Lieutenant Wilfred Stanley Bird


Wilfred Stanley Bird
Wilfred Stanley Bird © Newdigate Local History Society

Thank you to John Callcut for letting us reproduce the following information, taken from his book: A Village at War. Newdigate in World War One.

Wilfred Bird was born on the 28th September 1883 at Yiewsley in Middlesex. He was the eldest child of the Rev. Henry G. Bird M.A. and his wife Henrietta Maria (nee Greenham). He had two sisters, Muriel Henrietta (1885-1964) and Ethel Mary (1890-1962) and a brother, Charles Henry Greenham Bird (1887-1919). He was brought up at the Vicarage of St. Andrews in Hillingdon where his father was rector. He was educated at The Grange in Eastbourne and afterwards at Malvern where he was in the cricket eleven from 1900-1902 at the time Canon Sidney James came to be headmaster. He went up to New College, Oxford where he kept wicket in 1904-1906 and was captain in the last year. He kept wicket for the Gentlemen at Lord’s in 1908 and 1912 and played several games for Middlesex. He was an extremely careful and good batsman, but specially excelled as a wicket keeper. One of the best known captains of England said ‘He is the best wicket keeper I ever saw.’ He had been a member of the MCC since 1905. His father became rector of Newdigate in 1913, just a year after his mother had died, and he used to bring teams down to Newdigate to play against the village.

He became a master at Ludgrove School where he was immensely happy and it was a terrific struggle to answer the call, but he never failed to recognise his duty. A member of the Officers Training Corps, he was gazetted to the 5th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifles on the 29th December 1914.

Wilfred Bird was attached to the 2nd Battalion who on the 9th May 1915 were moved up into reserve from the La Bassee Canal sector. It was planned that a combined French and British attack would capture the strategically important Vimy Ridge. The surrounding area was flat and intersected by drainage ditches, some being too wide to jump. There was little natural cover and it was difficult to see the enemy positions. It was a fine and sunny day after several days of heavy rain, but there was a mist caused by the heat so the attack was duly planned. The battalion consisted of 27 officers and 1000 men. They had tea at 1.30am and rested until 5.00am when a heavy bombardment opened, with field guns firing shrapnel at the German wire and howitzers directing high explosives at the front lines. The bombardment intensified and the K.R.R.C. went over the top facing heavy machine gun fire. At 5.40am the line of fire was lifted by 600 yards and the infantry assault began. They were met by intense cross-fire from the German machine guns which could be seen virtually undamaged in their protective placements. At 6.00am the advance halted with hundreds of men pinned down in no-man’s land, unable to advance or fall back. A report was sent to Brigade H.Q. and a further bombardment was ordered with much effect. Eventually at 7.30am, the battalion received orders to withdraw to the north side of the Rue de Bois. The battalion had four officers killed, Capt. The Hon. E.M.J. Upton, Lieut. W. Hodges, Lieut. W.S. Birdand 2nd Lieut. C.W. Morris, and 42 men killed, plus a total of 123 wounded and 82 missing. On the 12th May, the G.O.C. 2nd Brigade inspected the battalion who received a very complimentary appreciation of their services on the 9th May. His Major wrote of him, ‘Bird was gallantly leading his men when he was shot, and died instantly. Bird was a splendid fellow, and a very promising officer and very popular with officers and men alike. I am more than sorry to lose him.’

Overall the battle had been a total disaster for the British Army, with no ground won and no tactical advantage gained. On that day there were 11,000 British casualties. Wilfred Bird’s body lay somewhere in the mud at Richebourg St. Vaast where he had led the charge across 300 yards of exposed ground. His wrist-watch was found, and returned to his father, and apparently his body was buried because in November 1915 the Rev. H.G. Bird wrote ‘Thank you so much for kindly sending me particulars of the position of my late son’s grave. It is a great comfort to my daughters and myself to know the exact spot which, if I am well enough, I hope I may be able to visit after the war is over.’ It is unknown what happened to the grave because his name, along with many of his comrades who fell that day, is remembered on the Le Touret memorial which records soldiers with no known grave. His name can also be found on memorials at Lord’s and at Uxbridge Cricket Club. A clock was erected in his memory on the cricket pavilion at Ludgrove School, but it was later destroyed when the building was set on fire.

Born Yiewsley, Middlesex
Son of Rev. Henry G. Bird (M.A.) and Henrietta Maria (nee Greenham) Bird
Regiment 5th Battalion. King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Attd. 2nd Battalion
Date of Death 9th May 1915
Place of Death La Bassee, France
Cause of Death Killed in action
Age 31
Memorial Le Touret Memorial, France

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