PC Alfred Wilson joined Southend Borough Constabulary in March 1915. He was killed in Ypres, Belgium on September 20, 1917.
His son, Wilfred, later served as a police officer in Southend either side of his own military service in World War II.
Alfred was born in Billinghurst, Sussex, in 1890. He joined the Merchant Navy as a steward before meeting a nurse, Nellie, who lived in Hanningfield, Essex.
The couple married and moved to Southend, where Alfred joined the police. They had two sons, Wilfred (b.1913) and Emrys (b.1915).
In December 1915, Alfred volunteered to enlist with the 16th Rifle Brigade alongside his good friend, PC George Shipgood. The 16th Rifle Brigade formed part of the 117th Brigade in the 39th Division – part of Kitchener’s Volunteer Army.
Following training in Aldershot, Alfred travelled to northern France with the 39th Division in February 1916. In August 1916, the 39th Division were moved south from the Bethune area to provide support to the major offensive that had commenced on the Somme on July 1, 1916.
During their two and a half months on the Somme, the 39th Division suffered extensive casualties with 50% of officers and 66% of other ranks killed or injured.
The division was withdrawn from the line at the end of November 1916 and didn’t take part in any major action until July 31, 1917, when it fought as part of the XVIII Corps in the Third Battle of Ypres – better known as the Battle of Passchendaele.
Alfred saw action at Pilckem Ridge in the first engagement of the offensive before the division was deployed in the Ypres area, fighting at Langemark from August 16 -18 and along the Menin Road between September 20 - 25.
It was close to the Menin Road on September 20, 1917, that Lance Sergeant S/14598 Alfred Wilson was killed. He was 27 years old. His body was never recovered.
Nellie Wilson was informed of the death of her husband by the military authorities. She also received letters from his soldier colleagues who paid tribute to him. One soldier who had been present when he was killed wrote, “He stopped and sat at the side of the road on an oil drum. There was a loud explosion and I turned round and he was gone.”
Nellie, with just an army widow’s pension and two young boys to bring up, went into service in Chelmsford. It was not until 1956 that Nellie received a police pension for Alfred. She died in Chelmsford at the age of 97.
Wilfred, Alfred and Nellie’s eldest child, recalled seeing his father, “a tall man in soldier’s uniform riding a bike,” when Alfred cycled from Southend to see the family at Hanningfield in the summer of 1917, just two months before his death.
As a 17-year-old, Wilfred, who’d grown to be six feet four inches tall, lied about his age and joined the Grenadier Guards, serving with them for three years.
In 1934, he joined Southend Police, becoming Police Constable 163. At the onset of World War II in 1939, Wilfred, or ‘Tug’ as he was nicknamed, re-enlisted serving with the 8th Battalion Grenadier Guards in the Western Desert campaign in North Africa, where he suffered a serious leg injury.
At the end of the war, he returned to Southend but was concerned that he may not be accepted back with the police because of his injury, however a sympathetic doctor passes him fit for work.
Wilfred (pictured below) completed thirty years’ service to the people of Southend in 1964 and retired as a Sergeant. He died on August 19, 2005, just two months after his wife, Beatrice.
His father, Alfred Wilson, is one of the 34,888 commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at Tyne Cot British Cemetery, Zonnebeke, Belgium.