Private John Perry PILKINGTON


Regiment/Service:
South Lancashire Regiment
(Prince of Wales' Volunteers)
(Formerly: Cheshire Regiment)
Unit:
8th Battalion
Service Number:
15604
(Formerly: 17381 Cheshire Regiment)
Date of Death:
3 July 1916 - Killed in Action
Age:
23
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Reference:
XII. D. 6


Personal History:

John was born in the December quarter 1891 at 5 Marlow Street, Fairfield, the son of Samuel (Insurance Salesman) and Emily Margaret Pilkington. (Although his enlistment papers give a date of birth as the 12th January 1892.) He had three older brothers and sisters, Mabel, George and Alice H., and two younger, Charles T. and Ethel M. In 1901 (Census RG 13/3270) they were living at 16 London Road, Buxton.
Ten years later (1911 Census RG 14/21237) the family were all still together, at the same address, with another younger sister, Gertrude M., added. John was working as a "Motor Mechanic". In the December quarter 1913 John married Amy Alice Robinson and they lived at 36 Mount Pleasant, Stockport, Cheshire. On the 21st May 1914 their daughter, Mary Margaret, was born. After John's death Amy re-married Stanley Atkinson, (March quarter 1919, Cockermouth District) and they lived at 1 Gatey's Yard, Keswick, Cumberland.

Not long after his marriage John's father, Samuel, died. (March quarter 1914.) At the time of his enlistment in October 1914 John gave his occupation as "Motor driver". He was 5 ft. 6 ins. (1.68 m) tall, had a 'fresh' complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. He gave his religion as "C. of E.".

Military History:
John enlisted in the Cheshire Regiment at Stockport on the 6th October 1914, for 'General Service' - 3 years - but almost immediately, on the 15th October, was posted to the 8th Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment. [There is evidence that quite a number of men enlisting in the Cheshires were transferred very quickly to the newly formed 8th South Lancs.]

The 8th (Service) Battalion had formed at Warrington in September 1914 as part of 'K3', Kitchener's Third New Army of 100,000 men, and moved to Codford, under the command of 75th Brigade in 25th Division. The Battalion then moved to billets in Bournemouth in November 1914 before moving again, to Wokingham, in May 1915 and on to Aldershot in June. The 8th Battalion was posted to France on the 28th September 1915. John's Medal Index Card confirms that he entered France with this first deployment on the 28th September.

The 8th Battalion were inspected by Lord Kitchener on the 12th August 1915, the units of the Division, including the Battalion, crossed to France 25th - 30th September and concentrated in the area of Nieppe. They went into the front line for the first time in late October. On the 3rd November, John and his mates were at a position known as "Moat Farm", believed to be near the village of Hollebeke, south of the Belgian town of Ypres.

A few weeks before they left, however, on the 4th August 1915, John was arrested for being drunk and compounded his error by escaping whilst in civil custody. For this he was Court Martialled and received 28 days detention. At some stage John was promoted to Lance Corporal, but reverted to Private after being absent from roll call on the 8th January 1916.

Later in 1916 John's Division were in action following the German attack on Vimy Ridge, in what was mainly a defensive fight. They were then withdrawn for rest and training, west of St Pol before moving to the area behind the Somme front in the third week of June 1916, in the area around Warloy.

John was next in action during The Battle of Albert (a phase of the Battles of the Somme) which commenced on the 1st July. The 75th Brigades received orders on the 2nd July to move to Martinsart and came under orders of the 32nd Division. On the 3rd July the 75th Brigade made a virtually unsupported and inevitably costly and unsuccessful attack in what was to prove to be a futile effort to hold on to the minor gains made in the Thiepval area on the 1st July.

On the 1st July the 8th South Lancs had been held in reserve and not seen action. The following day they left Hedauville and went into trenches south of Thiepval. They were to act in support of other battalions of the 75th Brigade who carried out an attack on the German line at 6.15am on the 3rd July 1916, and they were stationed in Aveluy Wood. The idea was that they would be part of the "break-through" force once the German defences had been penetrated deeply enough, but the Battalion's official War Diary gives no further details. "British Battalions on the Somme" reads:

"1/7/16 Moved forward from Hedauville to reserve positions in Aveluy Wood.
3/7/16 In action south of Thiepval."

The Battalion War Diary for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th July reads:

"HEDAUVILLE 2nd July 1916

Left HEDAUVILLE for AVELVY WOOD thence at 11:30 pm for the trenches south of THIEPVAL as support to the other battalions of the Brigade in the attack on the German line carried out at 6:15 am on July 3rd. The Bn took over the line from JOHNSONS POST to HAMILTON AVENUE and on the night of 3/4 July the Bn took over the line held by the 2nd Bn South Lancs Regt. The Duke of Wellingtons Regt TF being on our left and the 8th Border Regt on our right."

The diary makes no reference to casualties incurred throughout July, apart from a note that Lt. Col. Harold Ernest BRASSEY who was killed by a rifle bullet on the 15th. A note added to the diary and signed by Brassey, dated 4th, is clearly written in response to some questions which are not recorded. It states:-

"(i) The battalion was in support to the brigade and did not take part in the attack
   [a] Our losses were entirely from shell fire, the trenches being very much broken down
   [b] It appears that units were driven back entirely by shell fire and machine gun fire on the supporting lines as they crossed the open
   [c] I cannot answer - the enemy brought a heavy enfilade fire from the north on to the attack."

During this action John was killed in action, having served 280 days in France, and a total of 1 year 272 days with the Colours. He was one of 23 Officers and men of his Battalion killed on the 3rd July. Thirteen have no known grave and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. After burial near to where he fell, John was re-buried at Connaught Cemetery on the 2nd February 1921.


Sources:
· "British battalions on the Somme 1916" - Ray Westlake [ISBN 0850523745, 9780850523744]
· I am grateful to 'British War Graves' for the photo of John's grave.
· I am grateful to Stephen Nulty, via the Great War Forum, for the War Diary extract.

Link to CWGC Record
Pt Wilfred Mitchell's grave
poppy