Oliver Pilling (1878-1917)
Oliver Pilling was the son of William and Sarah Ann Pilling, of Birchencliffe, Huddersfield.
The Pilling family had lived in Birchencliffe at least since Oliver's mother and father were born in the 1860s. In 1881, the family lived in Briar Yard off Halifax Road. Ten years later, 1891 Oliver was staying with his grandfather, James Roberts, a nightwatchman, at 2 Briar Road, Birchencliffe.
In 1901 the family was living at 43 Burn Road. The Pillings, William and Sarah Ann and children Oliver, Alice and brothers Fred and Alfred, were in the same house in 1911 and in August 1915 when Oliver joined the Canadian Army.
Oliver was born on 3 February 1878 and baptised at the Methodist church on East Street in Lindley. His father was a weaver and as soon as he left school he was working as a "mill hand". Ten years later he was a wool scourer. Except for Fred who was a grocer's assistant, and of course Sarah Ann, the rest of the family also worked in the wool industry.
On 2 April 1904, at St. Matthew's church in Rastrick, Oliver married Mary Ellen Eastwood, the daughter of a stone miner or quarryman. He gave his profession as "Warehouseman".
In 1911 however, Oliver was staying with his parents at the time of the census, and described himself as a "fettler" in the woollen industry, which probably means machine mender, the profession he put on his forms when he entered Canada. His wife was not with him on the night of the census but living at Clifton, where she was working as a nurse to a new-borne baby.
Migration by British people in search of better opportunities was not uncommon in the early 20th Century and perhaps Oliver was seeking to better himself. Places like Canada and Australia were desperate for workers. Oliver arrived in Quebec on 7 October 1911 from Liverpool on board the SS Megantic with hundreds of other "British Settlers". He was bound for Hamilton and described himself as a "fitter" who would seek work as a labourer. No mention is made of a wife.
On 14 September 1915, just over a year after the war began, Oliver enlisted in the Canadian army. We cannot know why he voluntarily enlisted but apart from demonstrating loyalty to his new country it may be that work was not as easy to find or as well rewarded as he expected. However, he did say he was in an "Active Militia", the 1st FTCE, which may have been a Territorial engineering unit and 1915 was a peak year for Canadian enlistment.
At his medical in Hamilton, Ontario, he was described as 5' 7½" with a 34" chest measurement and brown hair and eyes. He had been vaccinated, had scars on his left arm and shoulder and a tattoo on his left forearm. He gave his religion as Church of England but this may have been a casual form-filler. Oliver gave his mother Sarah Ann as next of kin, with the Birchencliffe address. He said he was unmarried.
He had been enrolled in the 86th Machine Gun battalion. The 5th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry (Saskatchewan Regiment) was already in France when Oliver enlisted so he was probably sent straight to France after basic training. This would mean he fought in many engagements including the Battle of the Somme and at Vimy Ridge.
Oliver died on 17 August 1917 just as his battalion finished a five-day spell in the front line and was to be relieved by the 4th Battalion, having experienced light artillery and gas shelling. He was probably one of that handful of Canadians initially buried at the Tosh Cemetery, near the Tosh Alley communication trench, and then later relocated.
The Pilling family must have received the news within a month. Oliver is remembered on the Thorncliffe Street Chapel memorial now lodged in the Methodist Church on East Street. He is also commemorated on the Canadian Virtual Memorial, a digital collection dedicated to all Canadian casualties. A photo of his gravestone can be seen. Oliver's service enrolment details can be found through the Canadian Great War Project website.
Huddersfield's Roll of Honour: 1914-1922
The following extract is from Huddersfield's Roll of Honour: 1914-1922 (2014) by J. Margaret Stansfield:
- PILLING, OLIVER. Lance Corporal. No 174661. 5th Battalion Canadian Infantry (Saskatchewan Regiment). Son of William and Sarah Ann Pilling of Birchencliffe. Killed in action, 17.8.1917, aged 39 years. Buried DUD CORNER CEMETERY. Grave location: Plot 2. Row K. Grave 16.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
- Lance Corporal OLIVER PILLING
- regiment: Canadian Infantry
- died: Friday, August 17, 1917
- age: 39 years
- record ID: 527673
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission (ID #527673)
- Imperial War Museums: Lives of the First World War (ID #6053596)
- Canadian Virtual War Memorial
- Canadian Great War Project