Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Thomas Pickford

Thomas Pickford : Photograph of Tom in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.  Reference: Acc.5098

Photograph of Tom in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: Acc.5098

Thomas Pickford : (L to R) Distinguished Conduct Medal; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal;

(L to R) Distinguished Conduct Medal; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal;

Thomas, or Tom, was born in around 1875 in Radcliffe, Lancashire. His father was called Matthew, but we don't know anything else about his family.

Tom seems to have grown up in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. He attended Trafalgar School in the town. Later he joined the 3rd Volunteer Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, although we don't know when. This was a unit of the Volunteer Force based in Ashton. Its members kept their civilian homes and jobs, and trained as soldiers for a short period every year.

The Volunteer Force was disbanded in April 1908 and replaced by the Territorial Force. The 3rd Volunteer Battalion became the 9th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. Tom had left before this happened.

Tom was married to a woman named Ada Ann. We don't know her maiden name or whether they had any children.

When the First World War broke out in early August 1914 Tom lived at 130 Wellington Street in Ashton with Ada. He worked as a carter for Mr Braithwaite, a coal merchant. Thousands of men enlisted in the Army during the first weeks of the war, and Tom was one of them. He joined the 9th Battalion towards the end of August and was given the service number 2103.

The battalion sailed to Egypt on the 10th September, arriving on the 25th. Tom went with them. Their main role was to guard the Suez Canal. Many of Tom's fellow new recruits did not have his experience to fall back on, so the battalion spent a lot of time training.

Tom wrote a letter to the Ashton Reporter newspaper in late 1914. It was published on the 2nd January 1915. In it he reported how the battalion was 'quite the idols of Egypt for cleanliness and discipline'. They were glad to receive copies of the newspaper and quite surprised to find 'several old Ashtonians' amongst the '30,000 Australian troops [who] landed here this week'.

On the 9th May 1915 the 9th Battalion landed in Gallipoli to take part in the fighting there. They were in the front line within days. We believe Tom was a member of B Company during this period, in a section commanded by Lance Corporal 1289 Gerald Massey.

On Sunday the 20th June Gerald was killed in action. He was 19 years old. Tom wrote his parents a letter, which was published in the Reporter on the 21st August. Tom was 'your late son's friend; he was my section commander and I have now got his place, but I would rather he had been spared... I helped to bury him...I placed a cross on his grave'. His new job meant Tom became a Lance Corporal.

In early August the 9th Battalion took part in the Battle of Krithia Vineyard. It was intended to be a small scale attack to divert Turkish attention from larger attacks elsewhere. The battalion advanced and captured Turkish positions on the 7th August, but were then counterattacked many times. Tom was in an advanced position with a number of other soldiers, under the command of William Forshaw. They held on for 41 hours in a fierce defence of their position.

The men had access to around 800 hand grenades (known as bombs). The Army had not made much use of this weapon before the First World War, so they were in short supply and quite primitive. Many of the bombs Tom used were effectively homemade, by men putting shrapnel and explosive into an empty jam tin, with a fuse that had to be set alight. We know that William Forshaw smoked constantly during the fighting for this reason.

Tom's bravery that night was recognised when he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in the London Gazette of the 2nd February 1916. This is his citation:

For conspicuous gallantry on the 8th August 1915, at Gallipoli, when he rallied his party, which had been driven back by bombs in the Barricade of the Vineyard, and by his bravery and example was largely instrumental in saving a precarious position.

Tom was also Mentioned in Despatches on the 28th January 1916, although we don't know why.

Tom would later describe his experiences during the fighting on the 7th and 8th August to the Ashton Reporter. This was published on the 18th March 1916:

We captured the trench after the Turks had been bombed out, and for 26 hours we held it, and were continuously engaged in repulsing fierce attacks. It was a difficult position to hold, because three Turkish saps converged into it.

... The Turks came right at us. It was a scrap! Bombs were bursting all around us. Some of the boys in their excitement caught the Turkish bombs before they exploded, and hurled them back again. They did not always manage to catch them in time, and three of them had their hands blown off.

What made the position worse was that as soon as we had entered the trench a bomb laid out six of us. I was one of them. I bandaged up my leg, and bandaged up the others, and sent them back to hospital. I carried on, that is why I was recommended for the DCM.

Lieutenant Forshaw did not know that I had not gone to hospital. He was amazed when he came near. 'Why, I thought you had gone to hospital' he said. 'No sir,' I answered, 'we were short of men.' Anyway, I was telling you about the fight. The Turks were at us all the time. ... We hadn't much time to waste, I can tell you, for the Turks were determined to get the trench back.

Lieutenant Forshaw was in command of the whole of the firing line in the trench, which was in a very dangerous part of the Vineyard. We had to hold the place at all costs. There were 300 men on our right, and had we lost the position the Turks could have taken them prisoners. By holding on we saved a very good position. We refused to be driven out. At one moment the Turks drove us out of one traverse, but we barricaded it up with sand-bags, and they never budged us any further, for we stuck it until we were relieved.

Lieutenant Forshaw, I gave you my word on it, did very well. His example repeatedly put new courage into us. It was the first time he had been in such close fighting. He threw the bombs as well as us. At one time he came to me and said, 'How are you getting on Corporal? Do you think you can manage?' I said 'I think so,' he replied, 'You are a plucky corporal, you are doing well.'

After the action Tom was one of the men who gave evidence about William Forshaw's actions. Tom was 'proud of the chance' to tell his superiors about William's bravery. Accounts from Tom and his comrades led to William being awarded the Victoria Cross on the 9th September. This is now in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection.

Tom was in the UK in early 1916, most likely still recovering from his wounds. He visited his old school on Thursday the 27th January, and met with 'a good reception from the scholars'.

Towards the end of 1916 Tom recovered enough to return to duty. He had joined the 25th Battalion of The King's (Liverpool Regiment) by mid November. This was a unit made up of members of the Territorial Force who were not fit enough to serve overseas. They gave him the service number 380177.

Tom must have recovered further, because he was later posted to the 1/5th Battalion, who were serving on the Western Front in Belgium. We don't know exactly when this happened.

Tom served with the 1/5th Battalion in the Ypres sector for his entire time on the Western Front. It was a dangerous, unpleasant area, with constant danger from shelling, but there was relatively little fighting and the area was considered fairly quiet until July.

This changed towards the end of the month. The British were preparing to begin the Passchendaele Offensive in this area. The 1/5th Battalion was assigned to take part in the attack on Pilckem Ridge on the first day of the battle, the 31st July.

The battalion's advance went well at first. They then began to take casualties from German positions in fortified farms, and other strong points. There was heavy rain on the 31st, which turned the battlefield to mud, slowing the soldiers still further, and making evacuation of the wounded very difficult.

During the afternoon the Germans launched strong counter-attacks. They overwhelmed the 1/5th Battalion and forced them to retreat. They took heavy casualties and Tom was one of the men killed. He was 42 years old.

After the war Tom's body could not be found so his name is one of the 54406 inscribed on the Menin Gate in Ypres (now called Ieper). Tom is on Panel 4 or Panel 6. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in November 1991.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund logo
Tameside Metropolitan Borough logo
Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund logo
Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council