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John Arthur ‘Jack’ Wilson MM (1896 – 1992)


John Arthur ‘Jack’ Wilson MM 

Born 20th August 1896, at his grandmother’s home, Dalston, Cumberland.
Died 3rd December 1992, at home, Gosforth, Newcastle on Tyne.

Christened Dalston, Cumbria
Raised and schooled at Benfieldside, County Durham, England.

Age 14 he left school and joined the Northeastern Brewery (September 1910) as the Office Boy at the company’s head office in the Royal Hotel.

Joined the Durham Light Infantry as one of Kitchener’s volunteers in late 1915 or early 1916
Transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, training on the Vicker’s Machine Gun at Harrowby Camp, Grantham from February to March 1916

13203 104 MGC 35th Division

Served in France at Neuve Chappel, Arras

Based on the Somme in 1916 from June to November.

Moved to the Ypres Salient in 1917 serving next to the French, billeted near Popringe and fighting the over the Ypres Canal towards Langemark, Poelcapelle, Houthulst Forest and then Passchendaele.
Made a Corporal.
Awarded the Military Medal ‘in the field’ by Brigadier Sandilands for keeping the gun in action for a week without relief. This occurred in the pillbox called Colombo House on the edge of Houthulst Forest at the end of October 1917 (20/10/17)

Transferred to the Royal Flying Corps at the end of December 1917. There are photographs of his RAF experiences.
Interview and medical at the Hotel Cecil, Hampstead then training in Hastings, Bristol, Uxbridge and Crail.
Jack flew Avro Trainers and Bristol Fighters.
He saw no action though he qualified before the Armistice, flying over the German fleet when it came north to Scapa Flow.
He stayed on at RAF Crail to help with demobbing.

Jack returned to his job at the Northeastern Brewery in 1919 and bought himself a BSA motorbike with the collection that had been made for him.
He stayed with the Northeastern Brewery until 1931.
Redundancy when Vaux took over the Northeadtern Brewery saw him move to the Scottish & Newcastle where he remained until retirement in the early 1960s

In 1992 Jack Wilson visited the Imperial War Museum and attended Machine Gun Corps and RFC/RAF commemoration events.
He took part in the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Passchendale attending at the Menin Gate and being introduced to the King of Belgium.
He also did a moving battlefield tour guided by the author Lyn Macdonald. He was able to mark the spot were he buried two of his mates from his machine gun company. There are photographs of this.

Three hours of audio interviews conducted when Jack was 96 are available as MP3 files.


It started for me, Jack’s grandson, with my sitting on his knee after Sunday lunch at my parent’s home in Gosforth, Newcastle-on-Tyne in the mid 1960s.

And so he told and retold stories of his going along to the recruiting office in Consett, the medical and kit, basic training with the Durham Light Infantry, and transfer to the Machine Gun Corps followed by MCG training on a Vicker’s Machine Gun. He knew what the five main stoppages were. He then did two and a half years on the Western Front surviving Arras, the Somme and the worst of them all – Third Ypres and the mud of Passchendeale. At the very end of 1917 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and during 1918 he undertook training with the soon to be renamed Royal Air Force: military training in Hastings, navigation in Bristol, bombing at Uxbridge then flying at RAF Crail in Scotland.

Unprompted his desire to talk always begin with, ‘Have I told you about the time that … ‘

My understanding of his experience will be enhanced as I take a Masters in First World War studies with the University of Birmingham. I can imagine being at his side as I share insights he’d have found fascinating. There are still, in the world, a few people who may remember the conflict. We live still with its consequences.

Can we do justice to the memory of that generation – those who served as well as those who lost their lives. Can an unbiased debate over the causes and outcomes invigorate European and World Institutions to find ways to resolve more conflicts without the deaths and injury of combatants and civilians?

In the meantime I have three hours of interviews I conducted with my grandfather John Arthur Wilson MM between 1989 and 1992 to edit, refresh and put online. These MP3 files will be available in due course both as podcasts and as videos. As well as a verbatim transcript the approach will be to break it into 30 or more themed anecdotes – in chronological order. These will feature his photographs too, though these are essentially of his RAF training only. At this stage the highest resolution images will be put online. In due course these will be put under a computer controlled rostrum camera. By way of illustration I will seek out appropriate maps, archive photographs and appropriate additional contemporary video or stills. I have at some stage visited all the locations of this story, from Crail to Caix, from Fenham Barracks to Poelcapelle, from Hastings to Grantham. Where I can establish the copyright position I will include, reference and link to images and film from national archives. Newspapers from this era often contain many photographs.

