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Richard Hartley Sagar Wilkinson – Killed in Action 1917

Richard Hartley Sagar Wilkinson
ARRAS MEMORIAL, Pas de Calais, France

Richard Hartley Sagar Wilkinson enlisted as a Private in 13th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) serving on the Western Front from 19 November 1916.  Richard was killed in action on 11 April 1917 during the Battle of Arras. 

Previously Richard was a 2nd Lieutenant serving with 3rd Battalion (Prince of Wales Own) West Yorkshire Regiment in the 2nd Boer War and was subsequently invalided out of the army. When the First World War broke out he rejoined the 9th Battalion of his old regiment, on 4 January 1915 as a temporary Lieutenant and fought in Gallipoli were he was injured and relinquished his commission as a captain in 1916.

Richard was aged 40 and the husband of  Violet Glaister Wilkinson, of Ainsdale, Southport, Lancashire.

A fuller account of his life can be seen on the Scatby War Memorial website.


The First Battle of the Scarpe 9-14 April 1917

The preliminary bombardment of Vimy Ridge started on 20 March; and the bombardment of the rest of the sector on 4 April. Limited to a front of only 24 miles, the bombardment used 2,689,000 shells, over a million more than had been used on the Somme. German casualties were not heavy but the men became exhausted by the endless task of keeping open dug-out entrances and demoralised by the absence of rations caused by the difficulties of preparing and moving hot food under bombardment. Some went without food altogether for two or three consecutive days. By the eve of battle, the front-line trenches had ceased to exist and their barbed wire defences were blown to pieces. The official history of the 2nd Bavarian Reserve Regiment describes the front line as “consisting no longer of trenches but of advanced nests of men scattered about”. The 262nd Reserve Regiment history writes that its trench system was “lost in a crater field”. To add to the misery, for the last ten hours of bombardment, gas shells were added.

Zero-Hour had originally been planned for the morning of 8 April (Easter Sunday) but it was postponed 24 hours at the request of the French, despite reasonably good weather in the assault sector. Zero-Day was rescheduled for 9 April with Zero-Hour at 05:30. The assault was preceded by a hurricane bombardment lasting five minutes, following a relatively quiet night. When the time came, it was snowing heavily; Allied troops advancing across no man’s land were hindered by large drifts. It was still dark and visibility on the battlefield was very poor. A westerly wind was at the Allied soldiers’ backs blowing “a squall of sleet and snow into the faces of the Germans”. The combination of the unusual bombardment and poor visibility meant many German troops were caught unawares and taken prisoner, still half-dressed, clambering out of the deep dug-outs of the first two lines of trenches. Others were captured without their boots, trying to escape but stuck in the knee-deep mud of the communication trenches.

The major British assault of the first day was directly east of Arras, with the 12th Division attacking Observation Ridge, north of the Arras—Cambrai road. After reaching this objective, they were to push on towards Feuchy, as well as the second and third lines of German trenches. At the same time, elements of the 3rd Division began an assault south of the road, with the taking of Devil’s Wood, Tilloy-lès-Mofflaines and the Bois des Boeufs as their initial objectives. The ultimate objective of these assaults was the Monchyriegel, a trench running between Wancourt and Feuchy and an important component of the German defences. Most of these objectives, including Feuchy village, had been achieved by the evening of 10 April though the Germans were still in control of large sections of the trenches between Wancourt and Feuchy, particularly in the area of the heavily fortified village of Neuville-Vitasse. The following day, troops from the 56th Division were able to force the Germans out of the village, although the Monchyriegel was not fully in British hands until a few days later. The British were able to consolidate these gains and push forward towards Monchy-le-Preux, although they suffered heavy casualties in fighting near the village.

