Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Wilfred Keith Evans

Wilfred Keith Evans : Photograph of Wilfred in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.  Reference: MR2/20/22

Photograph of Wilfred in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR2/20/22

Wilfred Keith Evans : (L to R) Distinguished Service Order and Bar; Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Cape Colony', 'Orange Free State', 'Transvaal'; King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'; 1914 Star with clasp '5th Aug.-22nd Nov. 1914'; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal with 'Mentioned in Despatches' oak leaves; French Officier de l' Ordre National de la Legion d'Honneur

(L to R) Distinguished Service Order and Bar; Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Cape Colony', 'Orange Free State', 'Transvaal'; King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'; 1914 Star with clasp '5th Aug.-22nd Nov. 1914'; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal with 'Mentioned in Despatches' oak leaves; French Officier de l' Ordre National de la Legion d'Honneur

Wilfred was born on the 28th July 1878 in Hertford, Hertfordshire. His father was called Ernest Richard and his mother was Mary Fanny. Wilfred had an older brother called Ernest H. and a younger sister named Mary K.

Ernest senior was a doctor and he raised his family on Fore Street in Hertford. Wilfred decided not to follow in his father's footsteps, and instead became a Second Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment on the 31st May 1899. This was a unit of the Militia, made up of men who trained together once a year and lived as civilians for the rest of the time. He was 5 feet 10 3/4 inches tall when he was commissioned.

The Boer War broke out in October 1899. The British Army suffered several defeats early in the war, and it began sending as many soldiers as it could to South Africa. The 4th Battalion was one of the units sent, leaving for South Africa on the 25th February 1900 and arriving there on the 16th March. Wilfred was not with them for long; he transferred to the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on the 21st April to replace an officer who had been killed.

We don't know why, but Wilfred returned to the UK between the 7th August and the 19th January 1901. Soon after his return he was promoted to Lieutenant and then attached to a Mounted Infantry unit between March and May.

After this Wilfred stayed with the 1st Battalion for the rest of their time in South Africa. He will have taken part in many small operations intended to restrict the Boer's movements and force them to face British soldiers. This strategy was eventually successful and the war ended on the 31st May 1902. Wilfred left South Africa on the 10th March 1903, bound for Singapore.

During his time in Singapore Wilfred passed the necessary examinations to be eligible for promotion to Captain, although he would not gain the rank until the 18th December 1907. By this time Wilfred and the 1st Battalion were in Secunderabad in India, having moved there in December 1904.

Wilfred served as Adjutant to the 1st Battalion for 3 years from the 3rd May 1906. In this role he was responsible for the organisation, administration and discipline within the battalion, as well as acting as a mentor for junior officers and assisting the Commanding Officer with planning.

India held many pleasures for Wilfred. As Edward Musson, one of his friends and another with medals in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection recalled: 'he was extraordinarily active... He was, first of all, the life and soul of the regimental polo team, he played cricket and hockey for the regiment, he never missed an opportunity of going out with his gun, he spent all his hot weather leave shooting tiger, and when we came to the pig sticking country he started on that'.

The 1st Battalion moved south to Kamptee in October 1908. Wilfred was succeeded as Adjutant by Charles Stapledon, whose medals are also in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection. He became Adjutant at the Regimental Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne in November 1911.

On the 25th January 1913 Wilfred married Gladys Irene Leonard in Dalton in Furness, Cumbria. Their first child, Michael Patrick Ernest, was born on the 18th January 1914. They had a daughter, Delia Mary, in March 1916 and another son, Nigel Keith, in December 1918.

During 1913 Wilfred went on a Refresher (Rifle) Course at Hythe in Kent on the 22nd March, and then an Intelligence and Reconnaissance Course in Chester between the 21st April and the 10th May.

The First World War broke out in August 1914. It was the role of the Depot staff to train and equip Reservists, former soldiers who were called back to the Army when war was declared. We can see how popular Wilfred was from the fact that many reservists tried to get into his Company. Once enough men were ready Wilfred led them to France on the 7th September. They joined the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment.

During fighting on the 29th September Wilfred took temporary command of the 2nd Battalion after other officers were killed and wounded. He held this position until he was appointed Adjutant on the 16th November, a job which he held until August 1915. His service during the early part of the war was recognised by the award of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on the 18th February 1915.

Not only did Wilfred leave his position as Adjutant in August, but he left the 2nd Battalion. He was appointed a General Staff Officer Grade 3 and served on the staff of the Second Army, commanded by General Sir Hebert Plumer. We don't know his job.