I am a filmmaker with a broadcast credit as a director, writer and producer for a short film I made. Where and when I can I hope to recreate moments from his story on the tightest of budgets using actors, shooting in a studio or at night to envisage the claustrophobic horror of a pillbox under fire on the frontline during ‘Third Ypres’ or ‘Passchendaele’.

As my academic credentials kick in I will not only be better able to correctly reference and qualify this story, but I would hope to add further detail and illustration.

This is a labour of love – my memory of my grandfather is kept alive in this way. Where I can contribute to a regional or national story I am happy to do so providing access both to the interviews and photographs. I also welcome enquiries from schools or others, grandchildren or great grandchildren who are interested in tracing and telling a relative’s story.









On the Farm in Dalston – 1890s

The ‘Old Man’ and my mother’s side


The Old man was the local vet in Wigton

He was never a qualified vet but he did the job all the same. He had all these beautiful instruments in a doctor’s bag; he looked the part and the people who came to him were grateful. I have those instruments somewhere. He had all sorts.

I remember going over there once and being taken up to Heather’s Gill where we did some shooting.

My mother’s side were farmers at Bell Gate House Farm, Dalston

Mother, whose name was Sarah, was the eldest of six girls.

My aunties were Margaret (b1874), Ellen (b1877) then Elizabeth (b1880), Ada (b1883) and Emma (b1886)

Mother, 24 at the time, went home to Granny Nixon to have me.

I was born on the farm on 20th August 1896 and christened in Dalston Church.

That’s what women did when they were expecting; they went home to have their baby and would be taken care of by their mothers.

The farm was a real mixture. It had an orchard and pigs. We rented it from the estate. There was a market garden in Carlisle. Granny Nixon used to take a pony and tub trap into town once a week to sell eggs and butter at a stall.

100_1509 tub trap inside trap

I’d go in on the occasions I was there and help out on the stall for a few coppers.


Born – Bellgate Farm, Dalston, Cumberland

Blacksmiths & Wheelwrights


From transcripts of interview with Jack Wislon carried out in 1992

My father’s people were blacksmiths and wheelwrights in Cumberland

There were these grand heaps of rusty horse shoes cast out from the Smithy laying all about, like leaves they were. A great heap of them. Billy and I would scramble around getting up to allsorts, pushing them over in a landslide, stacking them high, laying them out in paths, or like stepping stones or in patterns over the coble stones. They were all cleared away during the Great War; they needed the metal.

There were instruments of all kinds on the walls of the smithy, vicious looking pieces, some not often used. You wondered how that one would work or this one, what you’d do with it if you had to employ it on a horse or a cow.

That was the smithy, and we had plenty of them in the family, all around Wigton on every road North, South, East or West.

The wheelwrights thought themselves more sophisticated, more intellectual. I don’t know why. They fancied themselves as engineers just as some Blacksmiths reckoned they were more like veterinarians. Our lot were mostly Smithies, I say that because on the wheelwrighting lot were all cousins, they just fancied themselves as a bit more superior. I don’t know why, they had as much junk lying about the place: cart pieces and broken wheels stacked against the walls.

Everyone called my grandfather the ‘Old Man.’

His name was John; he must have been 70 something at the time which was a fair age to be in 1900. His father, that would be my great-grandfather they called ‘Old Joe.’ Now he was well into his Nineties.

He died at the do they had for the Relief of Mafeking in 1902.

The ‘Old Man’ played the fiddle at these things and Old Joe got up to have a jig about on a table my father hand made. A lovely thing, with all these carvings on it, made out of oak, held his weight. But it was highly polished and Old Joe took a tumble and landed badly on the ground. Still, he’d had a fair innings.

There weren’t many people who’d been around before Queen Victoria had come to the throne.

The Old Man and Granny Jane had a couple of cousins living with them, lads my age: Samuel and Augustus, strapping lads over 6 foot 4 inches. That Uncle was off to Sheffield to work in a Big House; he’d had a turn at being a wheelwright, so you see it wasn’t all hunky-dory. A lot of the family were doing that; there were only so many blacksmiths and wheelwrights you could have in a town like Wigton.

Our lot had experience with horses and carts and such like so they’d go off to find themselves a position as a groom or look for work in the marshalling yards around the big towns: horses and carts used in abundance to take goods off the trains then deliver them around the towns

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