T. A. Pilgrim
Service no. 8761
Company Quartermaster Serjeant, Cheshire Regiment, 86th Bty.
Born in Battersea; enlisted in London
Died of pneumonia on 19 May 1918, aged 35
CWGC: “Son of Mrs. S. Silk (formerly Pilgrim), of 3, Stockwell Grove, Stockwell, London, and the late H. Pilgrim. Served in the South African Campaign. Alternative Commemoration – buried in Hartlepool North Cemetery.”
Remembered at Hartlepool (Stranton) Cemetery
British Army WW Service Records 1914-1920
Thomas Albert Pilgrim’s Army career lasted 17 years – he signed up just shy of his 18th birthday. During this time he learned about Army discipline, rose through the ranks to be Company Quartermaster Serjeant, grew nearly 4 inches and acquired medals and multiple tattoos, not to mention a wife. But he died, despite the best efforts of the medical staff, of severe pneumonia in West Hartlepool. The King and Queen wrote of their sorrow at his passing to his widow.
In November 1901 Pilgrim, a general labourer, enlisted in the Royal Sussex Regiment. He was 17 years and 10 months, 5 feet 5¼ inches tall, blue-eyed with brown hair; he had a scar next to his left eye and tattoos on his left arm. At camp in Chichester, he was almost immediately in trouble: irregular conduct (seven days confined to barracks); absent from parade (three days); quitting coal fatigue without permission (three days); not complying with an order (five days), and at Jamestown, Ireland, making an improper reply.
More trouble followed. While serving in South Africa he made an improper reply to an N.C.O. for which he was confined to barracks for 14 days. Back in England, at Shorncliffe camp, he was absent from reveille. And it was there, on 4 April 1903 that Pilgrim left the regiment, having been “Discharged by Purchase.”. It was an expensive decision. The £18 he paid out equates to £7,500 in today’s money.
In November 1907, aged 24, he was back at the recruitment office, enlisting in the Cheshire Regiment. By now he had grown to 5 feet 9 inches, and was a solid 11½ stone, with a 38½-inch chest. He had also acquired an impressive set of tattoos: a flower head on his left arm, a female figure, a head, flags and flowers on his left forearm; a hand with two cards and a crescent on the back of his left hand; a snake, palm tree and “an Indian” on his right forearm; a heart on his left knee.
There were only two black marks against him in this period. On 10 March 1909 he bought a pair of boots from a private soldier “contrary to regulations,” for which he was severely reprimanded; on 27 November he was found drunk and disorderly in Belfast for which he was reprimanded again. However, he had evidently calmed down somewhat. Possibly his marriage in 1908 to a 29-year-old widow, Maud Kate Nurse, at Lambeth Register Office had an influence. He was now responsible for a wife and young stepchild. In this period, Pilgrim acquired some qualifications. In 1908 he gained a 3rd class certificate of education, rising to 2nd class in 1910. He qualified as an assistant instructor in signalling in 1911.
Life was changing for Pilgrim. He started to gain promotions, making Serjeant in 1913, and on 9 July 1914, shortly after he had suffered a bout of bronchopneumonia that had put him in hospital in Londonderry, he signed up for extended service. His military character was now judged to be excellent, his superior officers describing him as “very hard working and efficient,” “reliable,” and “trustworthy.”
Soon he was off to France, but he served only three months there (between August and November 1914). Most of the war was served on the Home front. He was appointed acting Company Serjeant in June 1915 and promoted six weeks later. All the signs were that Pilgrim would have survived the war had he not been brought down by a very severe case of pneumonia while at West Hartlepool.
The doctor treating Pilgrim at the No. 8 Durham V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment) Hospital, where he was admitted on 14 May 1918, described him as “practically moribund” (meaning approaching death). They fed him carefully with fluids him every half hour, administered strychnine (this was used as a stimulant if the patient collapsed suddenly) and surrounded him with hot water bottles. But there was no antibiotic treatment and he succumbed five days later. He was 35 and had served over 10 years.
Pilgrim’s widow Maud Kate received a pension of 24 shillings and twopence for herself and her child. She received a message from the Army Council: “The Army Council having heard with regret of the death of your husband, No. 8761, C.Q.M.S. Thomas Albert Pilgrim, Cheshire Regiment, of which you have already been informed. I am instructed to send you herewith the enclosed message of Sympathy in your bereavement from the King and Queen.” Unfortunately, Pilgrim’s file does not include a copy of the letter itself.
Although Pilgrim does not appear on the 1911 census for Lambeth or Wandsworth, his mother, Susannah Silk, 56, and sister, Daisy May Pilgrim, 22, are found at 3 Stockwell Grove, where they had two rooms. In 1901, before he signed up with the Royal Sussex Regiment, the 17-year-old Pilgrim was living with his mother, stepfather Tom Silk (a 39-year-old scaffolder from Battersea) and three siblings at the same address.
Information from the censuses
Although Thomas Albert Pilgrim from Clapham does not appear on the 1911 census for Lambeth or Wandsworth, his mother, Susannah Silk, 56, and sister, Daisy May Pilgrim, 22, are found at 3 Stockwell Grove, where they had two rooms. In 1901, before he signed up with the Royal Sussex Regiment, the 17-year-old Pilgrim was living with his mother, stepfather Tom Silk (a 39-year-old scaffolder from Battersea) and siblings at 3 Stockwell Grove.
Henry Pilgrim, 21, a carman, born in Battersea
Bertie Pilgrim, 16, a shop assistant born in Battersea
Diasy M. Pilgrim, 12, born in Battersea