Eyes grey, Hair brown, Complexion medium
Wilfreds Life before the Great War
Yorkshire-born Wilfrid Kilburn was a baker by trade, son of Wilman and Maria Kilburn and younger brother to George. In 1897 at 19, Wilfrid married Mary Jane James and had a daughter, Edith. He later volunteered to serve in the Liverpool Regiment during the 2nd Boer War 1899-1902 and survived.
After his return to Dewsbury from South Africa, he decided to take his wife and daughter to live a better life in Australia. They settled in Western Australia and went on to have four more children, three sons and another daughter.
Experience of The Great War
When WW1 broke out, Wilfrid volunteered as a veteran in the Australian army. He was shipped off to France to serve in the 53rd battalion, leaving his wife and children, the youngest being only 2 years old, in the timber town of Mornington Mills, Western Australia. He was 37 years old.
His brother, George Arthur Kilburn, a blacksmith, also volunteered from England leaving his wife and five children in Dewsbury. He was 38 years old. He fought at the Somme and was gassed but survived and lived to see his great grandchildren born.
The brothers were very close - they even got married in the same week in the same town. Family lore has it that George Arthur had not seen his brother since he left for Australia and when he arrived in France, he watched the Australian soldiers march past; he was looking out for Wilfrid, but he didn't see him.
Little detail is known of Wilfrid’s part in the Battle of Fromelles and it is likely that he died during the first assault. His body was never found. Family members like to think that he is one of the many unidentified soldiers buried in the mass graves in the V.C. Corner Cemetery at Fromelles, but it is possible he fell somewhere around that area and was lost in the mud.
The family at home
In 1916, Wilfrid’s wife, Mary Jane, received the usual letter to tell her that he was missing and later, in September 1917, that he had been killed in action on 19 July 1916. She wrote to the army several times to find out more and to ask if she could receive his belongings. Nothing of his was ever received. Mary Jane never remarried and, having moved to Perth, brought up her family alone.
Simone Kilburn, great granddaughter of Wilfrid’s brother, George, knew Wilfrid’s story and, hearing about the excavation of the mass grave at Fromelles, she was hopeful that Wilfrid might be found at last. After much research, Simone tracked down potential DNA donors – including, amazingly, someone she had known for years but was unaware of any family connection. The donors were most willing but sadly their DNA donations failed to match any body from the mass grave. Wilfrid is still missing.
Disappointed and saddened, Simone reflected on all the other relatives seeking closure and decided to volunteer her time and research expertise to help identify those still unnamed souls from the mass grave. She explained:
I feel very passionate about it; every male in my family fought in WW1 or WW2 and I know how emotional it was for them. All those brave men have a right to a proper burial and a name on their grave. We have the opportunity here to achieve that and I feel that it is the least we can do for their sacrifice.
Simone had the chance to visit the war grave at Fromelles in 2015 and laid a white rose on the memorial in memory of Wilfrid. She commented that it was an incredibly emotional experience being there on behalf of all the family and to see all the names on the plaques and all the graves. There were quite a few tears shed that day joining the tears of many other visitors and families over the years.
As Dwight D. Eisenhower said:
There is no glory in battle worth the blood it costs.
Such a waste of life.
(Original records show Wilfred rather than family’s preferred Wilfrid)
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