War Diaries of 13th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) – April 1917

BUNEVILLE 1 April 17
Church Parade.
2 April
Battalion Route march towards PREVENT and practise attack
3 April
Training carried on.
4 April
Orders have been received that we shall move tomorrow.
6 April
Stayed a day here. A practise brigade attack in the morning. We move to DUISANS tomorrow.
Arrived at DUISANS. Extremely bad road through GOUNES – very deep mud. This caused some little delay. In late at DUISANS. Fairly comfortable – but very col.
LOUEZ 8 April
Left DUISANS at 8am and marched to LOUEZ where the Battalion bivouacked in a
field about 1/2 mile S. of the ST Pel – ARRAS road. Weather fine and warmer.
BLANGY 9 April
ZERO Day. The Bn. left LOUEZ at 4.45 am, and moved slowly down to the valley of the SCARPE and so round the N.W. outskirts of ARRAS to BLANGY, which we reached at 11.30am, without casualties. This was the forward assembly position of the 111th I Bdge. We waited here till 1.10 p.m. when we received instructions to move forward beyond the BLACK LINE of the attack. The Bn. moved forward independently by companies, and took up a position in BATTERY VALLEY along the line of FREDs WOOD at about 4.45 the Bn. moved forward to the point from which it was to commence the attack on MONCHY. Up to the BLUE LINE – all was quiet. No enemy shells were falling, but in the morning the BLUE LINE it was realised for the first time that portion of the Brown LINE directly in front was held by the enemy. There was no alternative but go on & attack the BROWN LINE – which was done by the 10th & 13th R.F. the 10th R.F. being on the right. Advancing by rushes over approximately 2000 yards of ground. We were brought to a standstill just E of the FEUCHY-FEUCHY CHAPEL Road. The 10th R.F. prolonged our right – but our left was in the air. At nightfall we dug in on the line we held and formed a defensive flank to our left. Shortly before dawn we received instructions to withdraw at once to the vicinity of BROKEN MILL, which another Brigade took over our position. During this attach the Bn. suffered casualties of 2 officers & 78 OR. In accordance with instructions we returned to BROKEN MILL & bivouacked in FEUCHY from 6 a.m. until about 12 noon. When we received instructions to move forward for the attack on MONCHY. During the morning of the 10th the piece of BROWN LINE which had held us up on the 9th had been captured. We advanced over the northern end of ORANGE HILL and then swung half left towards the outlying woods west of MONCHY. The 10th R.F. were in touch on our right. The whole continued to go forward under a heavy barrage-which caused many casualties.
The remainder of the operations before MONCHY-LE- PREOX are described in the attached narrative by Lt. Col. AB Layton – covering the period 9-12th April. 1917 inclusive. A sketch map is also attached showing the position occupied the 13th R.F. on the night of 11th April, when the Bn was in support of the front line.

ARRAS 12 April
The Bn moved from ARRAS to AGNEZ-LE-DUISANS by motor bus on the night of the 12th and were accommodated in huts.
Remained in AGNEZ – resting. A fair number of men were foot sore.
The total casualties of the Bn. during the MONCHY operation (9-12 April) were 15 officers and 281 OR.

Resting and refitting . Commenced training.
Training -received a small draft but still very short of men- and especially short of officers.
Training. Received orders that we are to move tomorrow.
Marched from AGNEZ to RAILWAY CUTTING . Received details of attack which is to take place on 23.4.17. Weather warm and fine. Bn. bivouacked in the railway cutting.
Remained in railway cutting. Front towards GAVRELLE reconnoitred her our officers.
Still in Railway cutting- a draft of 90 men arrived – fully equipped except that they had no box respirators. At 7p.m. 22. 4. 17 the Bn. Paraded to proceed to the assembly position for the attack at 4.45 am on the 23.4.12. A sketch map is attached showing the approximate assembly position of which was reached by 12 midnight 22-23 April. with 6 casualties.
SOUTH of GAVRELLE 23rd to 29th
The period from Aprilil 23rd to 29th inclusive is fully covered by the narrative of events during that time – which is attached hereto. A sketch map is attached showing the final position held by this Bn. at the time of relief on the night of April 29/30.
The Battn. was conveyed by motor buses to IZEL-LEZ-HAMEAU leaving BLANGY at about 5 p.m..

