Emotional tribute to railway hero – SWR worker pays respect to his great-grandfather, 100 years after first memorial service

Matthew Phillips, South Western Railway team member based at Putney station, has a special connection to the railway. His great-grandfather worked on the very same route (then called the London and South Western Railway) over a century ago as a parcel porter in Southampton.

Tragically, after signing up to fight on the Western front during World War One, Arthur Wilkins was killed in action at the age of just 21, on 15 April 1918.

His great-grandson Matthew was invited to represent SWR at the Centenary Memorial Service, at Southwark Cathedral on Wednesday, commemorating those who lost their lives during both world wars. He will also lay a wreath at the Victory Arch memorial on Armistice Day, along with SWR’s Managing Director, in honour of fallen railwaymen.

Arthur is commemorated (as AJJ Wilkins) on the Great War memorial by the Victory Gate stairs, at Waterloo station. He worked for LSWR as a parcel porter at Southampton Central and in 1916 at the age of 19 volunteered to join the Hampshire Regiment. Having been injured at Paaschendaele, he returned home to convalesce before re-joining the war again in France with the 1st Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry (fighting alongside the author C.S. Lewis).

Arthur’s regiment played an important part of a wider effort in repelling the final great assault by the German army across France and Belgium at La Bassee Canal.

Arthur was killed on 15 April 1918 at the age of 21, leaving his wife and daughter (Matthew’s grandmother). 

Andy Mellors, Managing Director for South Western Railway, said 

“It was a honour to attend the event at Southwark Cathedral, 100 years after the first service of commemoration. It will be a very special moment to lay a wreath at the Victory Arch on Armistice Day, with Arthur’s great-grandson Matthew.”

Matthew Phillips said of his great-grandfather:

“It was an honour to be able to remember my great-grandfather, a proud railwayman for our company and his colleagues who gave up their today for our tomorrow. My family have always been incredibly proud of him. Despite not wanting to go, he signed up and embarked for the war twice – the second time knowing the horrors of the war.

“Thanks to the information passed on by my grandmother and the research my father and I have done for many years, we visited his plaque in Ploegsteert, Belgium 18 months ago. He is a hero to our family.”

Arthur was one of over 186,475 railway workers from the UK and Ireland who volunteered and served in World War One. It is claimed that 18,957 of them lost their lives.

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