Date of birth: 30.12.1894
Date of death: 01.07.1916
Regiment: Royal Fusiliers
Family information: Son of George and Sarah Ann Pickersgill nee Richardson
Service number: G/17597
He enlisted at Pontefract in June 1915 and entered an active theatre of war in November 1915 – the Balkans.
He was part of the Gallipoli Expedition, probably a refill to the Royal Fusiliers, a Regular Army Battalion just returned from India. They had sustained heavy casualties in August at Helles where they were among the first troops to make landings in April, and needed a large transfer of troops, among them Ernest. He would have suffered the effects of the great storm of November. After the failure of this expedition troops were withdrawn and 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers were the last to be evacuated. First in – last out! They sailed to Egypt and then on to Marseilles in March 1916, moving to the area south of Abbeville to prepare for the Somme Offensive.
The 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers were part of the 86th Brigade of the 29th Division. On 1st July they were to attack Beaumont Hamel and the Hawthorn Ridge, their objective was the capture of the stronghold of the Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt. Two months earlier 252nd Tunnelling Company had mined the Hawthorn Ridge. It was the first mine to be fired, a short time before the rest of the attack. The explosion is recorded on film by Geoffrey Mallinson and is an iconic part of the First Day of the Somme.
The Royal Fusiliers dashed forward with machine guns and stokes mortars to take the newly formed crater, but the time between the firing of the mine and the attack had given the Germans time to take possession of the crater who gave frontal and flanking fire. Very few reached the enemy’s front line, others veered to the crater and held it for a time. By midday any men remaining in “no man’s land” were forced to retire. Those who did reach the German front line were killed.
Casualties for the 2nd Royal Fusiliers were:-
Officers : Killed 3 Wounded 12 Missing 4 Missing believed wounded 1 Missing believed killed
Other Ranks : Killed 54 Wounded 276 Missing 140.
Ernest was one of those casualties.
Ernest was posted missing and one year later officially reported killed. A chum had written to the family reporting him missing. After the official notification his mother still hoped he may be a prisoner. It was only in July 1919 they added his name to the Roll of Honour in the Pontefract & Castleford Express. The family received his medals and they are still in the boxes in which they came along with the Death Plaque.
His body was recovered in the clearing of the battlefields and he is buried in Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery No 1. It lies very close to the Crater and along with the “starting point” makes a perfect triangle, where Ernest’s war of 9 short months ended.
Ernest was born in Knottingley on 30th December 1894, the sixth of seven surviving children of George and Sarah Ann Pickersgill, nee Richardson. His elder siblings were Susannah, Ellen, George, Joseph and John Robert. He was followed by a younger sister Mary Ann known as Polly. The family lived in Racca Green. Ernest left school to work at Bagley’s Glassworks where he was a Taker In.