On the 13th July 1916 Wilfred became a Temporary Lieutenant Colonel and took command of the 11th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment. He led them through the Somme Offensive between July and November 1916, the Battle of Messines in June 1917, and the first part of the Passchendaele Offensive that autumn.

Between March and June 1917 Wilfred earned a Bar to his DSO. It was announced in the London Gazette on the 16th August. We don't know exactly where or when this act took place:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He led his battalion with great dash and initiative to their objective, capturing many guns and prisoners. He also repulsed strong hostile counter attacks, and showed great coolness and promptitude in rallying and reorganising troops who had been driven back through his line. His fine personal example saved a critical situation.

On the 25th September 1917 Wilfred left his battalion and took command of the 182nd Brigade, part of the 62nd (2nd South Midland) Division. He was promoted to Temporary Brigadier General and held this command throughout the rest of the war. The 182nd Brigade fought at Cambrai in November 1917, and then took the full force of the German Spring Offensive of March and April 1918. Wilfred led them as they rebuilt their strength during the summer, and then joined the Hundred Days Offensive during October. He relinquished his command, and his Temporary rank, in September 1919 after the 62nd Division was disbanded.

During 1919 Wilfred's service was recognised by the British and the French Governments. On the 1st January he was made a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG). The French made him an Officer of the Legion of Honour on the 14th July. He had been Mentioned in Despatches a total of 6 times during the war.

With the return of peace came a return to Wilfred's peacetime rank of Major. He rejoined the 1st Battalion, taking command of C Company, and moved to Ireland with them in April 1920 to take part in the Anglo-Irish War. On the 28th January 1921 Wilfred led a force that ambushed a group of Irish Republican Army fighters, leading to a firefight that the British force won.

The 1st Battalion continued patrols and searches of the Cork countryside, occasionally engaging in combat with IRA fighters, until a ceasefire was signed on the 11th July. This led to the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922.

The 1st Battalion left Ireland for the Channel Islands on the 3rd February 1922. They briefly returned to Northern Ireland because of the threat of an attack on this British territory by the Free State. After some minor skirmishes in June they left again in December 1922.

Wilfred took command of the 1st Battalion on the 25th August 1924 in Guernsey. He replaced Francis Dorling, whose medals are also in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection. That October Wilfred led the 1st Battalion to Cologne in Germany to form part of the British Army of the Rhine.

During his time as Adjutant of the 1st Battalion in India, Wilfred had not been a well man. He had also been ill during the summer of 1915, but refused to report sick and be forced to leave the front. We don't know what was wrong with him, but his health worsened again during this period, and he was forced to give up command of the 1st Battalion and retire from the army on the 4th February 1925. As with the position of Adjutant, Wilfred was replaced by Charles Stapledon.

In retirement Wilfred became heavily involved with the Old Comrades Association of the Regiment. He attended many of their reunions and remembrance events. When the position became vacant in May 1932 he was the natural choice to become Colonel of the Regiment. This was a ceremonial position; Wilfred would represent the Regiment at formal occasions and support its interests within the Army. He also acted as a figurehead for all the units that made up the Regiment.

As well as becoming Colonel Wilfred took up other appointments. Already a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Hertfordshire; he became a Sheriff of the County of Radnorshire in November 1928 and held the position until at least March 1931. During this period he lived at Caemawr in the village of Clyro. Later he and Gladys moved to Barrington Hall in the village of Barrington, Cambridgeshire.

Wilfred's time as Colonel was short; he was too ill to attend the presentation of a set of silver drums to the 2nd Battalion by the City of Manchester on the 17th July 1934, and died the next day. He was 55 years old. Francis Dorling followed him as Colonel of the Regiment.

Wilfred had been very satisfied to see his son Michael follow him into the Manchester Regiment on the 2nd February 1934. Nigel was to do the same in August 1938. Michael's medals are in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection.

Wilfred was buried at All Saints Church in Hertford. His brother, father in law and brother in law were all priests, and officiated at the service. His comrades remembered him as 'essentially a regimental officer... he was never wholly happy away from the primary work of the infantry soldier.' His character, they said 'was as simple as it was strong; he was as incapable of intrigue as of meanness' and 'he demanded of others his own high sense of duty'.

Gladys was a welcome presence at Regimental events until well into the 1960s. In later life she moved to Guernsey and was President of the Guernsey Branch of the OCA. Later she went to live with Michael and his wife in Moulsford, Berkshire, where she died on Christmas Eve 1965 aged 76.

Wilfred's medals were presented to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in July 1957.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund logo
Tameside Metropolitan Borough logo
Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund logo
Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council