Name: Robert Dixon Wills
DoB: August 6 1893
Regt: London Regt & 5th Border Regt.
DoD: April 23 1917
Academic Career: CGS 1905-7
Robert Dixon Wills was the youngest of ten children born to Isaac and Jane Wills of Greenspot near Kirkbride. Isaac was the village blacksmith, like his father and grandfather before him. Two of Robert’s brothers, and at least one cousin and uncle were also blacksmiths. Robert was the only one of the family to attend the grammar school.
After leaving school Robert went to London and entered the Civil Service as a Boy Clerk in 1909. By 1914 he was in the architect’s department of London County Council.
War was declared in August 1914 and Robert volunteered on September 1 1914. As he enlisted in London he joined a London Regiment. He must have impressed those around him as he rose rapidly through the ranks and by the summer of 1916 he was a corporal. He was so proficient in bayonet fighting that he was made an instructor. He was sent to Ireland in early 1916, possibly because of the Easter Rising. He was sent to France 21 June 21 1916.On August 8 1916 Robert was part of a raiding party, which was sent across no-man’s land to raid the German trenches and secure prisoners. The raid was not a success as although the wire had been broken by mortars, the trench itself was barricaded. Most of the party withdrew but Robert managed to crawl under the barricade, secure a prisoner and return with him! As they withdrew they were bombarded by mortars and his commanding officer was wounded and he had to take refuge in a shell hole with another wounded man. In his commanding officer’s report he says this about Robert,
“This man was very plucky throughout the whole raid and I should like to bring his name to your notice”
The Cumberland News describes the incident too “He (Robert) formed one of the party which raided the trenches of the enemy on a certain night. While returning to our trenches he lost his way and his rifle was smashed by a trench motar bomb. Finding himself close to a German trench, he entered it unarmed, rushed an armed German sentry and brought him back to our lines. He also took charge of two of our wounded men who had lost their way”
Robert was awarded his Military Medal on September 21, and sent to Cadet School for a commission in October, he was commissioned as an officer and posted to the 5th Border Regiment on Dec 22 1916.
The Border Regiment was involved in heavy fighting at Wancourt on April 23/24 1917, 74 men were killed or missing in action and 135 were wounded; Robert was one of the six officers who died. He was buried in a marked grave and after the war his body was exhumed and reburied in the Wancourt Military Cemetery.
His obituary in the Cumberland News includes an extract of a letter sent to Robert’s sister by one of his comrades Second Lieutenant James Thompson “It is with the deepest regret that I have to inform you of the death in action of Second Lieutenant R. D. Wills. He was instantaneously killed by shrapnel just previous to the battalion advancing to the assault. I have known him intimately since he first joined us, and can assure you no officer was better loved and respected by everyone from the C.O. downwards, than he was. His body was brought back to a cemetery in a village near where he fell. A service was held by a clergyman and he was interred alongside three brother officers, who fell on the same day”. Further on the obituary it says “Lieutenant Wills was a man of fine physique, and on more than one occasion his knowledge of Cumberland wrestling stood him in good stead in hand to hand encounters with the enemy, and in raids, etc.”
a) Carlisle School Memorial Register 1264-1924
b) Wylie page 128-130
c) London Gazette 19th Jan 1917
d) National Archives
e) Cumberland News 5/5/1917 and 30/9/1916
f) Census:HO 107 / 165/9