Researched and written by Anne Wright
2/Lt H J F Wilson
King Edward’s Horse
Harold John Fossick Wilson enlisted on 4 January 1915; despite being wounded twice he survived the war only to die of influenza and pneumonia in 1919. He was the only surviving child of Henry Fossick and Jessie Dagmar (nee Osborne). His father was born in 1861 in Binfield, Berkshire and his mother in 1866 in Clapham. They married on 18 July 1889 at St Martin in the Fields, Westminster. Henry was a bank clerk and in 1891 the couple’s home was in Jubilee Place, Chelsea with Jessie’s parents. Although Harold’s date of birth on his application form for admission to the Officer Cadet Unit in July 1917 is stated as 4 April 1891 it is more likely that he was born on the same date a year later as his birth was registered in the second quarter of 1892; his place of birth on the admission form was recorded as being Weybridge. The family’s residence in the town is confirmed by the 1901 Census when they lived in Oatlands Drive and by which time Henry Wilson was a clerk with the County Council. Neither Harold nor his mother can be traced on the 1911 Census but his father still resided in Oatlands Drive.
The final two years of Harold’s school education from 1907 to 1909 was spent at Malvern College. At some point he departed for the Malay States where he took up employment as a rubber planter. This may well explain his absence from the 1911 Census. He returned to enlist able to speak Tamil and Hindustani, to ride a horse and sporting tattoos of a tiger’s head on his left forearm and snake on his right foreman! He stood five feet eight inches tall and was declared to be of ‘good moral character’ by the Rector of Weybridge. There is some confusion over whether he joined the 1st or 2nd Battalion of the King Edward’s Horse (KEH). The records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission record him belonging to the 1St KEH or to just the KEH; some of the KEH regarded themselves as the only KEH and objected to the addition of 1st tending to disregard the 2nd KEH. Harold’s application form to join the Officer Cadet Unit refers to him being a trooper of the 2nd KEH as does his father’s correspondence with the military authorities after his death. The 2nd battalion was formed of men who had returned from the colonies which fits Harold’s profile.
He went to France on 5 May 1915 and stayed with the KEH until 28 July 1917 when he transferred to the Machine Gun Corps (Cavalry; 22991). He returned to the UK on 19 April 1917; this may have been the result of being wounded. When his fitness was classified on 20 November 1917 it was B1; when he enlisted in 1915 it had been A. The same outcome was reported on subsequent classifications on 18 January 1918 and 29 May 1918. Harold had also developed defective vision as the result of a corneal ulcer. In July 1917 he had applied to join the Officer Cadet Unit; he was admitted to the Garrison Officer Cadet Battalion at Cambridge on 8 March 1918 and was commissioned as a 2/Lt to 296 Reserve Labour Company at Blairgowerie. His report from the Officer Training Unit stated that:
….he should make a leader, always a leading spirit in company sport and a very nice type, although he did not pass the final written exam, he should make a good officer.
Harold had little time to enjoy his new status; he was admitted to Dundee War Hospital on 12 December but was well enough to be released for Christmas leave. On his return he was once again taken ill and transferred to the 1st Western General Hospital, Fazakerley in Liverpool where he died on 17 February 1919. His body arrived at Weybridge Station on 24 February to be received by representatives of S. Brown & Sons and transported to the local Cemetery Chapel. His funeral service took place at St James’ Church three days later; he was buried in an elm coffin in Walton & Weybridge Cemetery (grave no. 2113). He is also commemorated on the oak panels of Malvern College’s memorial to their former pupils in the college chapel.
Harold’s father had a long wrangle with the War Office over finances and he was not able to settle the estate and be granted probate until May 1920; an unpaid mess bill of £4 13s 6d being one bone of contention. Henry Wilson remained in Weybridge until his death in 1935; Jessie Wilson had moved to Battersea by the time of her death in July 1956.
British Army Officers Service Records, post 1913, The National Archives, WO 339/117681
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long Long Trail – 1st and 2nd King Edward’s Horse & Machine Gun Corps, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
England, Select Marriages, 1538-1973, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, www.ancestry.co.uk
Wilson Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk