Private, 22081, 1/4th (Hallamshire) Battalion (previously 14th (Service) Battalion (Barnsley) and 10th (Service) Battalion), York & Lancaster Regiment, killed in action, 9th October 1917, aged 27
Born at Barnsley in 1890, Albert was the eldest son and one of six children of John and Elizabeth Pickering both of whom were also from Barnsley. The family lived in School Street, where his mother was a dressmaker and father a blacksmith’s assistant. In later years he worked as a roadmender for the Barnsley Corporation.
Albert had moved to Crowle by at least 1911 when he boarded with William Meller ad his family on the High Street and worked as a grocery assistant at Messrs Melias Ltd. Also boarding with the Milner’s was the manager at Melias Ltd, Arthur Oldfield, also from Barnsley, and his 16 year old niece and fellow shop assistant Mabel Annie Jackson. Albert and Mabel were married in Crowle in August 1917, six weeks before he died.
Albert’s enlistment was not the only contribution the couple made during the war. Shortly before their marriage Mabel, now the manageress at Melias Ltd, was called before Epworth Magistrates to answer a charge of war profiteering for ‘unlawfully selling half a pound of oatmeal, above the maximum price, at Crowle, on July 12th 1917’.
Albert enlisted in the York & Lancaster Regiment at Barnsley. Initally joining the 14th (Service) Battalion (Barnsley), better known as the Barnsley Pals, he later joined the 10th (Service) Battalion before finally the 1/4th (Hallamshire) Battalion. It is uncertain when he went out to France or with which battalion but he was wounded at least once before the action in which he died so this probably accounts for at least one of the transfers.
On 9th October 1917 the 1/4th Hallamshire’s were involved in the Battle of Poelcapple, the final preparatory action before the large scale assault of the First Battle of Passchendale. Preparations for the battle were seriously hampered by the incessant rain that had fallen in the days leading up to it. The artillery were unable to site their guns properly and their mule train ammunition convoys were unable to negotiate the mud to bring them their ammunition. What shells were fired either failed to explode in the mud or just made the ground worse.
The 1/4th Hallamshire’s also experienced their own problems. An advance party sent out the previous day to reconnoitre the ground so they could guide the troops across it, got lost and failed to return in time. It took the rest of the battalion nearly 12 hours to reach their attack position from their billet two miles away. They arrived leg weary at 4.00am, only just in time for the ‘off’ at 5.20am.
The 1/4th Hallamshire’s were in the centre of the attack, supporting II Anzac Corps in an assault on the ridge line, Belle Vue Spur, directly in front of Passcendaele. Moving off they soon experienced the problems of the artillery barrage, suffering casualties from shells dropping short as guns slipped in the mud on firing. Then they reached the Ravebeek stream now 30 to 50 yards wide, waist deep and a swamp on either side. Here the advance stalled and only a few parties managed to get across the water. Those who did make it now had to advance up a long slope, where they came under fire from machine guns situated in Wolf Copse on the left and Bellevue on the top of the slope. Casualties forced them to dig in but at 7.00pm, an attempt was made to take the two pillboxes on the ridge. But they were so heavily wired that the attack had to be abandoned and the advance consolidated in front of the German wire.
The 49th West Riding Division suffered 2585 casualties in the attack on Belle Vue Spur, the heaviest casualty figures of any Division involved in the Battle of Poelcapple. Of these the 1/4th Hallamshire’s lost 46 men killed, 204 wounded and 49 missing, among whom was the newly married Albert Pickering last seen ‘gallantly advancing towards the enemy’.
Albert has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. He is also commemorated on Barnsley War Memorial.