The Great Cornard Information Website
Page updated - 17 March 2009
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Sergeant Ernest Pilgrim
8513 ‘D’ Company 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment.
Ernest Pilgrim was born in Great Cornard around 1895. He was the 3rd son of John and Rosina Pilgrim. His father was employed as a carman and the family lived in Broom Street, Great Cornard. Ernest had 5 known brothers and sisters; David, George, Frederick, John and Lilian. Ernest was at one time employed at Olivers Brewery in Cornard Road.
Ernest enlisted and served in the Norfolk Regiment, in the same battalion as Edgar Bruce and Robert Hockley. He is recorded as having first served in a ‘theatre of war’ in France on 16th August 1914, which indicates that he was already serving as a regular or was a reservist before the war and was part of the British Expeditionary Force later known as ‘The Old Contemptibles’.
‘The Old Contemptibles’ was the name proudly adopted by the men of the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) who saw active service up to 22nd November 1914.
Their honorary title is said to have come from orders given by Kaiser Wilhelm II on 19th August 1914: “It is my Royal and Imperial Command you concentrate your energies, for the immediate present upon one single purpose, and that you address all your skill and all the valour of my soldiers to exterminate first the treacherous English; walk over General French’s contemptible little Army’.
His brothers also enlisted, two served with the Suffolk Regiment; David with the 2nd Battalion and Frederick with the 5th Battalion.
Ernest’s battalion was part of the 15th Brigade, which formed part of the 5th Division and when war was declared on 4th August 1914 was stationed at Holywood near Belfast. Within weeks the battalion was in France and saw action at the battles of Mons (23rd August), Le Cateau (26th August), the Marne (7-10th September), the Aisne (12th-15th September), La Bassée (10th October - 2nd November).
In 1915 the 5th Division saw action at the Second Battle of Yprés (22nd April – 25th May) when the Germans used poisonous gas in an attack for the first time. By March 1916 the Division had moved to the front line in front of Arras where there were many trench raids and mining activities. In July 1916 the French and British launched their offensive on the Somme; the 5th Division saw action at the attack on High Wood part of the second phase of the First Battle of the Somme. The First Battle of the Somme was a series of 12 battles over 141 days from 1st July 1916 to 18th November 1916.
On 26th July Ernest wrote his last letter home, this letter along with another and one written by his brother Fred was discovered 90 years later purchased at an antique fair. It was sent to the Sudbury Family Historical Society with the hopes of returning it to the family, a full transcript of the letters has been included here.
Ernest was killed in action on 27th July 1916 aged 21. There is no known grave and he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France. The Thiepval Memorial bears the names of 72,089 casualties who lost their lives in the Somme sector and who have no known grave.
Lieutenant G E Hall wrote to Ernest’s parents after his death: ‘a splendid type of the Non Commissioned Officer popular with the men and at the same time most efficient and reliable. Your son behaved extremely well in an attack which the Germans made on our trenches in June and I then had the pleasure of bringing his name forward for devotion to duties.’
Ernest was awarded the 1914 Star and Clasp, which indicates he served ‘under fire in France or Belgium between 5th August and 22nd/23rd November 1914, the British War Medal and Victory Medal.
A Cross of Remembrance was laid at the Thiepval Memorial on 16th April 2006.
Click Here to Read Ernest Pilgrim's Letters Home.
©Shirley Smith - Sudbury & District Royal British Legion - November 2008