Ernie & Nellie Pinfold : Relatives they lost in the Great War, plus another who survived

Bill Pinfold

Nellie and Ernie Pinfold early 1920s | Bill Pinfold Collection
Nellie and Ernie Pinfold early 1920s
Bill Pinfold Collection
William and Ethel Harby with daughter Ethel Mary. William still has the cap badge of the Lincolnshires so this is prior to his move to the West Yorks Regt. | Courtesy of Mr John Clark
William and Ethel Harby with daughter Ethel Mary. William still has the cap badge of the Lincolnshires so this is prior to his move to the West Yorks Regt.
Courtesy of Mr John Clark
The poetry of Ernie's cousin, Bernard Freeman Trotter | McClelland & Stewart 1911
The poetry of Ernie's cousin, Bernard Freeman Trotter
McClelland & Stewart 1911
Walter Blankley Harby remembered on Rippingale Memorial as Walter Scarborough.
Walter Blankley Harby remembered on Rippingale Memorial as Walter Scarborough.

William Ernest Pinfold was born in Kibworth Beauchamp in 1900. Several generations before, the Pinfold family had lived in Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire and Ernie’s ancestry progressed via canal workers and coal merchants in Blisworth, Northamptonshire, through farm workers and wheelwrights in Thurlaston, Leicestershire to his father, Austin, who was a road asphalt layer in Kibworth.

Ernie joined the army in the Summer of 1918, initially in the 6th Service Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment with service number 6/39450. Eldest brother Albert Austin Pinfold was a gunner, number 297560, with the Royal Garrison Artillery and would move to London after the war. His brother Richard Cecil Pinfold was already serving with the Royal Leicestershire Regiment “The Tigers”, having been sent overseas to France in July 1915. Cecil had risen to the rank of sergeant when he was discharged in March 1919, going on to join the Leicester constabulary (see his story below).

Ernie was most likely still in training when the War ended and the 6th Service Battalion was disbanded in November 1918. After being reassigned to the 2nd Battalion of the Leicesters, with service number 4850405, Private Ernie Pinfold served in India in 1919-1920, being discharged in 1921 with 2 years 355 days noted as his time in the army.

Ernie worked temporarily at Corah’s hosiery factory in Leicester and in August 1921 followed his brother Cecil into the police force, becoming PC81 based in Hinckley. It was customary for young constables to be posted to man the other police stations in the county and Ernie was assigned to Bottesford.

Nellie Bullock (nee Harby) had been living in Barkestone Lane, Bottesford, raising her young son Frankie after the loss of her husband in 1917. Something about the new village police constable caught her eye, despite the attentions of several local suitors to the young widow. Part of the attraction was probably how well Ernie Pinfold got on with her 9 year old boy, and the couple were soon married in Bottesford on the 17th May 1922.

The accompanying page tells more about the family in Bottesford, but it is interesting to note here some of the other relatives of Ernie and Nellie who had been killed in the Great War, plus one who returned safely:

William Harby – Nellie’s brother

In another part of the battle for Arras that had also taken John William Bullock, Nellie’s brother William Harby died. His death at Gavrelle has been briefly noted on another accompanying page, but since that was written further information about his life has been uncovered.

William Harby was born in Pickworth on the 10th March 1889 and had progressed through the local school like a typical son of an agricultural labourer. The school log book does not note any particular academic achievements for him (unlike his sister Nellie who was recorded as top of her class in some subjects) but it does show him bringing doctors certificates when he got into scrapes such as breaking his arm or falling from a tree. He is noted as absent in August 1901 due to working on the harvest for a local farmer, a common attendance problem for teachers at that time.

By 1911 William was working as a waggoner on a farm at Walcot near Folkingham, boarding at the home of one of the other farm workers. He met Ethel Middleton, a servant at a house in nearby Sapperton and they married on the 27th March 1912. Ethel had come from Morton near Bourne, so the wedding was held in St Bartholomew’s church at West Pinchbeck and the couple moved closer to Bourne to be near her family, as Ethel was already pregnant.

Their son George William was born on the 18th September 1912 when the couple were living at Deeping St Nicholas where William was a farm horse keeper. By the time of the birth of their second son, Edward on the 9th July 1914, William was a general labourer and they lived at North Fen.

Edward’s life would, however, be very short. He contracted bronchitis in March 1915, perhaps due to the damp cold conditions out on the fens, and died aged 8 months. William and Ethel’s grief would be doubled when, on the 11th December that same year, their son George died of whooping cough and catarrhal pneumonia.

With his older brothers Harry and Charles already away at the war, the pressure may have been felt by William that he must enlist. Despite his wife being pregnant with their third child, he signed to join the 1st/4th battalion of the Lincolnshire regiment sometime in late 1915 or early 1916. The battalion was already in France, having embarked some six or more months prior to William receiving his unit service number of 5765. He would have started training but may well also have been given some compassionate leave given the loss of the two boys and his wife’s third pregnancy, so he was in England for a while longer.

Ethel delivered daughter Ethel Mary Harby on the 7th March 1916, by which time they were living in a terraced cottage at 22 Wood View, which still stands in the centre of Bourne.

