In search of my grand­fa­ther

Lancashire Life - - REMEMBRANC­E -

Lan­cashire Life writer Martin Pilk­ing­ton marked the 100th an­niver­sary of the Ar­mistice by track­ing

down a fas­ci­nat­ing fam­ily war record

The Blitz de­stroyed many World War One ser­vice records held at Kew, so the on­line search for Mark Pilk­ing­ton’s ser­vice in The Loyal North Lan­cashire Reg­i­ment may be fruit­less. It isn’t. The record card (H/2/101 B10) for Mark, my pa­ter­nal grand­fa­ther, reg­i­men­tal number 22931, ap­pears on the screen, the right side burned and black­ened. Like my grand­fa­ther him­self it was lucky to sur­vive, but un­like him – he rarely spoke of those days – it re­veals plenty about his war.

Mark was born in 1896 in Hor­wich. The 1911 cen­sus records him as a gro­cer’s as­sis­tant liv­ing with his wi­d­owed mother. In June 1915 he be­comes a Kitch­ener vol­un­teer, choos­ing like so many Lan­cas­tri­ans to at­test – sign­ing up early to join a spe­cific reg­i­ment when called upon, doubt­less in the hope of serv­ing with friends.

Called up in De­cem­ber he trains with the Loy­als un­til in late May 1916, the new re­cruits

With the first and last name of the com­bat­ant, and ideally place and year of birth you can use An­ces­try.com on­line (for a fee) to get your own rel­a­tive’s WWI ser­vice record, pro­vid­ing it still exists. Match dates and places in that doc­u­ment with de­tails in of­fi­cial reg­i­men­tal his­to­ries sourced via li­braries and mu­se­ums, cen­sus records, medal lists and fam­ily lore to build a fuller pic­ture. de­part from Devon­port not for France, but East Africa. From a large work­ing class fam­ily, he had prob­a­bly never left Lan­cashire pre­vi­ously, so what thoughts flood his imag­i­na­tion as the troop­ship Elele docks in Kilin­dini, Mom­basa’s har­bour?

Poorly pro­vi­sioned, often on half and even quar­ter ra­tions (what did the Lan­cas­tri­ans make of the bil­tong, that sup­ple­mented their sup­plies?) the Loy­als reg­u­larly march 20 miles a day in East Africa’s bak­ing heat and oc­ca­sional trop­i­cal down­pour. Malaria, fever, ex­haus­tion and mal­nu­tri­tion are greater dangers than en­emy fire in a war of move­ment in stark con­trast to the trench-bound stale­mate in Europe.

Once, at Kwa Di Rema, they tramp 30 miles overnight to sur­prise the Ger­mans. Bril­liant gen­er­al­ship then pushes the force beyond their own ar­tillery sup­port but be­neath the en­emy’s guns in the Kanga Moun­tains for some time. On Au­gust 13th 1916 they at­tack another camp in Tu­liani, tak­ing heavy ca­su­al­ties be­fore the Ger­mans re­tire to the Uluguru Moun­tains – General von Let­tow-vor­beck fight­ing a clever and ruth­less guer­rilla cam­paign to frus­trate the larger Al­lied force.

Af­ter fur­ther ac­tion through Septem­ber, the Ma­chine Gun Com­pany, re­duced to five of­fi­cers and 20 other ranks, is or­dered to Dar-es-salaam via a dis­used slave route. Eight days later just three of­fi­cers and 17 other ranks arrive there fit for duty, against a nor­mal com­pany strength of at least 80.

Three ‘crime re­ports’ in Mark’s African ser­vice record throw some hu­man light on that mar­tial shade. In Dar-es-salaam he re­ceives 14 days con­fined-to­bar­racks for be­ing in a for­bid­den area out­side camp; another five days for fail­ing to sleep un­der his mos­quito net; and later seven

ABOVE: Of­fi­cers of the 2nd Loyal Lan­cashire in France at Sois­sons (Cour­tesy of Lan­cashire In­fantry Mu­seum, Pre­ston) LEFT: A pen­cil sketch of Mark Pilk­ing­ton in later like by his son

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