Over the course of the Northumbria World War One project, many of the stories of the 4,000-plus casualties have been heartrending.
The vast majority of those who died did so in action or as a result of wounds sustained in action. But not all met their maker in this fashion and one of the strangest to be researched has to be that of Private Herbert Edwin Wilson, of the 3rd Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment, who died in a freak accident at the Spanish City, of all places.
Born in 1894 and hailing from the busy Yorkshire port of Hull, he grew up with six brothers and one sister. His father William was a joiner. Sometime between the census of 1891 and that of 1901, Herbert’s mother disappears from the records. Herbert isn’t on the 1901 census, but other records suggest he is being cared for by relatives because by 1911 he is living with his older brother Richard. But he almost certainly lost his mother when he was very young.
He works as a warehouseman in a plumber’s merchants and when war comes he joins up with the 6th East Yorkshires. After training, he sails to Gallipoli to join up with his battalion near Suvla Bay. The Gallipoli Peninsula was a wretched place, especially for the allied forces, and was a hellhole when Herbert arrived there in September 1915.
He survives the debacle of Gallipoli and ends up at the Western Front, where he sees action. At some stage he transfers to the West Yorkshires, initially the 10th Battalion, later the 2nd/5th, and later again by June 1918, the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, part of the Tyne Garrison defending the river and the coastline.
Compared to the day-to-day threat of serious injury or death in the trenches, this posting to Whitley Bay is a godsend. And, with perhaps a bit of leave, on the Monday night of the 24th of that summer month Herbert goes to Spanish City to try out the delights of the funfair.
But that day was to end in terrible tragedy for him. A report in the Shields Daily News four days later outlined what occurred.
Private Wilson was riding upon a switchback ride known as the ‘Slippery Slip’. When reaching the bottom he was found to be unconscious and it was discovered that a long splinter of wood had become detached from the ride and had pierced his body.
Called to the scene was a Dr Horseman who found a piece of stick embedded in Private Wilson’s back. The cause of death was from shock and internal bleeding.
The subsequent enquiry concurred with the doctor that the injuries were accidentally received and a “suggestion was made that such switchbacks should be more frequently inspected”.
To come through the worst of war to be killed in an innocuous accident only months away from the Armistice must have been quite hard to take.
The Northumbria World War One project welcomes anyone with information on any of the casualties of the Great War from the North Tyneside area. Our website is northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk or call in to our office at B9 in the Linskill Centre in North Shields is open from 10am to 4pm, Monday to Friday, or you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org