Narrative of Operations

NARRATIVE of EVENTS from April 9th to 12th 1917, inclusive.
April 9th
The Battalion reached its assembly point in BLANGY, without casualties, at 11-30 a.m.
At about 1.15 p.m. the Brigade was ordered to move forward to the position of the BLACK LINE, and this Battalion took up a position at FRED’S WOOD.
At about 4.45 p.m. the Brigade moved forward to the point from which it was to commence the attack on MONCHY, but on going over the rising ground of the BLUE LINE, the leading Battalions (13th & 10th R. Fus.) were fired on by M.Gs. from the BROWN LINE. It was then realised for the first time that the BROWN LINE was not in our possession. There was now no alternative but to go on and attack the BROWN LINE, which the leading Battalions did in perfect order and with great vigour, advancing by rushes over approximately 2,000 yards of ground, sloping towards the enemy, until they were brought to a standstill slightly in advance of the line of the road from FEUCHY to FEUCHY CHAPEL, the right of this Battalion being approximately at the junction of the French HIRSON LANE with the above mentioned road.
The 10th R. Fus., prolonged our right, but our left flank was in the air. At this stage, a tank materially assisted us by silencing one of the enemy’s M.Gs., but went out of action almost immediately afterwards. As soon as it became dark, we dug ourselves in properly and sent patrols up to the enemy’s wire to cut it or find some means of getting through it. Generally speaking it was in very good condition and of considerable depth.
April 10th
Shortly before down, we were ordered to withdraw and move to the neighbourhood of BROKEN MILL, our position being taken by another Battalion. This move was completed before daylight on Tuesday the 10th. Casualties during this attack were numerous.
The Battalion tool up a position behind the railway embankment at FEUCHY, reorganized and filled water bottles etc.
At noon the Battalion moved forward along the railway line to the enemy’s side of the BROWN LINE and shock out into artillery formation on the rising ground from the railway and advanced over ORANGE HILL, then swing a quarter left towards the outlying woods West of MONCHY. The formation was changed to waves in conformity with the 10th R. Fus. on our right, and the whole continued to go forward in perfect order under a very heavy barrage, in which considerable losses were sustained.
On reaching the outlying woods and fields, the Battalion came under heavy M.G. and rifle fire, but continued to press forward, until brought to a standstill on the enemy’s side of the wood and the first field on the right of them. These woods and fields were found to be swampy. All this time the enemy’s barrage of heavy shells continued without intermission, causing many casualties.
Great daring was shown by all ranks in hunting out enemy snipers and light machine guns, and by this means the fire was to some extent reduced. The Battalion H.Q. was established in a shell hole at the rear edge of the first field, and efforts were made to get into touch with Battalions on our right and left. It was soon found that the 10th R.Fus., on our right and the 8th Som. L.I. on our left were also unable to get on, and arrangements were made to stalk the M.G. positions after nightfall. An order was received at 7-40 p.m. that the whole Division was to move forward following a barrage, and accordingly a further attempt was made , which resulted in a slight advance only, with many additional casualties. By this time the Battalion was very much reduced in numbers and most of the Officers were either wounded or killed. Three specialist Officers only now remained besides the C.O. and Adjutant. The former were detailed to Companies with instructions to hold the line gained. At about 1 a.m. on the 11th the Field Company R.E. reported to me, and after consultation with the O.C. I decided to construct a line of trench running approximately H.E. about 30 yards in rear of the woods, with the left flank at the smaller wood & the right flank joining up with another trench occupied by the 20th Royal. Fusiliers.
This was completed her about 4.0 a.m. & the front line was withdrawn into it. At the same time, the Headquarters were withdrawn to a shell hole behind this line.
We were still in communication, though not in actual touch with the Battalions on our right and left, & the general trace of the trench gave us complete command of the woods & fields with our Lewis Guns. Shortly after this move was completed, a verbal order was received from the Brigade Major that the Brigade would attack again at 5.0 a.m. on the 11th, with the 13th R. Brigade & the 13th K.R.R. in the front line, & the 13th R.F. and 10th R.F. supporting them in the order named.
The attack was launched to time & on this occasion tanks cooperated & proved invaluable in silencing M.G. emplacements which had hitherto defied our efforts.
The attack was delivered with such vigour that the enemy was driven out of the town & park, & retired to the slope of the opposite ridge where he rallied & reformed in a remarkably short time. This Battalion became mixed up with the Battalion in front of it, & isolated groups fought their way forward independently. Much good work was done by the Battalion in this final attack & great initiative was displayed by all ranks at a time when N.C.O. and men had to act for themselves to fulfil the common object.
These groups established themselves in shell holes, etc, forming a series of advanced posts in conjunction with other Battalions of the Brigade from the road forming the original right flank of this Battalions objective through the park to a point about 200 yards North of it. Lewis Gun positions were established in houses on the Eastern outskirts of the village & effectively stopped the activity of one or two of the enemy Machine Guns.
Immediately the enemy was driven out a terrific bombardment came down on the village & surrounding ground, which continued until after dark that evening.
About mid-day it seemed likely that the enemy would counter attack as he was moving down the opposite slope in good order, digging in as he came, however by this time the 111th M.G. Coy. had come into position, so that the situation was comparatively secure, & the counter attack did not develop.
About 4.30 p.m. I collected as many men of this Battalion as possible & withdrew them to the trench line above mentioned, where they cleaned rifles, refilled with ammunition & prepared generally to fill their proper role as supports.
During the whole of the day the enemy’s shelling was most intense . We were relieved about 10.0 p.m. & moved back to Battery Valley, where we spent the night, & moved into ARRAS the next day, April 12th.
During the whole of the operations the weather was very cold & snow fell every day.
I consider that the Battalion behaved magnificently & I have nothing but praise for everyone in it.
April 15th/17.
AB Layton.
O.C., 13th.Bn. Royal Fusiliers.

