From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 41
August - September 1986
Pilgrim's Progress - A Lenton Man At War
Lenton has been home for Bill Pilgrim for almost all his ninety years. Although a little of his life here in Lenton is included in this article, most of it is devoted to Mr. Pilgrim's experiences in the Marines during the First World War.
The young boy marked with a 'B', in later years was prompted to send this photograph
to the local newspaper because it included an equally young Albert Ball identified with
an 'A'. Also in the photograph of a class at Lenton Church School is, we believe, Bill
Pilgrim, the boy we have marked with a 'C'.
Bill Pilgrim was born on the 4th January 1896. His birthplace which was on Churchill Street, Old Lenton, no longer stands, having been demolished in the 1960s. Even the road is no more, lying beneath Friary Close off Gregory Street. Bill, or William Henry as he was christened, was the first of eleven Pilgrim children an eventually the home on Churchill Street proved too small for the Pilgrims' needs. A move was made to a house on nearby Friar Street and then to another, soon afterwards, out of the area in Hyson Green. But it wasn't long before they all returned to Old Lenton to live in one of the houses in the Co-op terrace, which stood on Abbey Street until quite recently. One or other of the houses in this terrace was to be a home for Bill and his future wife Lizzie for over fifty years.
Bill attended the Lenton Church School for Boys, the building next to the railway bridge on Church Street, which is presently occupied by the Trent Valley Restoration Co. One of the other children in Bill's class was Albert Ball, who was later to distinguish himself as an 'air-ace' in the First World War and be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. There was a wide gulf in their backgrounds - the Balls then lived at Sherwin Lodge, No.60, Sherwin Road, an extremely posh house. Nevertheless Bill and Albert became friends and would often play out together. One kindness Bill remembers Albert performing was to pass on to him his old shoes once he had outgrown them; the Pilgrims' own circumstances were such that any pair of shoes, that Bill might ordinarily have owned, would have been down at the heels with his toes showing through. In the early years of this century the Balls moved to 43, Lenton Road in The Park and Albert was sent to more illustrious educational establishments than Lenton Church School. These changes largely precluded Bill from continuing his childhood friendship with young Albert Ball.
Bill Pilgrim, with his mother and youngest sister,
Louvain. The photograph was taken while he was on
leave in 1918.
Mr. Pilgrim senior worked at Radford pit and once old enough Bill joined his father down the mine. The work was long, hard and frequently unrewarding. Bill was a 'market' worker, which meant he was only taken on when there was sufficient work. In addition, he was employed on a piecework basis and sometimes there would be little actual coal to show for all his efforts at the end of a shift. In 1914 a major rock fall in his section of the mine brought work to a halt. Bill could foresee a lengthy layoff ahead and so instead took a job at the Raleigh.
A few weeks later, on the 4th August 1914, World War 1 began. Many young men rushed to enlist and Bill Pilgrim was one of them. He was among the first, twenty-five volunteers from the Raleigh factory -for many years a photograph of these twenty-five graced the wall of the head of the personnel section at Raleigh, a certain Mrs. Barter. Most of these initial volunteers chose the Army, but three, including Bill Pilgrim, opted to try for the Marines. As a youth, Bill had hankered after a career in the Navy and now was his opportunity. He sought out the Marine's recruiting office on Derby Road and signed on for twelve years. The Marines were divided into the 'Reds' and the 'Blues'. The Blues were the Royal Marine Artillery and were principally used as gunners on board ship. The Reds were the Royal Marine Light Infantry and they often found themselves in the vanguard of any landing parties. Because of his relative lack of height (5ft. 5in.) Bill was detailed to the Infantry, while his workmate, Charlie Howes, some three inches taller, was selected for the Artillery. The third of the trio, Jim Phylis, 'was subsequently turned down on medical grounds.
Bill's initial training in the Marines began at Deal. The night before he was due to leave Nottingham for Deal, Bill was required to sleep on the floor of the recruiting office, just to make sure there was no chance that he would miss his early morning train. Once his training period at various locations on the south coast was completed, in early 1915 he embarked on board the Aldwich Castle bound for the Mediterranean. After sailing around for a while and visiting Egypt and the Suez Canal, his ship was directed to sail up into the Greek Archipelago and make for the Dardanelles.
H.M.S. Royal Oak on which Bill Pilgrim later served.
With millions of soldiers stuck facing each other across 'no man's land' on the western front, Churchill and Lloyd George had won approval for an allied attempt to create an eastern front. In March 1915 allied vessels headed for the Dardanelles with the intention of making a surprise landing on Turkish territory at Gallipoli. Several ships were unfortunately struck by floating mines and the allies drew back, thus losing the element of surprise. The Turks reinforced the area and were far more prepared when the allies made their next attempt the following month.
