Wilfrid Thompson

(1887-1964) – Accused of being a shirker

Drum Major Wilfrid Thompson was sent to Saltash to guard the railway bridge. In 1915 he married Elizabeth Jenkin and, while on honeymoon in civilian clothes, was challenged as a shirker. The next day he was summoned back to Ypres. It was to be nine months before he saw his new wife again.

Credit: Saltash Heritage

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In September 1914, Drum Major Wilfrid Thompson of the 1st Battalion King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment was sent to Saltash to guard the railway bridge.  Wilfrid was from a musical family, and his battalion took over from the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion.  Wilfrid had already been in action near Haucort and Le Cateau in France, and his brother Reginald had died there.  As a talented officer with a very loud voice, Wilfrid rapidly rose up the ranks, first as sergeant, then 2nd Lieutenant and finally as Lieutenant.

‘What a contrast’, he later wrote of his arrival in Saltash.  Billeted on the floor of St Stephens School, Wilfrid soon found better lodgings in Kimberley Terrace.   Here he was entertained by the Ladies Choir practising at the Church Institute opposite.  

Wilfrid met Elizabeth Jenkin, a local school mistress.  He married her at Bodmin parish church in the summer of 1915. While on honeymoon in civilian clothes he was challenged as a shirker.  On the first day of the honeymoon a telegram called him back to the 1st battalion near Ypres.  It was to be nine months before he saw his new wife again.

At 7.30 am on 1st July 1916 he took his platoon over the top.  Seriously wounded with his batman at the Battle of Albert, he had to wait two days in no man’s land before he could be carried to safety.  The only drink available was water squeezed out of clay in a handkerchief.  Although he recovered from his wounds, he was never able to straighten his right leg again. Later he blamed the protracted preliminary bombardment for the loss of his friends, as this certainly alerted the Germans to an imminent British attack. 

Wilfrid was still far from home at Christmas when a mountain of plum puddings ‘enough to last until Easter’ arrived from Saltash townsfolk.  Because of his wounds Wilfrid became attached to the Royal Flying Corps.  He organized their transport and was mentioned in dispatches.

Credit: Saltash Heritage.  Additional photos show Saltash Military camp on 27 September 1914 and troops leaving by the Saltash ferry on 22 October 1914.