William Arthur Wilkinson
Date of birth: 24.3.1884
Regiment: Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
Service number: KW856
William was still a single man when he enlisted at Bank Street, Castleford on 1st September 1914 with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. He had a medical, which he failed, on 7th September. In his service record it does not state why he failed, but he was 30 years old and wore spectacles, so eyesight must be top of the list.
Not to be put off, William walked to Pontefract with many others, where he enlisted as a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and after passing his medical he became Seaman Wilkinson KW856. His period of service, like everybody else, was for the duration of the war. After a short period of training he was posted to HMS Collinwood on 30th September and set sail for the frontline. After much searching I have found no information at which port the ship docked, but on 9th October William and most of his crew mates were captured at Antwerp, Belgium. They were marched for two days and two nights without food until they reached the prison camp at Depetris, Italy, which they would share with Russian prisoners of war. This was to be his life for a little over 4 years. In his letters home he reports that the food is very poor and in short supply. It consisted mainly of rice, bones and cabbage.
For two and a half years he worked in a coalmine seven days a week. Very often the prisoners were so starved and ill that they would only go to work at the point of a bayonet. When they were marched from camp to coalmine they would be abused and beaten by the villagers. The Italian guards did nothing to stop this and only laughed.
William continued to send letters home to his family. Others he wrote to the good people of Castleford. One such letter was to Mr Emerson, Managing Director of the Queens Theatre, Castleford, thanking him and the people of Castleford for the supply of cigarettes and tobacco which was very much appreciated. During his time as a prisoner of war he ran Gospel Services and Bible Reading Groups for all denominations. There were over 800 prisoners in the camp.
After more than four years as a prisoner of war in Italy, William Arthur Wilkinson R.N.V.R. returned home to Powell Street on New Year’s Day 1919. He was given extended shore leave and was finally discharged from service on 2nd April 1919. William received a letter from Buckingham Palace signed by King George and Queen Mary thanking him for his service and his release from the miseries and hardships.
William Arthur Wilkinson was born on 24th March 1884. He lived at 7, Powell Street with his mother and father and several brothers and sisters. He attended the Chapel on Powell Street and worked as a malt kiln labourer.