Returning to my paternal line, John Pickering was my first cousin 2x removed, and my closest relative to date in this series. We are both descended from James Pickering and Elizabeth Wilson who were my 2nd Great Grandparents, and John’s Grandparents.
James Pickering was born in Pickering, Yorkshire, the 9th of 11 children born to Jeremiah and Ann Filburn, a farming family. His father died when he was just 16, but with so many elder siblings, one could imagine that the family farm was quite crowded. He relocated to the new community of Lingdale, and, like many men in that town, began work as an ironstone miner. Elizabeth had been largely on her own since she was 13, and was working as a servant when she met James. Their first daughter, Emily, was born in 1873 in Yorkshire, and the following summer, James and Elizabeth married. They had another seven children before immigrating to Canada in around 1887, including John Pickering’s father, John William. The Pickering family established themselves in East York (now Toronto) where by 1891, James’ occupation was listed as a rail labourer. James and Elizabeth had three more children after moving to Canada, including my Great Grandmother, Mary Alice Pickering.
Returning to John’s line, his father, John William Pickering was 10 years old when his family immigrated to Canada. In 1895, at the age of 18, he married Catherine “Katie” Malcolm, whose family had emigrated from Scotland when she was an infant. By the 1901 census, John and Katie were living with their two sons, John and Harry, as well as Katie’s younger sister Lilly. They had three sons in total: John was born in February of 1898, Harry in October of 1899, and their third child, William Frederick, was born in 1903. Sadly, in 1909, John William, died from shock after a scalding incident at an abattoir where he was foreman. His children were 11, 9, and 6.
Katie remarried the following year to William Lawrence, a stove mounter from the same part of Toronto. In the 1911 census, the family was living on St. Clair avenue in Toronto, and Katie and William eventually added two more children to the family, Teddy in 1912, and Viola in 1919.
John attested to the Canadian Expeditionary Force in January of 1916, one month before his 18th birthday. His trade or calling is listed as a butcher. He joined the 126th Overseas Battalion, and sailed from Halifax on August 14 of that year. After spending some time in England, John was transferred to the 20th Battalion, and, in November of 1916, he joined the unit in France. Although I know that his first few months in France would have had its share of notable events, it is his last two weeks there that solidify how the rest of his military experience would play out.
“The month opens with stormy weather,” states the war diary of the 20th battalion on April 1, 1917. The battalion is camped at Yukon Camp outside of Vimy. The record of the next few days seems almost too run-of-the-mill given what we now know what coming on the 9th of April. What does come through very clearly is the meticulous planning and organization underway. The days were spent practicing for the “upcoming operations,” including drills and mock attacks. Then, on the morning of the 9th, every available piece of Canadian artillery began its barrage at 5:30 am precisely, and 30 seconds later, engineers detonated the mine charges laid under no man’s land and the German trench line, destroying a number of German strong points. Over the following two days the infantry worked to capture the ridge, and by the end of April 12, the Canadian Corps was in firm control of the area. This was at the cost of 10,602 casualties: 3,598 killed and 7,004 wounded, one of whom was John Pickering who had suffered a significant wound in his arm on April 10. To learn more about the battle of Vimy Ridge, I recommend visiting the Vimy Foundation.
Memorial to members of the 2nd Division, of which John’s battalion was a part, after the battle.
John was evacuated to England where he spent several months in various hospitals before being “invalided” to Canada and placed in a convalescent hospital in Toronto. Ultimately, it does not appear that John made things easy for his caregivers. On more than one occasion throughout 1918 he forfeited pay as punishment for things such as “breaking out of hospital while undergoing treatment and absenting himself” for 4 days in late June, or “refusing to obey an order in such a manner as to show willful defiance to authority” in July. In August, he was discharged from the army as “medically unfit” as a result of his injuries.
John lived out his life in Toronto, passing away in 1953 at the age of 55.