202546 Private George Henry Pinkney, 1/6th battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 14 April 1917 and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.[1]  He was 20 years old and is commemorated on the Stanley (Mount Pleasant) War Memorial. [2]

 Family Details

John Henry Pinkney was born c.1897 at Esh Winning,[3] the son of John Joseph and Mary Pinkney. There were at least 6 children: [4]

  • John Henry bc.1897 at Esh Winning
  • Martha Isabel bc.1901 at Low Beechburn near Crook
  • Mabel bc.1903 at Middlesbrough
  • Robert bc.1905 at Middlesbrough
  • Sarah bc.1908 at Low Beechburn
  • Doris bc.1910 at Low Beechburn

In 1901, the family lived at Middlesbrough where John worked as a foundry labourer.[5]  In 1911, the family lived at Low Beechburn, Crook where 38 year old John worked as a coal miner [hewer]. John Henry was 13 years old and still at school.  [6]  Later, the family lived at 8 Chapel Row, Stanley Pit, Crook.[7]

Military Details

 The service details of Private J.H. Pinkney have not been traced therefore the date he enlisted or the date he entered France is not known.  He was not awarded the 1914-15 Star therefore did not enter France until after 31 December 1915.  He served with 1/6 DLI which was a Territorial Battalion.  His original service number was 7407 which infers that he was a member of the Territorial Force prior to the outbreak of war.  Possibly because of his age, he was not permitted to serve overseas or perhaps he did not volunteer to serve overseas.  His later service number was 202546 which would have been issued in 1917.

The 1/6th Battalion were formed in Bishop Auckland in August 1914 as part of the Durham Light Infantry Brigade, Northumbrian Division and in May 1915 became the 151st Brigade of the 50th Division. The Division moved to France 16 April 1915 and served with distinction on the Western Front throughout the war. Other battalions were:

  • 1/7th Battalion, D.L.I
  • 1/8th Battalion, D.L.I.
  • 1/9th Battalion, D.L.I.
  • 1/5th Battalion, the Loyal North Lancs. joined June 1915

Following heavy casualties in June 1915 the battalion merged with the 1/8th to become the 6/8th then it returned to its original identity 11 August 1915 and was joined by:

  • 1/5th (Cumberland) Battalion, the Border Regiment joined December 1915
  • 151st Machine Gun Company formed 6 February 1916
  • 150th Trench Mortar Battery formed 18 June 1916

The Battle of Arras – an overview

The new French Commander in Chief, Robert Nivelle prepared his Master Plan for a new offensive against the German lines.  Nivelle’s plan was as follows:

“He would attack at the shoulders of the great German salient on either side of the Somme.  The French would take the southern Aisne sector, the Chemin des Dames, as their front of assault, while the British, by inter-Allied agreement would reopen an offensive on the northern shoulder of the Somme salient, at Arras and against Vimy Ridge.”

The objective of the British and Canadian Corps was to capture Vimy Ridge which would lead the way into the Douai Plain and (it was hoped) the un-entrenched German rear.  Then a rapid advance by the cavalry would link up with the French forces which would have broken through at Chemin des Dames, 80 miles to the south.

The British Army launched a large scale attack at Arras.  Although initially successful, it soon bogged down and became another costly affair.  The battle was composed of the following phases:

  • 9 – 14 April 1917:  The Battle of Vimy, The First Battle of the Scarpe
  • 23 – 24 April 1917:  The Second Battle of the Scarpe
  • 3 – 4 May 1917:  The Third Battle of the Scarpe
  • 11 April – 16 June 1917:  The Battle of Bullecourt

The infantry was able to shelter in the great subterranean quarries at Arras and they were brought to the front line through tunnels dug by the Army’s tunnelling companies.  Similar tunnels had been dug at Vimy Ridge for the Canadian troops.  Such preparation did not arouse suspicion amongst the Germans and von Falkenhausen, commander of the Sixth Army kept his Reserves 15 miles behind the front.

The German defences were bombarded by 2,879 guns, one for every 9 yards of the front, which delivered 2,687,000 shells – shorter in duration but double the weight of that delivered before the Battle of the Somme the previous July.

