Thomas Pickford was born in Audenshaw on July 25, 1882 to Mathew and Martha Ann Pickford (née Greenwood); impressively he arrived the day after their marriage. He was the oldest of six children and his father was employed as a Brewer’s Drayman. The family settled in Ashton, where Thomas was educated at Trafalgar School, and by 1901 Thomas was 18-years-old and had joined his father as a Carter.
Around this time, he joined the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, the Manchester Regiment which in 1908 became the 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment, Territorial Force. He served with them for some time but did not re-enlist when his time was up. In 1908 he married Ada Ann Clough and by 1911 they were living at 130 Wellington Street, Ashton with Ada’s son and daughter from a previous relationship and their own two infant daughters. Thomas was still working as a Carter but by now was employed by Noel Duncan Braithwaite, a local Coal Merchant and sergeant in the 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment.
His brother William Pickford joined the regular Army as a Private with the 5th (Princess Charlotte of Wales’s) Dragoon Guards and was stationed at Aldershot by 1912. War was declared on August 4, 1914 and by now Thomas’s first son, Joseph Pickford, had been born less than six months earlier. On August 11, 1914 his youngest brother, John Pickford, attested with the 11th Battalion Manchester Regiment. Four days later, his brother William deployed to France with the 5th Dragoon Guards.
With his two brothers and his employer already mobilised, and himself a former militia man, the pressure on Thomas to attest must have been overwhelming and he re-joined the 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment, Territorial Force as a Private (2103) on Tuesday September 1, 1914 at Ashton. At least one hundred men attested this day, Thomas being one of the very first to do so. At that time, the intent was for the battalion to take the most experienced and able-bodied men, deferring the others until later in the month, as they knew they were shortly to leave for overseas. Thomas and the others quickly joined the battalion at Chesham Fold Camp in Bury and a week later they entrained for Southampton and boarded HMS Aragon, leaving at midnight September 10, bound for Egypt.
In Egypt the men were drilled, trained and worked hard to build their fitness and endurance. Additionally, the old eight Company model (A-H) was replaced with a four Company model (A-D), 4 platoons in each Company and 4 sections in each platoon. The battalion landed at Gallipoli under shell fire on Sunday May 9, 1915 and at that time Thomas Pickford was a 32-year-old Private with “A” Company. His section N.C.O. was 19-year-old Lance-Corporal Gerald Massey and his Platoon commander was 19-year-old 2nd Lieutenant Charles Earsham Cooke. On the morning of June 20, Gerald Massey was shot in the head and killed by a Turkish sniper when he peered above the parapet. Thomas was promoted to Lance-Corporal to fill the now vacant position and took the trouble to write to Gerald’s parents and the letter was published in the Ashton Reporter of August 21, 1915:
“I 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. He had a very nice grave behind the firing line. I helped to bury him. Our minister prayed very nice over him. I placed a cross on his grave. I remain, yours, Tom Pickford.”
On August 8, at the start of the Battle of Krithia Vineyard, the battalion went into the trenches. “A” and “B” Companies with the (125th) Fusilier Brigade, and “C” and “D” Companies with the (127th) Manchester Brigade. 2/Lt. Oliver Jepson Sutton took two platoons of “A” company up to the firing line and was almost immediately wounded. Reinforcements were called for and so Lt. Forshaw and 2/Lt. Cooke took the other two platoons of “A” Company to the firing line. The recently promoted Lance-Corporal Thomas Pickford was with 2/Lt. Cooke. What happened to him there is best understood from his own account, given to the Ashton Reporter on March 18, 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. As senior N.C.O. in the trench, I told Stanley Pearson and four of the boys to hold one of the saps, and to keep up a continuous fire, and so keep the Turks back at that point. We had to watch the two other saps. 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 D.C.M. 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. Pearson did splendidly, and kept his men there. He fought cooly, and kept picking off the Turks. He was a smart and good lad. 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.’ He well earned his V.C., and I was proud of the chance later to tell the general, (or give evidence, as they call it), about him, which led to his recommendation for the V.C. One thing he did was very fine. Just after we had got the parapet up three Turks got over, and made a rush for Sam Bayley, but Lieut. Forshaw coolly shot all three with his revolver.”
The Army’s wheels can sometimes move slowly and the despatch from General Sir Ian Hamilton of December 11, 1915 covering the fighting in Gallipoli in August was not published until January 6, 1916. Subsequent to that, on January 28, 1916 the London Gazette published the list of names to be mentioned in despatches and they included all of the main players from the 1/9th Battalion Manchester Regiment in the Battle of Krithia Vineyard:
Second Lieutenant (temporary Captain) O. J. Sutton.
Lieutenant W. T. Forshaw, V.C.
Second Lieutenant C. E. Cooke.
No. 180 Serjeant S. Bayley.
No. 2103 Corporal T. Pickford.
No. 2148 Lance-Corporal S. Pearson.
A few days later on February 2, the London Gazette published the names of the men who had been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and on March 11 the Gazette published the citations of those awards:
2103 Lance-Corporal T. Pickford, 1/9th Battalion, Manchester Regiment, T.F.
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.
L/Cpl. Pickford had been wounded in the leg during the battle and after it was over, he was medically evacuated to hospital. By late January 1916 he was back in Ashton recovering, and had time to visit Trafalgar School Ashton, of which Captain Ralph Lees of the 2/9th Manchesters was headmaster and where he was formerly a pupil.
Sometime between August 1916 and February 1917 he was sufficiently recovered to be transferred to the King’s Liverpool Regiment as Private (310177) along with several other men of the 9th Manchesters (310176—310178 being former 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment N.C.O.s). Pickford was attached to the 1/5th Battalion of the 165th (Liverpool) Brigade and 55th (West Lancashire) Division, in XIX Corps. By July 1917 they were at Pilckem Ridge, Belgium and Thomas had become a father for the fourth time when his youngest daughter, Martha Ann Pickford, was born on May 19, 1917.
On July 31, 1917 the battle of Pilckem Ridge commenced which marked the start of the 3rd Battle of Ypres. Although the Allied attack started well, by the early afternoon the Germans counter-attacked just as the rain started to fall reducing visibility. The 39th Division on the XIX Corps’ left flank was pushed back to St Julien, exposing the left flank of the 55th (West Lancashire) Division, just as it was attacked frontally by six waves of German infantry. Attempts to hold the ground, now turned to mud, failed and the reserve brigades of the 55th (West Lancashire) and 15th (Scottish) Divisions were rolled up from North to South but were either overrun or forced to retreat. The British eventually stopped the German advance with artillery and machine-gun fire in the early evening hours.
The 1/5th Battalion King’s Liverpool Regiment had attacked at 3:50am and by the end of the day had suffered other ranks casualties of 105 wounded, 26 killed and 45 missing. Thomas Pickford was reported wounded and missing on July 31, 1917. His body was never found and so his widow was not officially notified of his death until September 18 and Form 104-76, “Death notification of a married man sent from the Territorial Force Record Office to the War Office”, was only received four months later, on January 28, 1918. Army paperwork satisfied, a weekly pension of 33sh 9d was paid commencing April 16, 1918; this to cover Thomas’ widow and six dependents. It’s not clear whether this included the 6d per day pension she was also entitled to for Thomas’ D.C.M.
Thomas Pickford was now declared officially dead, killed in action on July 31, 1918 just five days after his 35th birthday. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate and on the Ashton Under Lyne Civic Memorial.