Died: 25 September 1916
Service number: 17633
Regiment / Service: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
Family information: Son of George Pickering of Low Street, Brotherton Road, Ferrybridge
Alma joined the 10th (Service) Battalion of The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry which was formed at Pontefract in September 1914 as part of K3 (Kitchener’s 3rd Army) and attached to the 64th Brigade in the 21st Division. Moved to Berkhamsted and then to Halton Park (Tring) in October 1914, going on to billets in Maidenhead in November, returned to Halton Park in April 1915 and went on to Witley in August.
On 11 September 1915 they landed in France and this is the qualifying date for Alma’s 1915 Star. The Division's first experience was truly appalling. Having been in France for only a few days, lengthy forced marches brought it into the reserve for the British assault at GHQ planning left it too far behind to be a useful reinforcement on the first day, but it was sent into action on 26 September, whereupon it suffered over 3,800 casualties for very little gain.
The Division served on the Western Front for the remainder of the war, taking part in many of the significant actions: At some stage in the year that Alma served in France he was promoted to Lance Corporal and then Corporal.
The Battle of Loos (25 September - 14 October 1915)
The Battle of Loos was one of the major British offensives mounted on the Western Front in 1915 during World War I. It marked the first time the British used poison gas during the war, and is also famous for the fact that it witnessed the first large-scale use of 'new' or Kitchener's Army units.
General Douglas Haig, then commander of the British First Army, directed the battle; however, his plans were limited by the shortage of artillery ammunition which meant the preliminary bombardment, essential for success in the emerging trench warfare, was weak. Prior to the British attack at about 6.30am, 140 tons of chlorine gas was released with mixed success - in places the gas was blown back onto British trenches.
Due to the inefficiency of the contemporary gas masks, many soldiers removed them as they could not see through the fogged-up talc eyepieces, or could barely breathe with them on. This led to some British soldiers being affected by their own gas as it blew back across their lines.
The battle opened on 25 September, the British were able to break through the weaker German defences and capture the town of Loos, mainly due to numerical superiority. However, the inevitable supply and communications problems, combined with the late arrival of reserves, meant that the breakthrough could not be exploited.
A further complication for many British soldiers was the failure of their artillery to cut the German wire in many places in advance of the attack. Advancing over open fields in range of German machine guns and artillery, British losses were devastating. When the battle resumed the following day, the Germans were prepared and repulsed attempts to continue the advance. The fighting subsided on 28 September with the British having retreated to their starting positions. Their attacks had cost over 20,000 casualties.
The Division had been ably rebuilt up after Loos by Major-General Claude Jacob. He had over seen the rehabilitation of the rank and file, the new draft of volunteers sent after the casualties and the needed pride restoration. However the division, like the army in the main, had not been involved in any major actions since Loos and it would be the battle of the Somme that would be the test of all that had been done.
So as 21st Division approached the 1st of July they had new commanders in key positions. Time would tell if they were the right men. By now they were also under new higher command moving to Fourth Army and they were by now grouped under General Sir Henry Horne's XV Corps.
The battles marked * are phases of the Battles of the Somme 1916.
- The Battle of Albert*
- The Battle of Bazentin Ridge*
- The Battle of Flers-Courcelette*
- The Battle of Morval* in which the Division captured Guedecourt
The days immediately following 15 September attack were marked on the Fourth Army’s front by a series of minor line-adjusting operations conducted in deteriorating weather. The increasingly wet conditions delayed preparations for a renewed effort to secure the villages of Morval, Lesboeufs and Guedecourt, unattained objectives of the Flers-Courcelette fighting. This new offensive required an advance of up to 1,500 yards on a line from Martinpuich to Combles.
The ruined villages of Morval and Lesboeufs lay on XIV Corps main front of attack; immediately left, XV Corps, was to sieze Gueudecourt; III Corps was to advance on the German line north-east of Martinpuich and offer cover for XV Corps left flank.
The preliminary bombardment began at 7am on 24 September; the assault troops waiting in muddy ‘jumping-off’ trenches early next morning witnessed a barrage of unprecedented ferocity on German positions, which intensified just before zero hour.
At 12.35pm on 25 September, as the creeping barrage pounded down on No Man’s Land, the infantry advanced. Morval and Lesboeufs were occupied by 3.30pm. But XV Corps divisions had difficulty approaching the formidable Gird Trench and considerable disorganisation was caused by determined German resistance.
It was not until early morning on 26th September that a section of Gird Trench was cleared, with the assistance of a tank, opening the way into Guedecourt village, which was taken that same evening. Earlier in the day Combles had been occupied by British and French forces. Further attacks were made by XV Corps on 27 September and the following day saw the handover of the extreme right of XIV Corps line to French forces.
Alma was killed on 25 September 1916, most probably a casualty of the battle of Morval which commenced on that date. He left no direct descendants but Pickerings continued to live in Brotherton.
This branch of the Brotherton Pickerings can be traced back to about 1800 and even further back through other ancestral names. Coincidentally they form part of my own ancestral lineage through the marriage of my great grandparents George Austwick and Mary Richardson daughter of Mary Pickering and William Richardson.
Alma (or Abma as he is referred to in some records) was the son of George Pickering and Annie Burden.
In 1891 the family were living in the High Street just a couple of doors from George’s father and mother Joseph and Hannah. Alma was 2 years old and his sister Edna was just 4 months old. George was employed as a ‘Coal Miner’.
Ten years in 1901 on the family structure had altered somewhat. Joseph had died so Hannah had moved in with son George and family. She provided the female presence in the household as Alma’s mother Anne had also died about March 1900 aged just 38.
In 1911 the household remained unchanged with George still mining (hewer) and 72 year old Hannah still carrying out ‘House Duties’ with granddaughter Edna. Alma, by then 22 and still single was a ‘Driver’ down a mine – presumably for pit-ponies.