Press Announcements

The Scarborough Mercury of Friday 11 May 1917

The sad news has reached his wife that Mr R H S (Peter) Wilkinson, Royal Fusiliers, has been killed in action, a letter having been received from Corpl. Etherton, at present in hospital in the South of England, stating that deceased died peacefully on the battlefield, and also enclosing a small photograph of Mrs Wilkinson and their two children.  Mr Richard Hartley Sagar Wilkinson was well known in Scarborough district.  Educated at Cheltenham College, he served with the West Riding Militia in the Boer War, and was subsequently invalided out of the army.  He rejoined the colours early in the present war, serving as a captain in Gallipoli, but was again invalided out.  Last year he again rejoined, however.  He had lived in Scarborough, residing in Scalby Road until he rejoined, and his family who have been staying in Southport have a house at Scalby.  Deceased was 41 years of age, was the youngest son of the late Mr William Wilkinson, St Mary’s Mount, Newton Park, Leeds, and a brother-in-law of Mrs Halliday Huggan, Scalby.  No official intimation has yet been received.

The Yorkshire Post

Lieut Richard Hartley Sagar Wilkinson, killed in action, formerly lived at Scalby, near Scarboro’.  He was 41 years of age, and the brother of Mr W Musgrave Wilkinson, solicitor, Leeds.  Lieut Wilkinson served with the West Yorkshire Militia in the South African War.

Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment)

Also known as the City of London Regiment, the Royal Fusiliers raised no fewer than 47 battalions for service in the Great War. This makes it the fifth largest after the London Regiment, Northumberland Fusiliers, Middlesex Regiment and King’s (Liverpool Regiment).

Duruing WW1, The Royal Fusiliers raised an additional 76 battalions and were awarded 80 Battle Honours and 12 Victoria Crosses (two of which were the first awarded in the war for the Battle of Mons and the last two of the war in North Russia) losing 15,600 men during the course of the war.

13th (Service) Battalion
Formed at Hounslow as part of K3 and attached as Army Troops to 24th Division and then moved to South Downs.
March 1915 : came under command of 111th Brigade in 37th Division.
Landed at Boulogne on 30 July 1915.

Formed at Hounslow on 13 September 1914 as part of the Third New Army (K3), and attached to the 24th Division and then moved to South Downs.
December 1914 Moved to Worthing, West Sussex.
March 1915 transferred to the 111st Brigade of the 37th Division and moved to Ludgershall.
30 July 1915 Mobilised for war and landed in Boulogne and the Division was engaged in various actions on the Western front including;
During 1916
The Battle of the Ancre.
During 1917
The First Battle of the Scarpe, The Second Battle of the Scarpe, The Battle of Arleux, The Battle of Pilkem Ridge, The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge, The Battle of Polygon Wood, The Battle of Broodseinde, The Battle of Poelcapelle, The First Battle of Passchendaele.
4 February 1918 Transferred to the 112th Brigade of the 37th Division and continued to engage in action on the Western Front including;
During 1918
The Battle of the Ancre, The Battle of the Albert, The Battle of Havrincourt, The Battle of the Canal du Nord, The Battle of Cambrai, The pursuit to the Selle, The Battle of the Selle, The Battle of the Sambre.
12 March 1918 Disbanded in France and remaining personnel transferred to the 1st 10th and 11th Battalions.

