Monday, 6 August 2012

William George Pinnuck (1896-1915), killed in WW1

William George Pinnuck was a great grandson of William Pinnuck (b1802) who was a brother of my great great great grandfather James Pinnuck (b1799).

William's birth was registered during Q2 1896 in Enfield. He was the second of five children born to William Frederick Pinnuck and his wife Clara, whose maiden name was Livermore.

The 1901 census shows William Pinnuck, aged 28, a builder’s labourer living in Enfield with his wife Clara (28) and their children Charles (6), William (4), Sarah (3), Bert (1) and George (2 months).

William Pinnuck senior died in Q1 1909 aged 36 when his son William was only 12. It must have difficult for Clara to bring up her children. She can’t have had much money.

Following the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, William volunteered to join the army. He was a private in the 2nd Battalion East Surrey Regiment and arrived in France 9 February 1915. He died just over a month later on 12 March 1915 aged 18. The War Diary for William’s Battalion is in the National Archives at Kew. The entry for 12 March 1915 reads

“It was arranged that 7th Brigade would attack Spanbroek Molen at 8.40am, but owing to mist it was postponed until 4.10pm. East trench was heavily shelled by our own artillery causing many casualties. The attack was not successful. Casualties killed Lieut J.H.L. Haller, 2nd Lieuts L.B.G. Crabb, J Kirtland, J.O.G. Becker, J.P. de Buriatte and 27 men. Wounded Lieut R.H.H. Jackson and 41 men. Missing 7 men.”

A more detailed description is given in the “History of the East Surrey Regiment”, a copy of which is in the Imperial War Museum.

On March 11th three trenches held by the Battalion were evacuated by order, to facilitate shelling the German trenches close in their front. These trenches were reoccupied after dark without mishap. In the evening orders were received by the Commanding Officer concerning an attack on Spanbroek Molen to be made on the following day by the 7th Infantry Brigade, through the line held by the Battalion. For the purpose of this attack all barbed wire was to be removed in front of certain portions of the line, and flying bridges were to be made where required. All these preparations were completed before dawn on the 12th.
March 12th was an unfortunate day for the Battalion which suffered heavy, losses through the course of events in an attack in which it was not intended to take an active part. The early morning was very misty, and for that reason the preliminary bombardment of the German trenches, timed for 7 a.m., did not commence till 2.30 p.m. The attack was consequently postponed from 8.40 a.m. to 4.10 p.m. Units were duly informed of the postponement. Trench E.l left was evacuated at dawn, as ordered, and E.l right (the southernmost of the trenches held by the Battalion) became very crowded owing to some of the assaulting brigade having worked up into it. This trench was heavily shelled by the enemy and was also swept by the fire of two machine guns on its right front, so that the trench became choked with dead and wounded, 2nd Lieuts. J. O. G. Becker and J. P. de Buriatte being among those killed. Our own guns unfortunately also shelled the trench, and 2nd Lieut. J. Kirtland then gave the order for unwounded men to retire. The order was obeyed, but 2nd Lieut. Kirtland was killed by a rifle bullet, and the men lost heavily. Sergt. Bull and four men at the extreme right of the trench, who were engaged with the two German machine guns, did not retire and succeeded in holding their ground. Captain Le Flemming reported to Brigade Headquarters that the Battalion was being heavily shelled by our own guns, but the telephone line was just then cut by a shell. Captain Hewitt, who was in command of the Battalion supports, fearing that Trench E.l right might be rushed by the enemy, ordered 2nd Lieut. L. G. B. Crabb with twenty-five men to reoccupy it. The order was gallantly obeyed, and the party had nearly reached the trench when a machine gun opened on them, killing or wounding all but three. 2nd Lieut. Crabb was killed by a shot through the head. Reoccupation of the trench by daylight being obviously impossible, Captain Hewitt waited till dark, and then sent 2nd Lieut. Walliker with twenty-five men to the trench. This party arrived without loss.
When the attack of the 7th Brigade developed the 2nd Battn. East Surrey covered the advance by rapid fire and rifle grenades. While firing over the parapet in the performance of this duty, Captain J. H. L. Haller (3rd Battn. attd.) was shot through the head and killed. Captain Haller was a very good officer and a man of talent. He had served with the 1st Battalion in the early part of the War. Three other casualties to officers occurred this day: 2nd Lieut. Strong who had been recently promoted from Band Sergeant in the Bat­talion and was temporarily attached to the 3rd Battn. Middlesex Regt., was killed by a shell; 2nd Lieut. R. H. H. Jackson was wounded; and 2nd Lieut. J A. H. Wood was slightly wounded and returned to his trench after having had his wound dressed. The behaviour of all the officers on this trying day was beyond praise.      .
The total casualties of the Battalion were as follows:
­            Officers: Killed, 5; wounded, 2.
N.C.O.'s and Men: Killed, 36; wounded, 39.

I have a map showing the Ypres Salient in WW1. Spanbroek Molen is in Belgium, near the border with France, about 6 miles south of Ypres.

William is commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres. This implies that his body was not available for burial (this was common in World War 1 as bodies were blown to pieces, lost in the mud or could not be retrieved due to the risk of enemy fire).

The same day, also at Spanbroek Molen, Lieutenant Cyril Gordon Martin (56th Field Company Royal Engineers) won a Victoria Cross for his bravery.

Clara, William's mother, was sent 16s 6d (his effects) by the Army after his death in 1915 and a war gratuity of £3 in 1919. 

William’s brother Charles also fought in World War 1 (he was in the Royal Garrison Artillery). Their brother Bertie joined the Royal Navy in January 1918. Both Charles and Bertie survived the war.

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