected, thinking only about his dispositions for the attack and the best he could do for his men. I need hardly say he was absolutely fearless, and he seemed to have no other thought than to ‘put up a good show,' which he did. No leader could have been finer, and the troops responded admirably to his leadership." (Malvernian, Jun 1918).
Neville Inchbald Wilson's body was not recovered after the battle and Neville is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial in the Somme. The War Diary for the 4th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers also records the deaths of Neville and his colleagues on that day:
Biography last updated 04 November 2020 18:25:08.
1911 Census. The National Archives. Class RG14 Piece 17649
First World War Medal Index Cards. The National Archives (WO372).
First World War Medal Index Rolls. The National Archives (WO329).
First World War Officer's Service Records WO339/43790 The National Archives.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery and Burial Reports
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