Personal Life

Richard Hartley Sagar Wilkinson was born 24 Feb 1876 to William and Elizabeth (nee Sagar) Wilkinson in Leeds, Yorkshire, England. His father was a Corn Miller Employing 17 Men.

At that time he had 3 siblings, William born in 1860, Margaret born in 1861 in Skipton and Sidney born in 1863 all at Skipton, Yorkshire.

Richard was age 5 and living with his parents in the 1881 UK Census on 3 Apr 1881 at St Marys Mount in Potter-Newton, Leeds, Yorkshire, England.

Richard was age 25 and a visitor in the 1901 UK Census on 31 Mar 1901 at the Victoria Hotel, 39, The Promenade in Southport, Lancashire, England.

Richard married Violet Glaister Walmsley in July 1910 at Ormskirk, Lancashire, England.

They had two sons, Richard Tattershall Musgrave born in 1911 in Southport, Lancashire, and John.

Richard joined the West Yorkshire Regiment, on 4 January 1915 as a temporary Lieutenant and fought in Gallipoli were he was injured and consequently relinquished his commission as a captain in 1916.

He subsequently enlisted as a Private in 13th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) serving on the Western Front from 19 November 1916.  Richard was killed in action on 11 April 1917 during the Battle of Arras. 

His wife remarried a George W Morris in 1922 at Southport, Lancashire.

She died on 5 Feb 1925 at age of 45 years in Liverpool, Lancashire, England.

Census Records

Grave Details

His war grave details can be seen here.  This links to the Commonwealth Grave Commission’s website.

Remembered in Birkdale Cemetery.

Richard Hartley Sagar Wilkinson

BORN FEBY 7th 1847
DIED AUGT 21st 1908
DIED MAY 23rd 1934,
FEB 5th 1928

Cemetery Details -ARRAS MEMORIAL, Pas de Calais

The French handed over Arras to Commonwealth forces in the spring of 1916 and the system of tunnels upon which the town is built were used and developed in preparation for the major offensive planned for April 1917.

The Commonwealth section of the FAUBOURG D’AMIENS CEMETERY was begun in March 1916, behind the French military cemetery established earlier. It continued to be used by field ambulances and fighting units until November 1918. The cemetery was enlarged after the Armistice when graves were brought in from the battlefields and from two smaller cemeteries in the vicinity.

The cemetery contains over 2,650 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, 10 of which are unidentified. The graves in the French military cemetery were removed after the war to other burial grounds and the land they had occupied was used for the construction of the Arras Memorial and Arras Flying Services Memorial.

The adjacent ARRAS MEMORIAL commemorates almost 35,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between the spring of 1916 and 7 August 1918, the eve of the Advance to Victory, and have no known grave. The most conspicuous events of this period were the Arras offensive of April-May 1917, and the German attack in the spring of 1918. Canadian and Australian servicemen killed in these operations are commemorated by memorials at Vimy and Villers-Bretonneux. A separate memorial remembers those killed in the Battle of Cambrai in 1917.

The adjacent ARRAS FLYING SERVICES MEMORIAL commemorates almost 1,000 airmen of the Royal Naval Air Service, the Royal Flying Corps, and the Royal Air Force, either by attachment from other arms of the forces of the Commonwealth or by original enlistment, who were killed on the whole Western Front and who have no known grave.

During the Second World War, Arras was occupied by United Kingdom forces headquarters until the town was evacuated on 23 May 1940. Arras then remained in German hands until retaken by Commonwealth and Free French forces on 1 September 1944. The 1939-1945 War burials number 8 and comprise 3 soldiers and 4 airmen from the United Kingdom and 1 entirely unidentified casualty. Located between the 2 special memorials of the 1914-1918 War is the special memorial commemorating an officer of the United States Army Air Force, who died during the 1939-1945 War. This special memorial, is inscribed with the words “Believed to be buried in this cemetery”. In addition, there are 30 war graves of other nationalities, most of them German.

Both cemetery and memorial were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, with sculpture by Sir William Reid Dick. The memorial was unveiled by Lord Trenchard, Marshal of the Royal Air Force on the 31 July 1932 (originally it had been scheduled for 15 May, but due to the sudden death of French President Doumer, as a mark of respect, the ceremony was postponed until July).

You can view the details for this cemetery on the Commonwealth Grave Commission’s website here.

Sources of Information

Commonwealth War Graves Commission.


Find My Past

National Archives

Scalby War Memorial