Gunner Bartholomew Blackett Wilson


Bartholomew was a Freemason, member of Lodge Temperance 2557 and one of our forgotten war heroes. He is not listed in the Lodge Temperance WW1 Roll of Honour although the Lodge registers clearly show he was on war service. We can only speculate why he was omitted from the Roll.

At the Lodge Temperance 2557 meeting held at the Assembly Rooms on the 18th January 1915 Bartholomew was proposed by Bro. Ralph West and seconded by Bro. D. L. Bell as a fit and proper person to be made a Freemason. He was a 27 year old Drapers Assistant living at 224, Croydon Road, Fenham, Newcastle Upon Tyne. At the meeting of Monday 15th February 1915 a successful ballot was held and was he initiated into the Mysteries and Privileges of Ancient Freemasonry. He was passed to the second or Fellowcraft degree on the 17th May and raised to the Sublime degree of a Master Mason the following month on 21st June 1915. He signed his Grand Lodge Certificate in open lodge on 20th September 1915.

Bartholomew was born in Westgate, Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1887, the youngest child  of Bartholomew Blackett Wilson, a Miller, and Isabella Pearson who were married in Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1871. They had at least nine children of which only seven survived childhood including:

  • Mary Jane (b. 1875)
  • Lawrence (b 1877)
  • Margaret V. (b 1879)
  • Sarah Isabella (b 1880)
  • Dorothy Blackett (b 1883)
  • James Henry (b 1885)
  • Bartholomew Blackett (b 25th August 1887)

In the 1911 Census taken in April, Bartholomew was living with his widowed mother in Temple Street, Westgate and was a Draper. His Army records show he was a 1st Assistant Drapery Salesman employed by the Co-operative Wholesale Society, Fancy Drapery Department, Waterloo Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne. He married Frances Elcoat at St. John’s Church, Newcastle Upon Tyne on 1st June 1912 and set up home at 224, Croydon Road, Fenham, Newcastle Upon Tyne. They had at least two children including:

  • Isabella (b 6th May 1914)
  • Bartholomew Blackett  (b 22nd May 1918)

Bartholomew was conscripted into the Royal Garrison Artillery on 2nd December 1915 but wasn’t mobilised until 22nd May 1916 when he was posted to No 4 Depot, Ripon as Gunner No. 84642, then to 12 Company, RGA, North Eastern Coast Defences, Tynemouth. He was also  assigned to the 27 Anti Aircraft Co and in all, spent about two and half years protecting the coast of England before he was posted to the 110th Siege Battery in France in September 1918, barely two months before the armistice.

We know from Bartholomew’s Service Record he spent two years as a telephonist.  A battery would have a small contingent of men  trained as signallers and telephonists, responsible for keeping phone lines open between Forward Observation Officers and the Battery – critical for reporting fire accuracy or target locations. Their job was extremely hazardous as the lines were repeatedly severed by shellfire, forcing them to crawl along the wire, find the break, and repair it while under shell and rifle fire; placing their lives in jeopardy in order that the batteries could continue firing.

On the 9th October 1918, one month before the end of the war, Bartholomew suffered Mustard Gas poisoning from an artillery gas shell at Estrees in Northern France. Mustard gas, introduced by Germany in July 1917, was not a particularly effective killing agent (though in high enough doses it was fatal) but was used to harass and disable the enemy and pollute the battlefield. Delivered in artillery shells, mustard gas was heavier than air, and it settled to the ground as an oily liquid resembling sherry. The skin of victims blistered, their eyes became very sore and they began to vomit. It caused internal and external bleeding and attacked the bronchial tubes, stripping off the mucous membrane. This was extremely painful.

He was immediately evacuated to the No 6 General Hospital, Rouen and from there, in October, back to England and the Eastleigh Casualty Clearing Hospital, Hampshire, a RAMC facility that took in lightly wounded and sick men from disembarkation at Southampton before sending them on to convalescent camp. He was moved to the Northumberland War Hospital in November 1918, better known as St Nicholas Hospital, Gosforth,  a Lunatic Asylum, which was evacuated of patients in 1914 and became Northumberland No 1 War Hospital for wounded soldiers.

Bartholomew was suffering with Bronchial problems with fits of coughing and expectoration but fortunately, improved radically under treatment. The Army considered him fit after his spell in hospital.

He was awarded the British War and Victory Medals and demobilised to the Army Reserve on 8th February 1919.

He died at 63 years of age, on 9th March 1951 at 4, McKendrick Villas, Cowgate  leaving around £3,500 to his widow Frances.