Ernest James Wilkins was one of two children of James Wilkins and Harriet Tandy. Ernest was born in Machen in 1888 and his sister, Harriet Louisa Wilkins was born in Pontnewydd, Monmouthshire in about 1885. James and Harriet were married in 1884 in Abergavenny and although they lived in Machen when Ernest was born, by 1891 they had moved and were living in Tredegar, at an address identified as 3, back of Greenfield Terrace. James Wilkins was shown as a Police Constable.
By 1901, James, Harriet and their children had again moved and were living at 4 Gas Street, Tirphil. This street was knocked down many years ago to build an infants school, but is at the rear of Birchgrove, Tirphil. This Census report shows that James is no longer a police constable but is now a colliery labourer, working above ground.
The 1911 Census report shows that James and his children had moved once again and were living at 31 Gas Street. The report shows James is a widower and the death of a Harriet Wilkins is recorded in the Parish of Bedwellty in 1909. Ernest’s sister Harriet Louisa Wilkins married in about 1908 to a William John Merrick and they were living with James and Ernest at Gas Street, along with their son William James Merrick who was born in 1910. I am advised that William and Harriet also later had two daughters.
I have been informed by a living descendant that Ernest enlisted in the Army many years before the outbreak of World War One but that in 1910, his father had ‘bought him out’.
After the outbreak of World War One, Ernest Wilkins enlisted at an early date on 1st September 1914. However, to avoid detection as a ‘re-enlister’, he adopted the pseudonym Peter Wilkins. His enlistment paper show that he was born in August 1889. There are number addresses within his enlistment papers, all in the Rhymney area and I am informed by his descendant that these addresses were of his sister Harriet and her family, where he lived immediately after his army discharge, and his own address after he got married.
‘Peter’s’ enlistment papers show that he spent the time between 1st September 1914 and 16th July 1915 ‘at home’. He was then sent to France on the 17th July 1915 as part of the British Expeditionary Forces. On the 29th July 1916, he sustained a gunshot wound to the left hand which left him with missing fingers. His descendant states that it was a piece of shrapnel that caused his injury. He spent time in a military hospital in Ireland before being transferred as a ‘Class P’ on 25th December 1916. There is reference to him working at New Tredegar Colliery at this time. He was finally discharged from the army on 25th September 1917. His descendant advises me that he worked at Elliots Colliery, New Tredegar even after losing two fingers during the war.
Immediately after his discharge, Ernest lived with his sister in Rhymney, but then married in the Parish of Bedwellty in 1917. After marrying, Ernest lived at 18, Plantation Street, Rhymney for a few years but returned to the New Tredegar area, first to Phillipstown, and then to 80, Thomas Street, New Tredegar where he lived the rest of his life. His descendant informs me that in all, James and his wife had six children. Ernest Wilkins died in the early part of 1952 having never spoken to his family about his experiences in the First World War, stating that they were too horrific.