John Pike

John Pike was born on 23 February 1877 at Park Farm Cottages, Ramsbury.  He was the son of John Pike, a farm carter, and his wife Emma, née SmithBy 1881, the family had moved to Sanham Green, south of Hungerford, later moving on to Inkpen for a period (when John junior’s occupation on the 1891 census is given as ‘ploughboy’) and then finally settling in Hungerford, in Church Street and Salisbury Row.

In 1898, John joined the 3rd (Militia) Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment.  Many young men, particularly farm workers or labourers like John, would volunteer for the Militia at this time, as it provided them with a useful addition to their civilian wage and many saw the summer training camp as the equivalent of a paid holiday.  It did of course also provide many men with a basic military training which (although they could not know it at the time) would prove useful in the years to come.

John’s Militia attestation documents have survived, and show us that at the time he enlisted he was living at Kintbury and working as a labourer for a Mr E. Rose – probably Elisha Rose of Hampstead Holt Farm.  He was described as 5 feet 8½ inches tall, weight 137 pounds, brown hair and eyes and a fresh complexion.  He served from 4 March 1898 to 3 January 1899, then exercised his option to purchase his discharge by paying £1.

By 1901, John was back at the family home in Church Street, Hungerford and working as a ‘packer’, or platelayer, on the railway.  On 7 September that year, he married Elizabeth Sturgess of Sanham Green, also of an established local family.  Interestingly, his occupation on his marriage certificate is given as ‘hay-tier’ – a seasonal job associated with harvest-time, rather than a full-time career.

By 1911, John and Elizabeth were living at Burderop, near Wroughton, Wiltshire, with John working as a farm carter like his father.  The census shows that the couple had adopted a 13 year old girl, Beatrice Edwards of Stratton.

Unfortunately we do not know when John Pike moved to Welford, or what his link to the parish was.  We can only assume that at some point between 1911 and 1914, John and Elizabeth decided to move back nearer to their home area.  The Pike surname is not found in the 1911 census for Welford, or the list of contributors to the Memorial fund compiled immediately after the war, suggesting that the family did not settle permanently in the parish.  Indeed, the Soldiers Died in the Great War database states that John was the husband of Elizabeth Pike of 20 Wharf Road, Wroughton.

John’s name appears on the first list of Welford men on active service in the Great War published by the Newbury Weekly News, on 24 September 1914, so he clearly volunteered for service very early in the war.  He enlisted at Reading into the Wiltshire Regiment, 5th Battalion, service number 3/500.

The 5th was a ‘service’ battalion (i.e. formed for the duration of the war) created at Devizes as part of 40th Brigade, 13th (Western) Division in August 1914.  The Division initially assembled on Salisbury Plain, moving to Chiseldon and Cirencester in September, and concentrating at Blackdown Camp, near Farnborough, Hampshire, at the end of February 1915.  On 1 July 1915 they left Avonmouth Docks on SS Franconia bound for Galliopli, where they were to receive a Battle Honour for their part in the action at Sari Bair that August. 

John Pike’s Medal Index Card shows that he entered the Balkan theatre of war (which included Gallipoli) on 22 November 1915 so it appears he went with a reinforcement draft, rather than with the first draft of the Battalion.  At that point, the 5th Wilts were in positions at Lala Baba, suffering all the dangers and discomforts of trench warfare.

The Battalion diary from late November 1915 gives us some idea of the conditions they were enduring at that final stage of the Gallipoli campaign: “Pte Grant 'D' Coy killed by snipers while fetching water from well”… “Bitterly cold spell of weather”… “Pte Waite C Coy shot by snipers in morning while draining trench.”… “Tremendous thunderstorm at night... water soon burst high in many places swept down communication trenches washed away parapets and a number of kits, blankets and other equipment.  The night was bitterly cold and the men stood on the crumbling banquettes and tried to build up parapet.  Water was still deep in trenches at dawn and owing to cookhouse being flooded fire and fires almost impossible conditions were deplorable.”... “Two of the sick awaiting removal on stretchers which did not arrive from ambulance died and then three others were found dead from exhaustion in the trenches”.

Following their evacuation from Gallipoli on 18 December, the 5th Wilts spent a short period on the Suez Canal defences, refitting and coming back up to full Battalion strength.  Then, in February 1916, they were sent to Mesopotamia as part of the force being assembled for the relief of the Anglo-Indian garrison at Kut al Amara, which had been besieged by Turkish forces (under German command) since early December 1915.  Embarking on HMT Oriana at Port Said on 14 February, the 5th Wilts concentrated at Magill Camp, Basra, from where they proceeded up river towards their objective – travel by road or rail not being a practical proposition in that region.

During April 1916 the relief force carried out a series of increasingly desperate frontal assaults against the Turkish defences in front of the town, where the enemy had established two deep trench lines at Fallahiyeh and Sannaiyat.

On 5 April, the 5th Wilts rushed first-line enemy trenches before Fallahiyeh which they captured without difficulty, as the Turkish forces had evacuated the position.  On advancing, they came under heavy rifle and machine gun fire from guns at Fallahiyeh, two miles beyond, but advanced well over very open country and dug in about 800 yards from the enemy.  At dusk, they withdrew to bivouac by the river about a mile back.

On the 6th, they moved up to positions at Fallahiyeh and spent the following day resting and converting Turkish trenches to their own use.  With Fallahiyeh secured, at 7.30pm on the 8th they moved towards Sannaiyat and took up forward positions in the Brigade during the night, for a planned attack on the enemy lines at dawn the following day.  This action would form part of what today we call the Battle of Sannaiyat.

The 5th Wilts advanced at 4:20am on 9 April 1916.  In the darkness, and under sniper and machine gun fire, the attack became confused and lost its direction.  The men dug in about 650 yards from the enemy positions and for the rest of the day and night, wounded men crawled back to their lines or were recovered by their comrades. 

The following day saw them digging in for cover and sending out search parties to collect arms and equipment; on the 11th, they were relieved back to bivouacs near Fallahiyeh.

Private Pike was one of the 21 men killed in action with the Battalion in their dawn attack on the 9th April; a further 161 were wounded, and 37 reported as missing. 

John Pike has no known grave and is named on the Basra Memorial, Iraq, which commemorates more than 40,500 men of the Commonwealth forces who died in the Mesopotamia theatre of operations between the autumn of 1914 and the end of August 1921.