Fifth generation army hero backs Doncaster Free Press memorial campaign

Tom Wilson from Arksey who is the fifth generation of his family to have served in the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry with a medallion of his great grandfather Tom Wilson
Tom Wilson from Arksey who is the fifth generation of his family to have served in the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry with a medallion of his great grandfather Tom Wilson

Army veteran Tom Wilson has five good reasons to back our campaign for a regimental monument in Doncaster.

Tom served with the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the 1960s, seeing overseas service in Malaya.

Tom Wilson from Arksey who is the fifth generation of his family to have served in the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

COLLECT PIC OF John Wilson

Tom Wilson from Arksey who is the fifth generation of his family to have served in the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry COLLECT PIC OF John Wilson

But he was not the first in his family to wear the regiment’s badge.

Before him, his father, grandfather and great grandfather fought with the regiment, and his great great grandfather was a soldier in the regiment from which it was derived.

Now, he is giving his backing to the campaign to build a KOYLI regimental memorial outside the Doncaster town museum on Chequer Road, which also houses the regimental museum.

His family also has other connections with a regiment which runs deep in Doncaster’s heritage.

Tom Wilson from Arksey who is the fifth generation of his family to have served in the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

Tom Wilson from Arksey who is the fifth generation of his family to have served in the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

Three of his great uncles on his died in KOYLI colours during World War One.

Tom’s home, on Grosvenor Crescent, Arksey, is even named after the regiment’s motto, Cede Nullis, Latin for yield to none.

Tom, aged 71, said: “It is about time our regiment had some recognition, because we don’t get much. I’ve read books on the British Army in Aden, and we’re not even mentioned.

“I remember we once had a commanding officer who said ‘we don’t want recognition because we know how good we are’ and I think that is how it has been over the years.

The Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry regimental badge

The Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry regimental badge

“But I think it is time for a memorial.

“I have friends who died with the regiment. I remember them all the time.

“I think that is why we should have a memorial outside the museum.

“It doesn’t need to have names on it - people can put their own on in their minds when they see it. You can remember who you like, both those who died and those who survived. We got a little book when we joined saying ‘Once KOYLI, always KOYLI’. That is why I want to see a memorial built.”

We are campaigning to honour the men who fought with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry with a memorial to them and their regiment here in Doncaster.

The regimental association - made up of veterans who served in the regiment - wants to build he monument close to the regimental museum at Chequer Road.

But to do that, they need to raise £125,700. And we are backing their efforts.

So far, they have already got around £25,000 in support for the scheme.

Anyone who wants to get involved with a donation or a fundraising event can contact donations co-ordinator Percy Potts on 01642 271534.

The Wilsons and the KOYLI

Tom Wilson joined the army as a 17-year-old in the 1960s.

He signed up in 1963, and had originally told the recruiting office he wanted to join the Royal Signals Regiment.

But when he mentioned his family history, he was placed in what they army called the county regiment - the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

During his time in the army, he served in Malaya, and did five tours of Northern Ireland. The regiment became part of the Light Infantry during his time in the army.

Tom’s dad, John Wilson, served as a Chindit with the second battalion of the KOYLI in Burma, in World War Two. It involved being sent behind enemy lines to sabotage the Japanese. He never spoke about his time in the forces after the war.

He worked at Bentley Colliery during peacetime, and died young of TB in 1947.

Tom’s grandfather, George Wilson, was born in Darton, Barnsley, but moved to Doncaster in 1919.

He joined the second battlion of the KOYLI before World War One, and was an army regular before it started.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, he was among the first sent to Belgium with the British Expeditionary Force, and was involved with the retreat from Mons and the Battle of Le Cateax at the start of the war.

He went on to fight on the Somme and Paschendaele, two of the war’s most notorious and bloody battles.

He survived the war without injury, and worked after the war as a miner at Bentley Colliery. He died of TB in 1934.

Tom’s great grandfather, Tom, served in the first battalion of the KOYLI and fought in Afghanistan in the 19th century. He survived his time in the army, and went on to become a canal labourer as a civilian.

Tom’s great great grandfather, Matthew, served in the 51st Regiment of Foot - a regiment which became the KOYLI after mergers were carried out in the 1880s.

‘Saving Private Leadbeater’

The Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry has a World War One story involving Tom Wilson’s family that echoes the famous film Saving Private Ryan.

In the 1990s Stephen Spielberg blockbuster, the American army sends a team of soldiers to bring home Private Ryan because all his brothers had been killed fighting the Second World War.

But Tom’s family has a story with tragic similarities.

It relates to his grandmother’s brothers, George, Albert, Charlie and Harry Leadbeater, who left their Arksey homes to join the regiment and fight on the Western Front.

George, Albert and Charlie had all lost their lives by 1916 as battle raged across Europe.

Harry was the only one still alive when he joined up in 1916. But 10 days after he signed up, he was sent home.

The army told him he had a bad heart. But Tom says there are some in his family who believe he was sent home because the rest of his brothers had been killed. “He went on to work on a farm - and he lived until 1982,” said Tom.