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Harry Pickersgill

Private Harry Pickersgill, 240464 (formerly 1985), Yorkshire Regiment, 1/5th Battalion

Harry Pickersgill was born in Ossett in 1892, the second child and eldest son of Fred and his wife Alice (nee Dews) who married in early 1888. In 1901, the couple were living on Westfield Street, Ossett with their three children, Lillian, Harry and Leonard. By 1911 the family had moved to Scarborough and were living at 119 Dean Road where Fred was working as a grocer. Harry was not living in Scarborough with his parents but a Harry Pickersgill, aged 20 years, was working as a hurrier in a coal mine and boarding with the Bedford family on New Street, Ossett.

The "U.K. Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919" list records Harry Pickersgill, born in Ossett enlisting at Scarborough and joining the 5th Battalion, Yorkshire Hussars (Alexandra, Princes of Wales’ Own). The Yorkshire Hussars were formed at the same time as the Territorial Regiments in 1908. “D” Squadron was formed at Middlesborough with a drill station at Scarborough and Harry’s service number and location suggest that he enlisted there, before WW1, perhaps as early as mid/late 1911.

Harry embarked for France on the 18th April 1915 by which time he was serving with the 1/5th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards), with service number 1985. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) records Harry as serving in the Yorkshire Regiment, 5th Battalion when his service number was 240464. The CWGC record suggests that Harry died whilst a Prisoner of War.

The 1st/5th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment (better known as the Green Howards) was formed in August 1914 at Scarborough as part of the York and Durham Brigade, Northumbrian Division. On the 17th April 1915, the battalion landed at Boulogne. On the 14th May 1915, the formation became 150th Brigade, 50th (Northumbrian) Division. On the 16th July 1918, the battalion was reduced to cadre strength and moved to Lines of Communication. On the 16th August 1918 they transferred to 116th Brigade, 39th Division and on the 5 November 1918 they were demobilised.

Between August and December 1918, 39 British prisoners of war died at the Heilsberg camp, which was then in part of Germany. It is likely their deaths were a result of insufficient food, overwork or one of the diseases that swept through the overcrowded and insanitary camps. The nearby Lidzbark Warminski cemetery was used to bury the British and Russian prisoners of war who died at the camp. Heilsburg in East Prussia (now Poland) was a big PoW camp, located on the outskirts of the town divided by a rural highway, the camp proper being on one side and a hospital for contagious diseases on the other. The camp accommodation consisted fifty earth huts and the prisoners were mainly engaged in agricultural work.

It is likely that Harry Pickersgill was taken prisoner on the 27th May 1918, during the third Battle of the Aisne, with other soldiers from the 1st/5th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment who were part of 50th Division. After the German Offensives of Spring 1918, the 50th Division was sent to what was supposed to be a quiet sector to recover from the trials of the Somme and Lys. They expected to be training the many new reinforcements they had just received. On the 27th of May the Germans launched the Blucher-Yorck offensive in what was to be their final attempt to win the War. Only three other Divisions experienced all three German onslaughts.1

Taken completely by surprise and with their defences spread thin, the Allies were unable to stop the attack and the German army advanced through a 40 kilometres (25 mi) gap in the Allied lines. Reaching the Aisne in under six hours, the Germans smashed through eight Allied divisions on a line between Reims and Soissons, pushing the Allies back to the river Vesle and gaining an extra 15 km of territory by nightfall. Victory seemed near for the Germans, who had captured just over 50,000 Allied soldiers and well over 800 guns by 30 May 1918. But after having advanced within 56 kilometres (35 mi) of Paris on 3 June, the German armies were beset by numerous problems, including supply shortages, fatigue, lack of reserves and many casualties.

Harry was one of 39 UK soldiers, including eight Yorkshire Regiment soldiers, buried in Heilsburg P.O.W. Cemetery. Harry’s regimental service number was 240464 and he died on 9th October 1918, just four weeks before the Armistice. He was posthumously awarded the British and Victory Medals and the 1914/15 Star to acknowledge his service overseas before the 31st December 1915.

Harry Pickersgill is not remembered on any Ossett Memorial or Roll of Honour which might be thought unusual since he appears to have lived in Ossett until at least 1911. His enlistment at Scarborough however may suggest that he moved from Ossett sometime after the April 1911 census. His move would have been before his enlistment in the Yorkshire Hussars or the Territorial Yorkshire Regiment, probably later in 1911. He is remembered in this 2014 biography and Roll of Honour because the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and/or the "U.K. Soldiers who Died in the Great War 1914-1918" listing records him as born or residing in Ossett.

Private Harry Pickersgill, died on the 8th October 1918 and is buried at grave reference CWGC. 28 at the Lidzbark Warminski War Cemetery,2 also originally called Heilsburg P.O.W. Cemetery, East Prussia but now Poland. The site is adjacent to the Lidzbark Warminski town border from north-east, it is located in Markajmy suburb, approx. 300 m to the right (south-east) of road 51.

Please note that this cemetery is located in Lidzbark Warminski and not Lidzbark. Lidzbark is another town in the same province, but the two towns are 150 km away from each other. There are 39 men of various nationalities who died as German prisoners-of-war during WW1 buried here.

Private Harry Pickersgill is also remembered on the Malbork Memorial in the Malbork Commonwealth War Cemetery, commemorating 39 First World War casualties buried in Heilsberg Prisoners of War Cemetery (changed in 1953 to Lidsbark War Cemetery) where their graves could no longer be maintained. The town of Malbork (formerly known as Marienburg) lies in the north of Poland approx 60kms south east of Gdansk.

In 2014, headstones commemorating 39 UK soldiers who died at a German prisoner of war camp during World War One have been erected in northern Poland. The men were held alongside thousands of Russians at the Heilsberg prisoner of war camp and died in 1918. They were buried in a nearby cemetery, but after it deteriorated in the 1960s, they were remembered with a memorial 75 miles away. Now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has rebuilt the cemetery.

References:

1. 1/5th Battalion (Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own) Yorkshire Regiment

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site