When the time came for William to go to France in late 1916 he did not join his original colleagues in the Lincolns. The devastation of some Pals’ regiments during the summer campaigns meant that new reserve soldiers were posted to whichever battalions were in the most need of new recruits. On the 1st July 1916, the first day of Battle of the Somme, the 15th battalion of the West Yorkshire (Prince of Wales Own) Regiment, known as the Leeds Pals, had suffered major losses with hundreds of men killed and wounded. So it was to the 15th battalion that William Harby was posted, with new service number 40361, and he was one of 75 men who joined them on the 14th October near Courcelles.

The battalion had a few months of quiet behind the front lines as they recovered their strength and completed training around Sailly-au-Bois, Bayencourt and Coigneux. In 1917 they were back in the front line helping to press the Germans during their retreat back to the Hindenburg line. Then at the start of May the 15th West Yorks joined the Battle of the Scarpe, at the Oppy Line, a set of trenches to the north of the Hindenberg Line and north east of Arras. The town of Gavrelle was taken in a fierce battle fought by the Royal Naval Division from the 23rd to 29th April 1917, along with a windmill just north of the village. The windmill remained vulnerable to recapture and an attack was planned for the 3rd May to drive the Germans further back eastwards. The 18th West Yorks attacked north of Gavrelle and the 15th battalion fought to the south, but they were badly mauled by machine gun fire and eventually driven back, having suffered over 60% casualties. William was one of the men lost, and his death is also noted on this accompanying page with some images of his war service and grave. At one point it was thought he may have been a prisoner, but he certainly died from wounds incurred during the failed attack and was buried with a simple cross by the Germans 10 km behind their lines in a cemetery extension that they made at the village communal cemetery in Brebieres.

After the War the Imperial War Graves Commission built new cemeteries and in a concentration exercise in 1922 William’s remains were relocated to a new grave with a headstone at the Cabaret Rouge cemetery in Souchez.

William’s widow Ethel cared for their daughter Ethel Mary and eventually started a new relationship, marrying William Redmile in Morton near Bourne in 1928 and having a daughter Alice Amelia. Both of her daughters went on to have families of their own and they both died near Bourne during 1999. (My thanks to William’s grandson John Clark for his input to this article)

Bernard Freeman Trotter – Ernie’s cousin

Ernie Pinfold may not have been directly aware of it, but he had a cousin who fought and died in France and has since been celebrated as a Great War poet. When the poetry of Bernard Freeman Trotter was published after his death, the cover page was headed “The Canadian Rupert Brooke”.

Bernard Freeman Trotter and Ernie Pinfold were both great grandsons of Samuel Pinfold of Thurlaston. Samuel’s daughter Hannah had married an Edwin Trotter in Thurlaston in October 1850 and they had fourteen children – to add to the daughter that Hannah had had out of wedlock in 1845. After the last daughter was born in 1870, Edwin and Hannah packed their belongings and with twelve of their children emigrated to Toronto in Canada. They lived in the area of St David’s where Edwin set up business as a wheelwright.

Their son Thomas born in 1853 studied divinity and after serving Baptist ministry positions in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Toledo, Ohio, became a professor at McMaster University. He had married Ellen Maud Freeman, a college tutor, in 1887. They had two sons, Reginald George and Bernard Freeman, and two daughters, Marjorie and Frances.

Bernard Freeman Trotter attended school in Wolfville, NS and Woodstock, Ont. In 1907 he spent time in California due to ill health and then returned to Ontario where he would gain his degree at McMaster University in 1915. He had started to write poetry at the age of fourteen, inspired by the scenery of Nova Scotia and nature’s changes through the year’s seasons. Bernard would share completed poems with his friends and family. His first published work appeared in the McMaster Monthly Journal and work was also printed in 1914 in Harper’s Magazine.

He tried to join the Canadian army but was rejected on health grounds, so travelled to England and gained a commission in the British army. After training at Shorncliffe and Oxford he joined the Leicestershire regiment as a second lieutenant in December 1916. He was able to find and visit Thurlaston to make contact with relatives still living where his father had been born. After four months with a pioneer battalion he was assigned as Assistant Transport Officer near to Lens. On the 7th May 1917 whilst running a transport convoy to supply the front line, a shell landed beside his horse and he was killed outright. He was buried at Mazingarbe cemetery, aged 26.

His final poem, “Ici Repose”, was written just before his death and the manuscript for it was in a letter that reached his parents the day after he died. In it he writes of the men who have died in the war and are now resting after their endeavours, each marked by “a little cross of weather-silvered wood, Hung with a garish wreath of tinselled wire, And on it carved a legend – thus it runs: ‘Ici repose – ‘Add what name you will …”.

When they buried him, his brother officers marked his grave with a simple oak cross inscribed “Brief, brave, and glorious was his young career”. His commanding officer, Lieut-Col. C. Turner described him as “an officer of great promise … one of the coolest men I have ever seen under shell-fire”.

Trotter’s father collected his poems together in a book published later in 1917, “A Canadian Twilight and Other Poems of War and Peace”.

