Gunner Wilfrid Thacker

Recently John Lawson travelled with a group from Holy Trinity Church in Hull to Ypres in Belgium. And he writes:-

We visited several World War One cemeteries and memorials to remember people from Hull and the local area who gave their lives in that war.

A number of men had been specifically identified to be remembered on this visit by laying small crosses at their graves. At the Reservoir Cemetery in Ypres, after a short service, several of us were asked to locate the graves of an individual and place a small wooden poppy cross there to mark our remembrance of them. There was no reason as to why we were given a particular grave to find; just the luck of the draw for whichever cross you happened to choose. Mine was for Gunner Wilfrid Thacker of Kirk Ella. After a few minutes of searching I found his grave and marked it by placing his small cross at the foot of the headstone. After reading the inscription and taking a photograph my task was finished and I walked away thinking that was the last that I would see of Gunner Thacker.

As you can see from the damp at the top of Wilfrid’s gravestone it had been a wet morning during the time we were visiting the Reservoir Cemetery, although by the end the sun had come out and it would stay fine for the rest of our visit to Ypres. I forgot about Wilfrid Thacker for the rest of the day; there was still the Menin Gate to visit and at the end of the afternoon we climbed back on the coach and drove to Zeebrugge and the ferry. Only later, looking back through the photographs, did I begin to wonder about who this person was that had died in 1917 then I’d met and remembered 98 years later. I decided to discover more about the life of Gunner Wilfrid Thacker.  To lift the memory of him up from all the gravestones we had seen and create a more personal remembrance of Gunner Thacker.

From the information we had been given I knew he was not a Hull man, that he was from Kirk Ella just outside Hull. I knew from his gravestone that he was a Gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery; I knew his service number and the day he died. Also, of course, where he was buried. With this information I began to search the internet to discover what other details I could find about him. First I began with the cemetery I had visited and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The certificate attached to Wilfrid’s record gave details of his mother and father, Charles and Jane, although their home was given as ‘Thirkella’ which must be a mistake. Using Wilfrid’s name, service number and regiment I also found that he was remembered in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour and is given a fairly detailed entry, including a photograph of him. I am guessing that this entry was provided by a family member because it details information such as exact date of birth and the school he attended. Ruvigny also confirmed that he was born and lived in Kirkella with his parents and that he was their only son.

Entry for Wilfrid Thacker in the De Ruvigny Roll of Honour

With all this information I was able to find the family in the 1911 census online. At that time Wilfrid was 16 and working as a ‘stationary engine stoker’, which I guessed meant he shovelled coal into a steam engine to heat the water for the steam. Where this was I have no idea. Also on the census sheet with Wilfrid was his father Charles, shown as a quarryman, his mother Jane and younger sister, Helena Maud. Perhaps Wilfrid worked in a quarry with his father. Looking back to the previous census of 1901 the little family group was still as it was ten years later, though of course Wilfrid was at school in Kirkella and Charles was then a gardener. Later I discovered that Wilfrid had an older sister, Florence Ann, although by the time of the 1901 census she was not living at home and married in 1905. Newspaper searches before 1914 show a couple of references to Wilfrid’s schooldays at Kirkella School, in 1901 and 1907 for example he received prizes for his good school attendance at the school’s annual prize giving ceremony.

We can see from the information in Ruvigny that Wilfrid joined the artillery in October 1915. His medal card shows that when he first joined he was number 4545 and was likely to have enlisted in Hull, but a later reallocation of numbers saw him as 294747 in the 146th Heavy Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery. He would have been working with some of the heavy artillery used to ‘soften up’ the enemy positions. This photograph of a Royal Garrison Artillery unit gives some idea of what Gunner Thacker would have been involved in during his time in France and Flanders. Perhaps his work as a stoker for a stationary steam engine had made him physically built for the heavy work that servicing the artillery gun would involve.

On the day that Wilfrid died there are records on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website of four other members of the 146th HB Royal Garrison Artillery being killed, two of those are buried in the same cemetery as Wilfrid. Perhaps their gun emplacement was hit by a shell. Whatever the reason for Wilfrid’s death by early October 1917 the family knew of it and placed a notice of the death of their only son in the Hull Daily Mail. In later years, on the anniversary of his death his mother and father would place remembrance notices in the local newspaper; so too would his older sister Florence. He is also remembered on the Kirkella war memorial in St Andrew’s churchyard as ‘Wilfred Thacker’.

There is evidence of one other way in which Wilfrid was remembered by the family after his death. In 1926 his younger sister Helena Maud, married Sydney Robinson. In 1930 they registered the birth of a baby boy, they called him Wilfred.

[i] Throughout this piece I have used the spelling of ‘Wilfrid’I have found on the CWGC certificate; in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour and on census records as well as family notices in the local newspaper. However, in various places it is spelled as ‘Wilfred’, for example the medal card and the Kirk Ella War Memorial in St Andrew’s Churchyard.

Thanks to John Lawson for the photographs in this article.