Private Edgar Pickles, 12/1367, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 12th (Miners) Battalion
Edgar Pickles was born in Thornhill on the 19th September 1889 and was baptised on the 31st December 1889 at Thornhill St Michael’s Church. He was the youngest child of ten surviving children born to Thornhill colliery labourer Edward Pickles and his wife, Emma (nee Clegg), who were married in early 1867. Emma Pickles was 46 years and five days old at the time of Edgar’s birth. All of the family were born at Thornhill or Middlestown.
In 1891 the family were living at Thornhill Edge and by 1901 Edward and Emma Pickles had moved to Victoria Street, Horbury with five of their children aged between 11 years (Edgar) and 36 years.
Edgar Pickles, of Sowood Lane, Ossett, married 20 year-old spinster Sarah Ann Goldthorpe of South Parade, Ossett at South Ossett Christ Church on the 14th May 1910 and by 1911 the couple were living at the home of parents-in-law, Fred and Ada Goldthorpe at 49, South Parade, Ossett. They had a one month old son, John Edward Pickles and Edgar was working as a coal miner, most probably at the nearby Old Roundwood Collieries. Two more children were born to the couple: Mary Pickles in 1912 and Hilda Pickles in 1915.
Edgar Pickles’ army service record has not survived, but it is known that he enlisted at Dewsbury and joined the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry with service no. 12/1367 in the 12th (Miners) Battalion. Private Edgar Pickles died of wounds on the 2nd July 1916 and was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals, but not the 1914/15 Star, indicating that he did not serve overseas prior to the 31st December 1915.
There are several local marriage registrations for a Sarah A. Pickles in the early 1920s and it seems likely that Sarah, a widow aged 27, with three children, would have remarried.
The history of the 12th Service Battalion (Miners)(Pioneers) King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry dates from the 5th September 1914 when the War Office authorised the West Yorkshire Coalowners Association to raise a Miners Battalion for the King's Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry). After beginning its life at Leeds, the battalion trained first at Farnley Park, Otley and then at Burton Leonard, near Ripon. By this time it had been allocated to 31st Division as its pioneer battalion. After completing its training in Yorkshire, the battalion moved to Fovant, Salisbury in October 1915 before embarking for Egypt on 6th December. After little more than two months in Egypt, the 12th K.O.Y.L.I. was ordered to France to take part in the planned summer offensive on the Somme.1
At zero hour (7:30am) on Saturday, July 1st 1916, whistles blew all along the British line to signal the beginning of the Somme offensive. 60,000 men, the first wave of the attack rose ungainly from their starting points and began to walk out into no-man’s land.
Private Edgar Pickles was wounded in action on the 1st of July 1916, in the attack on the village of Serre, carried out by the Army 31st Division, of which the 12th Battalion, KOYLI was an important part. He died of his wounds in a casualty clearing station on the 2nd July 1916.
The failure of 31st Division's attack at Serre in the face of overwhelming enemy artillery and machine gun fire is well-known. On the 94th Brigade front, two platoons from "A" Company of the 12th K.O.Y.L.I. followed the 12th York & Lancasters (Sheffield City Battalion) and 11th East Lancashires (Accrington Pals) into the attack; as many as four out of every five men from these two KOYLI platoons were wounded or killed.
On the front of 93rd Brigade, at least one platoon of "D" Company of the 12th K.O.Y.L.I. suffered heavy casualties on following the 15th West Yorkshires (Leeds Pals) into the attack. Sgt.-Maj. George Cussins, moving forward some minutes later with "B" Coy. of the 16th West Yorkshires (1st Bradford Pals) reported afterwards:
"I found in the front line, a good many of the 15th W. Yorks, what was left of the D.L.I. Co. attached to us, also a few of the K.O.Y.L.I."
In the hours that followed, "B" and "C" Companies of the 12th K.O.Y.L.I., together with the remaining platoons of "A" and "D" Companies:
"had to rebuild trenches that were crumbling under heavy gunfire, forward supplies of ammunition, dig new trenches, and help in the later hours to save some of the wounded."
The pioneers reassembled at their assembly posts at 4.30 in the afternoon. 197 officers and men were reported as killed, wounded or missing, though the return of eight missing men on 4th July 1916 brought the number of casualties down to 189.
Above: Going over the top on the 1st July 1916 at the Battle of the Somme.
Private Edgar Pickles, aged 26 years, died on the 2nd July 1916. He is buried at grave reference I.G.7 at the Gezaincourt Communal Cemetery Extension, 2 Somme, France. Gezaincourt is a village a little south-west of the town of Doullens, halfway between the main roads from Doullens to Abbeville and Doullens to Amiens. The Communal Cemetery and Extension are on the east side of the village.
The Communal Cemetery at Gezaincourt contains nine Commonwealth burials of the First World War, made between October 1915 and March 1916.
The adjoining Extension was opened in March 1916 and used until March 1917, and again from March to October 1918. In most cases, the burials were carried out from casualty clearing stations and, in June to August 1918, from the 3rd Canadian Stationary Hospital.
The extension contains 596 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, three of which are unidentified, and a plot of 76 German graves. There are also six Second World War burials, all dating from the early months of the war before the German advance.