9 April 1917:  The first day of the battle was a triumph for the Allied forces.  In a few hours the German front had been penetrated to a depth of between 1 and 3 miles, 9,000 prisoners were taken, few casualties suffered and a way forward was (apparently) cleared.  The success of the Canadians at Vimy Ridge was sensational!  But the usual inflexibility in the plan prevented further progress – a pause of 2 hours after objectives had been gained, the day was shortening and the impetus ran out allowing the Germans to bring up their reserves on the 10th and 11th of April.

The April weather was atrocious – rain, sleet, snow, relentlessly low temperatures and the shelling had turned the chalky surface into gluey mud. The attacking troops were exhausted, a halt was called to allow casualties to be replaced and the troops to recover – losses totalled nearly 20,000 (1/3rd of casualties suffered at the first day of the Somme).

23 April:  Hostilities recommenced, the Germans had reorganised and were reinforced so could counter-attack and as a result, a month of attrition set in bringing a further 130,000 casualties for no additional gain of ground.

On the southern front, whist the Germans were caught by surprise on the Vimy-Arras sector, they were not on the French sector, Chemin-des-Dames.  Security failures had alerted the Germans to the proposed attack so their forces were prepared.  After 5 days of intensive fighting when the French suffered 130,000 casualties including 29,000 killed, the offensive was effectively abandoned.  There had been a penetration of 4 miles over the 16 mile front but German defences remained intact.  There had been no breakthrough.

The aftermath of the Nivelle’s offensive had major repercussions on the French army.  The offensive was judged to be a failure and on the 29th April 1917, Nivelle was replaced by Petain.  In addition, the failure punctured the French fighting spirit and precipitated what historians called “the mutinies of 1917.”

 The 50th Division [8]

On the 4th April, orders were received for the Division to move eastwards and on the 6th and 7th, the 149th and 151st Brigades moved to the Rollecourt area and the 150th went to Houvin-Houvigneul then all combined on the 7th April in the Avesnes area.  A further move to Habarcq-Wanquetin area took place on the 10th when the 149th occupied the Wanwuetin-Hauteville area, the 150th was at Habarcq and the 151st was at Agnez, Gouves and Montenescour.  The 7/D.L.I. (Pioneers) moved into Arras.  On the 11th April, the Division relieved the 14th Division – the 149th Brigade was the first into the line and occupied trenches to the south of Tilloy and straddled Telegraph Hill.  The 151st moved up to Ronville Caves and the 150th remained at Habarcq.  This new sector was the recently captured ridge to the immediate east of Wancourt and Heninel, the 56th Division was to the right and the 3rd Division was to the left.

Orders were received for an advance on the 14th April – the 50th and 56th Divisions were to attack, the 56th to capture Cherisy and the 50th Division was to protect the 56th left flank facing north along the high ground south of the 80 Contour with their left in Wancourt Tower (which incidentally had disappeared on the night of the 13th, having fallen down at 10.00pm.)  The 2 leading companies were to advance hugging the left flank of the 169th Brigade (56th Division) then when the 169th came to a standstill, the 2 leading companies of the 6/D.L.I. were to halt also and refuse their left flank, the 3rd and 4th companies were then to prolong the refused flank.  The 6/D.L.I. had the Wancourt Tower to their left.  As the attack commenced, a German barrage came over the lines but it appeared that the 6th passed through it successfully.  The 6th an 8th D.L.I. were intermixed and hostile machine gun fire made movement impossible.  The following detail of operations from the 151st Brigade HQ Diary is available:

“A small party of the 6th Durhams had reached trenches south of the Tower, the 6/D.L.I. as a whole were extended along a sunken road running roughly from west to east, southwest of the Tower…the difficulties of the operation fell with special force on the 6/D.L.I. and the Machine Gun Section attached as they led the advance and had to deploy in the dark.  The dash and spirit with which they advanced does them great credit.  All 4 guns of the Machine Gun Section were I regret to say, put out of action…The 6/D.L.I. had had hard luck.  They reached their objective but had to fall back again owing to the failure of the 56th Division to take Cherisy.  There is little more to be said of the attack other than again the 50th Division had carried out its orders to the letter and only evacuated the line gained owing to the inability of other troops to reach the line allotted to them.”

 Of the 3 counter attacks however there is no mention in any official diaries and there is a lack of detail but the 50th may be proud that “The Capture of Wancourt and Ridge” was sufficiently important to be included under heading of “Tactical Incidents” of Battle by the Battles Nomenclature Committee.

