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Wilson Forrest (1884-1918)

Teacher at New Brancepeth Council School, who was killed by a stray shell on Good Friday 1918

Wilson Forrest was born in Middlesbrough on 9 January 1884. His parents were Wilson and Frances, and in the 1891 census his father was listed as a boiler maker, possibly working in the ship-building industry on Teesside.

In 1891 the family consisted of the parents and five children – Albert, age 19, an apprentice boiler maker; Sarah Ann, aged 16, a pupil teacher; Louisa, aged 14; Frances, aged 9; and Wilson junior, aged 7, a pupil at St. Paul’s Church of England School in Middlesbrough. Wilson senior came from Kelloe, but his wife had been born in Keswick in Cumberland, and all the children had been born in Middlesbrough.

By 1901 Wilson senior was a foreman boiler maker and the three older children had moved away from the family home.

Frances was now working from home as a dressmaker, and Wilson junior was now a pupil teacher.

Two additions to the family were a grand-daughter, Cicely Potter, aged 9, and an adopted daughter – 19 year old Edith Smith from Boroughbridge in Yorkshire.

In both censuses the Forrest family were living at 77 Milton Road in Middlesbrough.

After completing his apprenticeship as a pupil teacher at the Great Ayton British School (an odd choice, as a non-conformist school, for someone who was a committed member of the Church of England) Wilson junior applied to Bede College in Durham City. He was successful in his application, and the College records indicate that he had used the vicar of St. Paul’s parish, Rev. T.E. Lindsay, as a referee in his application. Mr. Lindsay noted that Wilson’s father was a churchwarden and a member of the choir. Wilson began training in September 1905, initially as a day student, but in his second year as a resident in the College. His College report on his teaching practice noted that his lessons were clear and well prepared and that his discipline was good, but that he was unsympathetic.

Around this time, probably during his two years at College, Wilson had joined the Volunteers, as a member of the 4th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. In 1907 Wilson applied for a teaching post with Durham County Council, and he was appointed to New Brancepeth Mixed Council School, where he began work on 12 August, the head teacher allocating him to Standard VII, the oldest children in the school. During the next seven years there are a number of references to him in the school log book, usually recording short-term absences, but, on occasions, he was left in charge of the school by Mr. Peel, the head teacher.

In March 1910, when he was living at 66 Hallgarth Street, Wilson married Sarah (known as ‘Sally’) Willis, the daughter of a watchmaker, at St. Oswald’s church in Durham City. In the 1911 census Wilson and Sarah were living at 18 High Wood View, with their 2-month old son, Wilson Bateson Forrest, and Sarah’s widowed mother, Frances Willis. Wilson was a committed member of St. Oswald’s church congregation and was a sidesman and bellringer, and captain of the St. Oswald’s Company of the Church Lads’ Brigade.

In 1914 in the initial enthusiasm for the war Wilson volunteered for service. He enlisted on 19 September and Mr. Peel noted on 21 September (with precision), that he left school ‘at 10.10 a.m. to join the City Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry’. This was the 18th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI), the ‘Durham Pals’, which was one of the Kitchener’s Army battalions, raised from the enthusiastic flood of volunteers in the first months of the war. 18 DLI was unique in that the expenses for raising it were paid for entirely by the County of Durham. The battalion undertook its initial training at Cocken Hall, where Wilson joined them on 25 September. Probably as a result of his pre-war army experience, he was promoted rapidly, to acting corporal on 16 October, acting lance sergeant on 10 November and acting sergeant on 15 May 1915. At the end of 1914 the battalion was sent to form part of the garrison of Hartlepool, where it became the first of the New Armies to come under fire, but from the German navy rather than its army.

Wilson served with the battalion during its time in Egypt (December 1915 – March 1916) and when it moved to the Western Front in March 1916, and he was confirmed as a sergeant on 6 December 1915. He was appointed as an acting company sergeant major in January 1917 and confirmed in the rank on 4 March 1917. Wilson survived on the Western Front from 1916 to early 1918, but on Good Friday (29 March) 1918, while the battalion was attempting to stem the German advance, he was killed by a stray shell while in the trenches. The chaplain to the battalion, Rev. C.R. Chappel wrote to Sally Forrest that her husband was a dear friend of his ‘and that he knew him to be one of the noblest characters. He was always regular in his devotions and communions, and a splendid man’.

Wilson Forrest was buried at Bienvillers Military Cemetery in the Pas de Calais, 12 miles south-west of Arras, and as well as being commemorated on the County Hall memorial, his name appears on the plaque and cross at Bede College.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-19 CD
Medal Rolls Index Cards
North East War Memorials Project website
Durham St. Oswald parish marriage register, EP/Du.SO 139, p.236
Durham County Council Education Committee minute book, CC/A26/1/22 (Emergency Sub-Committee), pp.5-6
Durham County Council Education Committee minute book, CC/A26/1/28, pp.6-7
Register of certificated teachers, CC/Ed 277 (no.327/1776)
Bede College students’ record sheets, E/HB 2/234, f.1734
Bede College register of applicants, E/HB 2/257, pp.94
New Brancepeth Mixed Council School log book, E/C 36, pp.37, 135,164
1891 Census return, RG 12/4014, f.10v, p.14
1901 Census return, RG 13/4579, ff.173r-173v, pp.35-36
1911 Census return, RG 14/29972, sch.305
Durham Advertiser, 12 April 1918, p.4(f) and (h)
Durham Advertiser, 3 May 1918, p.4(c)
British Army World War I Service Records, TNA WO 383

“Ringing to Remember: Commemorating the Durham and Newcastle bell ringers who fell during the First World War”, website:

Civil Parish: Brandon and Byshottles

Birth date: 9-Jan-1884

Death date: 29-Mar-1918

Armed force/civilian: Army

Residence: 77 Milton Road in Middlesbrough
66 Hallgarth Street, Durham
18 High Wood View, Durham

Education: Bede College in Durham City- 1905-1907

Religion: Church of England

Organisation membership: Bell ringer, Saint Oswald’s Church, Durham

Employment: Pupil teacher- Great Ayton British School
Teacher- New Brancepeth Mixed Council School

Family: Parents: Wilson Forrest and Frances Forrest nee Pearson
Brothers: Albert Forrest
Sisters: Mary Jane Forrest, Sarah Ann Forrest, Louisa Forrest, Frances Forrest and Edith Smith (adopted)
Niece: Cicely Potter
Wife: Sarah Willis
Son: Wilson Bateson Forrest
Mother-in-law: Frances Willis

Military service:

4th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry - Volunteers
18th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI), the ‘Durham Pals’
Corporal on 16 October 1914
Lance Sergeant on 10 November 1914, garrison of Hartlepool (1914)
Sergeant on 15 May 1915, Egypt (December 1915 – March 1916), Western Front (March 1916)
Company Sergeant Major in January 1917

Memorial(s): Bienvillers Military Cemetery in the Pas de Calais
County Hall memorial
Plaque and cross at Bede College

Gender: Male

Contributed by Durham County Record Office | Amy Scott

Comments on this story


Dear Crabtree

Thank you very much for your comment. I have included the web address of the Ringing to Remember website in the main body of the page so that the link is live.

I hope that the commemoration ringing of the bells for Wilson Forrest goes well.

All the best


Contributed by

Jo Vietzke | Durham County Record Office

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As Wilson Forrest was a bellringer, the bells at St Oswald's church will be rung in his memory on 29 March 2018, one hundred years on the day of his death.
More information can be found here:

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