The terrain gave them little cover and the Turks were well dug in on the higher ground. As men waded ashore they were mown down by machine guns fired from the heights or else entangled in the barbed wire which had been placed on the beaches. A beachhead was finally established, the troops dug in and Gallipoli began to experience the horrors of trench warfare. Despite the courage of the troops, which included the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (the Anzacs), no progress was made and eventually in December the campaign was abandoned and the allied forces began their evacuation of the area. Over 250,000 men had been taken to Gallipoli, of which some 20,000 were fated never to leave.
This photograph belonging to Bill Pilgrim shows a bi-plane taking off from
H.M.S. Royal Oak. These planes could take off from a ship but could not return
- instead they had to make for land.
Bill Pilgrim was among the survivors, but only just. On June 7th 1915, while making his way to the front lines for a stint in the trenches, a shell from a huge enemy gun known as 'Asiatic Annie' landed nearby. It killed five of his companions and injured another seven including himself. Suffering serious facial injuries, Bill was shipped out to Malta to recuperate at Fort Egmont. Six weeks later he was back at Gallipoli, only to be taken off again in September suffering from a bad case of dysentery. So it was off to the Egyptian Government Hospital at Port Said for five weeks, followed by fifteen weeks further recuperation on the island of Cyprus, where he lived on a diet largely made up of goat's milk. Once he was deemed fit enough, he went on board the battleship HMS Hannibal and resumed active service as a gunner.
For the next two years he was never to leave the Mediterranean as he moved from one ship to another. Finally in June 1918 he was awarded a month's home leave. Making his way by land via Italy and France he arrived home to No.44, Abbey Street. A young lady called Mary Ann Elizabeth Richards, otherwise known as Lizzie, lived next door at No.42 and while they had been friendly before, during the month's leave they began to walk out together. They were eventually to marry in 1924. One other significant event, which occurred while Bill was on leave, was the explosion at the Chilwell Shell Filling Factory on July 1st. He remembers hearing a cataclysmic bang and rushing out on to the street to see a huge mushroom spiral of smoke fill the sky. Later he walked along Gregory Street with many others to the Derby Road to watch the dreadful convoy of vehicles taking the injured to the City's hospitals. That explosion killed 134 munitions workers and injured another 250.
A picture postcard belonging to Bill Pilgrim showing German sailors in their
lifeboats waiting to be brought aboard H.M.S. Royal Oak after the scuttling of
the German fleet at Scapa Flow.
Once that month was up Bill Pilgrim returned to his ship in the Mediterranean. Some four months later the armistice was announced on November 11th and World War 1 came to an end. In early 1919 Bill Pilgrim changed ships and was sent up to Scapa Flow in the Orkneys to serve aboard the battleship HMS Royal Oak. At the end of the war, the German High Seas fleet had been interned in the natural harbour at Scapa Flow. The German crews remained aboard these ships while the allies resolved among themselves as to what should happen to these vessels. When the details of the Peace Treaty were finally announced in June 1919, Germany was forbidden from having any major warships. Rather than hand them over to the allies, the German crews were ordered to scuttle their entire fleet. The British should have anticipated this possibility but, as Bill Pilgrim recalls, they didn't. The German had largely been left to their own devices and, at the time of the Peace Treaty's announcement, most of those ships supposedly guarding the German fleet had gone out of Scapa Flow in order to take part in manoeuvres. By the time the British returned, the damage was done and all that was left for the British to do was to pick up the German sailors after they had abandoned their sinking ships.
Bill and Lizzie Pilgrim in the gardens of the Albert Ball
Memorial Homes in 1986.
With the War over, those who had been conscripted could expect, sooner or later, to be sent home, but Bill Pilgrim had no such expectation to look forward to, as he had signed on for twelve years. This ought to have meant that he was destined to remain in the Marines for a further eight years - but this wasn't so. Told that he was going to be sent to Archangel in Russia, he was lining up with other men in order to exchange his naval uniform for a khaki version. While in the line he met up with an old friend, who revealed that there could be an alternative to a 'visit' to Archangel, if he could get a letter from his former employees, Raleigh, asking if Bill could resume his job with them. The military authorities would then be likely to agree to his release from the forces.
Thinking a life back home in Lenton might on the whole prove more preferable, Bill wrote to his sister, who was working at Raleigh, and in due course a letter from the firm was dispatched and Bill got his discharge in late 1919. As a result he failed to become one of the 7,000 British troops sent to assist the White Russian counter revolutionaries in their efforts to defeat the Bolsheviks who had seized power in the October Revolution of 1917.
Once home Bill Pilgrim continued to work in the Sturmey-Archer division of Raleigh for many years. Until his marriage to Lizzie he lived at the parental home No.44 Abbey Street. Once married they went to live on Hermon Street, which is situated at the top of Derby Road near the old Drill Hall. But soon they were to return to their 'roots', when they took up residence at No.38 Abbey Street. They continued to live there until 1969 when they moved to the Albert Ball Memorial Homes - a most fitting location, given Bill's wartime experiences and his friendship with young Albert Ball.