A collection of the letters that he wrote home during the war can be found at

One of his poems, The Poplars, can be read at

Walter Blankley Harby – Nellie’s cousin

Nellie Pinfold/Bullock/Harby’s grandfather William Harby had been born in Keisby, Lincolnshire in 1832. He married Mary Richards from Aslackby in August 1853 and they settled in that village. Their eldest child, Henry, was born just three months later in November 1853 and would be Nellie’s father. William and Mary also had a daughter in Aslackby and then they moved a few miles north to Pickworth where they had three more sons, including Frederick William who would become a baker (and a bigamist, but that’s another story) and two daughters, Charlotte born in 1867 and Emma in 1872.

Continuing what seems to be a family tradition at that time, in 1897 Charlotte Harby had her first child out of wedlock and named him Walter Blankley Harby after his father, David Blankley. The father did not stay around and two years later Charlotte married widower Thomas Scarborough, who already had a daughter Ethel from his first marriage. They had two sons, Harold and Joseph Scarborough, and the whole family moved to Rippingale just south of Aslackby.

Walter Blankley Harby attested to join the army at Bourne on the 11th December 1915 and registered with the army reserve the following day. On the 25th July 1916 he was called to Lincoln to join the 3rd Lincolnshire Regiment, given the service number 27015 and reported to be 19 years and 36 days old, 5 feet 3 ½ inches tall.

He served with the regiment in France through late 1916 and through the 3rd Battle of Ypres in 1917 from the 31st July, at some point moving to the 2nd battalion. That battle, popularly known now as Passchendaele, is generally deemed to have ended on the 20th November 1917 when Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig opened the Battle of Cambrai. However the 3rd Ypres campaign was extended by a large scale attack launched on the 2nd December against German forces at Passchendaele Ridge. It was the only set-piece attack of the whole campaign and would prove to be misconceived and poorly implemented. Conditions also undermined the attack – the ground was covered in snow and ice and there was a bright moon lighting the flattened and shell cratered landscape – such that the action was called off after ten hours. In those few hours Walter Blankley Harby was killed, one of 130 casualties that the 2nd Lincolnshires suffered that night.

The event has been researched and analysed in detail by Michael Stephen LoCicero for the University of Birmingham Centre for First World War Studies and his doctorate thesis “A Moonlight Massacre: The Night Operation on the Passchendaele Ridge 2nd December 1917” produced in June 2011 can be found online.

Walter Blankley Harby is remembered on the Tyne Cot memorial in Flanders, a kilometre from where the attack happened. He is also listed on the war memorial at Rippingale, although in that place he has been given the name Walter Scarborough.

Richard Cecil Pinfold – Ernie’s brother

Ernie’s elder brother Richard Cecil Pinfold – the family called him Cecil – was born at Kibworth Beauchamp in May 1897 and by the age of 14 worked as a hand at a local hosiery factory. In 1914 he got a job as a porter at Desford railway station and joined the railman’s trade union. He enlisted with the Leicestershire regiment and rose to the rank of Sergeant in the 8th Service battalion with service number 13017.

By April 1917 the four service battalions of the Regiment had been formed into the 21st Division within the Fifth Army and were in trenches south-east of Arras, facing the awesome wire defences and concrete bunkers of the Hindenberg Line when the Battle of Arras opened on the 9th April. During the early days of the battle the Leicesters were tasked with simply holding their trenches near the villages of Wancourt and Croisilles whilst regiments to their north attacked the German Line. Limited advances had been made but the Germans stubbornly held on to the village of Fontaine-les-Croisilles, so on the 3rd May 1917 the 21st Division was ordered to attack after a heavy artillery barrage designed to cut breaks in the dense barbed wire. This was part of a wider action that also aimed to capture the village of Bullecourt.

Cecil Pinfold was in A Company of the 8th battalion and their initial night attack made fairly good progress, the battalion taking ground in Fontaine Wood and Cherisy, but German shelling killed and wounded many and caused the attack to drift off course to the right. Men became disorientated on the bleak landscape which had few distinguishing features and the formation broke into small groups. Two tanks that had been assigned to the attack broke down. Eventually the officer leading A Company had to surrender the group to the enemy to save further loss of life. The officer, 2nd Lt F B Pitts, sadly died of wounds in a German medical centre, but Cecil Pinfold was captured unwounded.

He was initially sent with a large number of captured men to Douai. From there Red Cross reports show that he was moved to Dulmen PoW camp in North Germany near the Dutch border by the 29th May 1917 and a message sent to his family on the 2nd June. By the 11th July he was at Minden camp (aka Holzminden, Wikipedia incorrectly says it didn’t open until Sept 1917 but Cecil was reported there earlier). From there he went to Soltau by the 31st October and the last report shows him at Hameln on the 12th January 1918. He probably stayed there until he was released and repatriated in January 1919.

After his return Cecil joined the Leicester Borough police force where he served until his retirement on the 8th April 1947. He had married Florence Eveline Cook in Kibworth in 1924 and they lived in Leicester. Richard was a well respected copper and won an award for stopping a runaway horse in 1935. He died in Leicester on the 27th April 1967, having outlived his younger brother Ernie by over three years.

This page was added on 01/08/2017.

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