Wilson Forrest was born in Middlesbrough, probably at Linthorpe, the son of Wilson and Frances Forrest, one of five children. His father was a boiler maker, and by 1901 a foreman. Between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one Forrest worked as a pupil teacher at Great Ayton, North Yorkshire. He trained for his Certificate at Bede College 1905-1907, and then was appointed Assistant Teacher at New Brancepeth Council School until his enlistment in September 1914 at the age of 30 as a private. During this time he lived at 18 High Wood View in Durham with his wife Sarah, son (born in 1911), and mother-in-law, Frances Willis.
When at Bede College, in common with many of his fellow students, Forrest completed two years of service with 4th Durham Rifle Volunteer Battalion as a private. After joining up Wilson served with 18 D.L.I., a ‘Pals’ battalion, first in Egypt and then in France. This long period of continuous active service saw him quickly promoted through the ranks to Company Sergeant Major by 1915.
The activities of the battalion were regularly reported in The Bede magazine during this period, Forrest’s name appearing among a diminishing band of surviving Bede alumni. The German Spring Offensive began on 21 March 1918. The 18th Battalion tookpart in the First Battle of Arras (28–30 March) and were positioned on the Ayette Ridge. The history of the 18th Battalion records that in the opening days of the action, when Forrest was killed, “shelling on the crest and reverse slopes of Ayette Ridge was exceptionally violent and we had a high percentage of casualties; all movement from cover of the trenches was dangerous” (War history of the 18th (S.) Battalion Durham Light Infantry (1920), by W.D. Lowe, p.108).
Wilson is buried at Bienvillers Military Cemetery, France. His sacrifice is commemorated on war memorials at Durham Shire Hall and County Hall, Durham Town Hall, Durham St Oswald’s Calvary, the Durham City Comrades Club, New Brancepeth, as well as the Bede College 1914-1918 cross, plaque, and roll of honour. Forrest’s connection with Durham St Oswald’s may be explained by his presence in memorial books held at St Paul’s Cathedral in London and St Nicholas’ Cathedral in Newcastle upon Tyne (with plaque), in which the names of bell-ringers who were killed during the war are commemorated.