Wilkinson, John Rothes Marlow

Lieutenant John Wilkinson may well have been the first Wykehamist to die in World War 1. Four Wykehamists fell in action on 23rd August 1914 at Mons and, given that precise times of death are hard to ascertain, if not the first, then he was almost certainly the second. All four Wykehamists lie in the same cemetery.   He was born at Milford on Sea Vicarage, the eldest son of the Reverend Henry Marlow Wilkinson, the Vicar of Milford on Sea. His mother was Florence Amy Kemp-Welch of Sopley Park, Hampshire. His younger brother, Henry Umfreville Wilkinson was also in the school (B 1904-1908), he joined the King’s African Rifles in 1914 but died of typhoid at Mlanje in 1916 (see individual entry). In 1907 he went up to Worcester College, Oxford where he captained the College VIII.

He graduated in 1911 and went into the army, obtaining a commission in the 4th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment on 23rd March 1911. He was promoted to Lieutenant in October 1913. At the outbreak of war his battalion was quickly mobilised and they left Southampton on 13th August for the French-Belgian border, ultimately heading for Mons where they encountered the enemy for the first time. At 8 a.m. on 22nd August the German and British troops began their first skirmishes and the British were ordered to occupy outpost positions from Harmignies to Nimy, including the two bridges on the canal. They were in position by the morning of 23rd August with the full weight of the German army about to descend on them. The British line was some 16 miles long and manned by some 12,000 riflemen and 24 Vickers machine guns. Amid the slaughter when the British opened fire, Wilkinson was ordered to take half his platoon to help C Company at Nimy Bridge. “Captain Oliver gave Lieutenant Wilkinson an order to take half his platoon (two sections) to reinforce ‘A’ Company. This company was at the left of our position and was being hard pressed. We took up position under heavy fire at a group of houses. Your son went into one of the houses, and was heard directing the fire of his two sections through the skylight in the roof. He directed his fire so well that he forced the Germans to retire from his front. It was from this house that he saw overwhelming numbers of Germans coming through the wood to his front. The Germans came on again until they were within two hundred yards. Lieutenant Wilkinson then came out of the house into the trench. It was here that he got the order to retire.” Wilkinson was not happy with the order to retreat and twice questioned it before obeying it. At Obourg station, one man (unidentified) of 4th Middlesex stayed behind to cover the retreat of his comrades. His sacrifice allowed the remains of D and C Companies of the Middlesex to retire to St Symphorien cemetery, just outside Mons. At some point in the retreat Wilkinson was killed.

“The Bond of Sacrifice: A Biographical Record of All Officers who fell in the Great War” includes an account by a Private who saw him while the order to retreat was being carried out and says “It was then that I noticed he was limping. To retire we had to go through barbed wire.  Here we got separated owing to the heavy shelling and rifle fire.  I was the only man in those two sections to get away from that place.  No officers could give me any information about Lieutenant Wilkinson.  I reported to the Commanding Officer what had happened, and told him Lieutenant Wilkinson was a very brave man.  He replied “Yes, I know that, and I am very sorry to lose him”.


War: World War 1

  • Surname: Wilkinson
  • Forenames or initials: John Rothes Marlow
  • House: F
  • Years in School: 1901-1905
  • Rank: Lieutenant
  • Regiment: Middlesex Regiment
  • Date of Birth: 17th October 1887
  • Date of Death: 23rd August 1914
  • How Died: Killed in action
  • Location in War Cloister: Outer C2
  • Decoration: NA