The First Battle of the Scarpe 1917 officially ended on the 14th April and during the night of the 14th-15th the 151st Brigade was relieved by the 149th Brigade, and moved back to support.  The 150th was still in reserve.  The Diary of the Divisional HQ records that casualties on the 14th April were estimated at 16 officers and 213 other ranks killed, wounded and missing.


 14 April:  The following account describes in more detail the action: [9]

“At 1 am on the 14th April the men moved to the assembly position in the dry bed of the Cojeul River with the 8th Battalion in support and the 5th Border Regiment in reserve, the 9th Battalion being already in a line just south of Guemappe.  The original orders had now been considerably altered and zero hour arrived before fresh orders had been circulated to the companies.  The result was that at 4.30am after moving in file from the assembly position to a bank some 200 yards in front, the Battalion advanced under a barrage in 4 waves of companies W being front Z in rear, with no orders except a rough indication of the direction.

As they advanced they were met by very heavy machine gun fire from the front and from Guemappe in their left rear. W and X companies reached the ridge 500 yards from the starting point and passing down the other side were not seen again during the day. Y and Z companies also reached the ridge but could get no further.  Later they were joined by the 8th Battalion which was also held up.

The fighting then died down but apart from one brief message from X company no trace could be found of the 2 front companies and the casualties in the remaining 2 were very heavy.  To add to the confusion, the 56th Division on the right had lost direction and men of the London Regiment were everywhere mixed with those of the 50th Division.

At dusk orders were received that the line on the ridge would be taken over by the London Rifle Brigade.  A soon as the light permitted search was made for W and X companies.  Eventually the remnants consisting of 4 officers and about 20 men were discovered.  Having reached a small system of trenches they had organised their defence and successfully beaten off determined attempts to surround them.  About 80 men were finally assembled after the relief and more joined the Battalion during the next few days but the casualties amounted to over 200 or more than 50% of the total fighting strength.  The officers killed were Capt. Brock, Lieut. Richardson and 2/Lieuts. Greene, Payne and Newton whilst many were wounded Capts. R.S. Johnson and H. Walton, commanding W and X companies were subsequently awarded the Military Cross and Corporal Betts the D.C.M. and Croix de Guerre.

After burying as many bodies as could be recovered the remnants of the Battalion moved back to dug-outs in the Hindenburg Line on Telegraph Hill which were reached after a roundabout march at dawn.” 

Private John Henry Pinkney died on the 14th April 1917.  He has no known grave.  Later research records that 6/DLI suffered the following fatalities:[10]

  • 14 April 1917:  4 Officers killed in action – Capt. A.L. Brock, 2/Lt. H. Greener, 2/Lt. J.W. Payne and Lt. W.H. Richardson and 51 OR’s including Private W. Greavison from Escomb and Private C. Simpson from St. Helen’s Auckland both of whom are commemorated on the Arras Memorial.
  • 15 – 21 April 1917:  5 OR’s died of wounds

Private J.H. Pinkney was awarded the British War and Victory medals.[11]

 Commemorations [12]

 The Arras Memorial stands in the Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery in Arras and it commemorates 35,000 servicemen from Britain, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between spring 1916 and August 1918 who have no known grave.  It was unveiled in 1932.


[1] CWGC

[2] The War Memorial is located at Mount Pleasant to the west of Stanley, Crook

[3] SDGW This source records his birth place as Evenwood but the 1901 census records a J.H. Pinkney living at Middlesbrough with his parents John and Mary.  JHP is recorded as being born at Esh, Co. Durham and not Evenwood.  Other siblings were born at Waterhouses, Malton and Crook, all near to Esh in West Durham.  The 1911 census shows the family living at Low Beechburn, Crook.  It is likely that the SDGW information is incorrect.

[4] 1901 & 1911 census Note: CWGC record his father as J.G. Pinkney

[5] 1901 census

[6] 1911 census

[7] CWGC

[8]  “The Fiftieth Division 1914-1918” E. Wyrall p206-213

[9]  “The Story of the 6th Battalion, D.L.I.” Capt. R.B. Ainsworth

[10] SDGW

[11] Medal Roll

[12] CWGC






Stanley [Mount Pleasant] War Memorial

Stanley [Mount Pleasant] War Memorial

Stanley [Mount Pleasant] War Memorial Detail

Stanley [Mount Pleasant] War Memorial Detail