Penrith brothers in arms: the Pilkingtons

Henry and Jane Ann Pilkington, of Penrith, lost three sons to war. This is their story.

Penrith Congregational Church unveiled a memorial table on September 26, 1920, ‘in grateful memory of the men of this church who fell in the Great War’.

I covered the stories of neighbours Ernest Irving and Oswald Elliott, of Brunswick Square Penrith, here.

And the stories of Allan Rigg and Lawrence Little here.

But of course, it wasn’t just neighbours who were ripped apart by multiple grief. In many instances, families lost more than one son.

The Pilkington family

Penrith Observer. June 20 1916.

Would the person who wrongly took the leather armchair from Market Hall sale on May 18, kindly return it to Henry Pilkington, Penrith at once.

Henry Pilkington was a chair maker, of Three Crowns Yard, behind Middlegate in Penrith. He and his wife Jane Ann (née Chaplow) had nine children, but by 1911 had lost two: one presumably in infancy, but the other to war.

Henry and Jane Ann’s children were: Isaac (with parents 1939); George Henry; James Ernest; Elizabeth; Alice; Charles; Joseph Harold; John Francis (with parents 1939), and one name unknown.

George Henry Pilkington

Register of soldiers’ effects. 

George Henry Pilkington, 40th Battery Royal Field Artillery, Gunner (saddler). Enlisted Penrith 3.12.02. Father Henry. Died 27.11.08 Hyderabad, India. 

George Henry would then have been 24.

In 1901, aged 17, he was listed on the census as a saddler’s apprentice. What led him to join the Army a year later, we can only guess. I’ve not been able to find anything more about him, or the Battery.

Joseph Harold Pilkington

Maybe George’s untimely death that put his brothers off war. For sure, Joseph Harold Pilkington was called up, rather than volunteering – after conscription was introduced in 1916.

Joseph gave his age as 18 years and 8 months – this was November 6, 1916 and he was a joiner. He was 5ft 4 3/4 ins tall, with a scar on the back of his right hand. He said he’d like to join the Royal Engineers, but he was signed up by the Border Regiment. 

He was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps in January 1917 and sent to France on August 10, 1917.

He got into trouble on September 8 1917, for having a dirty rifle when on active service in the field: penalty, three extra guard duties.

July 24,1917. Bath for sale. Pilkington, Three Crowns Yard, Middlegate.

It seems slightly incongrous from this distance that life on the Home Front continued as normal – but what else could loved ones do?

Private Joseph Harold Pilkington was posted missing on March 21, 1918. He has no known grave and his name is recored on the Pozieres Memorial, which commemorates more than 14,000 men who died on the Somme from 21 March to 7 August 1918. More than 500 of those were Joseph’s regimental colleagues in the Machine Gun Corps.

Henry and Jane Ann Pilkington didn’t know for sure that he had died on that first day, of course. It doesn’t seem to have been until some time in May 1918 they got the news he was missing.

And it was in May 1918, they got the worse possible news about another son, Charles.

Charles Pilkington

There’s no service record for Charles – but he made the Penrith newspapers twice in 1916.

July 11, 1916. Private Charles Pilkington was wounded in the shoulder on June 20 and is at base hospital. One of his chums (sic) wrote to Mr and Mrs Pilkington, stating they had been wounded together. The writer was now better and thought Private Pilkington would be sent to England. A parcel from Mrs Pilkington had arrived after her son was wounded and the writer of the letter had opened it and distributed the contents. Private Pilkington enlisted a year ago.

Charles Pilkington was soon back in action – and was recommended for a medal for bravery.

In October 1916, he was one of a party of five who volunteered to go out into No Man’s Land under the Red Cross flag to bring in wounded. They thoroughly searched a large portion of land for several hours, under circumstances of great danger, and brought in the bodies of one officer and one man. His officer commanding recommended him for the Military Medal, but thought as there were so many recommendations and it was so hard to select, he might not get the award.

And then, a week or two after learning that Joseph Harold was missing in action, Henry and Jane Ann Pilkington had definite news of Charles.

Penrith Observer, Tues May 28 1918.

Mr Henry Pilkington, Middlegate, had an intimation at the weekend that his fourth son, Lance-Corporal Charles Pilkington, Royal Fusiliers, died in a Canadian Stationary Hospital on Friday from wounds received while in action in France. Before the war, he was a painter in Penrith and has been in France two years. 

Charles Pilkington was two years older than Joseph Harold: his grave at Doullens Communal Cemetery, France says he, in 1918, was 22, and serving in the 7th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. The inscription reads: ‘Until we meet again mother’.

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