World War One
M - P
Below are the biographies of some of the men and women from the Roll of Honour table who served during the Great War. The list seeks to remember all who served, not just those who lost their lives. Inevitably, it is incomplete, but it is hoped that additional names will be added as further information becomes available. Those who made the ultimate sacrifice are shown with a alongside their name.
Keith Taylor, author of 'Wensleydale Remembered,' has very generously allowed me to transcribe and display material from his excellent book about the lives of those from Aysgarth Parish who made the ultimate sacrifice. Some additional information has also been provided by the owners of the website, Craven’s Part in the Great War.
The names are in alphabetical order of surname to make it easier to scroll down to find a particular name.
If you notice any errors or have additional people to add to the list, further information about people already included or a photograph, please contact me. Thank you.
"By 1891 the Mawers had come from the Carlton area of Coverdale to farm at Barden Dykes, near Bellerby. By 1901, however, William and Jane Mawer had moved with their family to Hill Top Farm, Ellingstring, between East Witton and Masham, where they brought up their family of Elizabeth, John Thomas, Ellenor , Joseph, George, Esther, William, Florence and Arthur.
Arthur worked on his father's farm, whilst his oldest brother, John (Jack) farmed Lower Sowermire Farm, close to Leighton Reservoir, near Colsterdale. By 1914 Arthur was a farm worker at West Burton [Walden], in Aysgarth parish, and it was from there that he went to enlist at Richmond on August 28th 1914.
As a farmer's son, working with horses, it was only natural that he should join the 1st Lifeguards, Household Cavalry, and was sent out to the front on April 18th 1915. However, although the 1st Lifeguards retained their horses in horse lines just behind the front, they were used mainly as infantry in the trenches.
From April 1915 to January 1916 Arthur spent most of his time fighting in the trenches in the Ypres Salient. On January 27th 1916 he was wounded in both legs and taken to Calais Hospital, where he won everybody's esteem for his bright, cheery disposition. At one time recovery seemed possible, but he passed away on February 11th 1916, age 20. [the first casualty from Walden]. ...
Trooper Arthur Mawer is buried in grave 7.B.3. at Calais Southern Cemetery" [France].
During February, two soldiers from the same Battalion, 4th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment, died whilst simply performing their defensive duties in the trenches."
[Transcribed form 'Wensleydale Remember', by Keith Taylor]
He is also commemorated on the gate pillars at the entrance of St. Andrew's Church, Aysgarth and on a brass plaque within the Church (see Aysgarth, Home Front Section for images).
Trooper, Arthur Mawer in ceremonial uniform, Walden.
Trooper Arthur Mawer is buried in grave 7.B.3. at Calais Southern Cemetery, France, (courtesy of Len.)
Trooper, Arthur Mawer in khaki, Walden.
George Neville May (1883-1918) Thornton Rust
"George Neville May (born 7 September 1883) was the son of Herbert and Sarah Anne May, née Cobbett. Both parents were born in St James' Parish, London, Middlesex. 1891 Surbiton, Surrey Census: Gilamont House - George N. May, aged 7 years, born Brighton, Sussex, son of Herbert May, widower. 1901 Porthcurno, Cornwall Census: Telegraph Station - George N. May, aged 17 years, born Brighton, Sussex. Telegraphist. George was married to Violet Castilla Matthews [of Hawes] in 1910 [at Leyburn.] 1911 Hoylake, Cheshire Census: 'Wensleydale', Parkway, Meols - George Neville May, aged 27 years, born Brighton, Sussex, husband of Violet Castilla May."
"MAY, GEORGE NEVILLE, Capt., 343rd Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, ... volunteered for active service after the outbreak of the war in Aug. 1914, and was gazetted 2nd Lieut. Royal Garrison Artillery 19 Jan. 1915, being promoted Lieut. in Sept. 1917; served with the Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders from Feb. 1916, and died at Rouen 29 May, 1918, of wounds received in action near Doullens three days previously. Buried in St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen. His Commanding Officer wrote: "He had been in my battery nearly a year, and was one of the best officers whom it had been my pleasure to serve with, extremely capable and popular with both officers and men." He m. at Leyburn, co. York, 7 Sept. 1910 Violet Castilla (Thornton Hall, Aysgarth, co. York), yr. dau. of Frederick William White Matthew, of Low Hall, Sunnington, J.P., and had a dau., Pamela Castilla, b. 5 May, 1918. Died 29th May 1918, age 34."
[Information from Craven’s Part in the Great War (CPGW) and De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour].
George is also remembered on a brass plate in Aysgarth Church and on a plaque on Thornton Rust Village Hall (see below for images).
Captain George Neville May of Thornton Rust, (courtesy of Laurin Espie).
George Neville May, on the Memorial at Thornton Rust Institute
Captain George Neville May is buried at St. Sever Cemetery Rouen, France, plot B. 10. 13., (courtesy of Bob Boston).
George Neville May, brass plaque in Aysgarth Parish Church (courtesy of CPGW).
Harold Carey Matthews (1879-1915) Aysgarth
"MATTHEWS, HAROLD CAREY, Major, 4th Battn. Alexandra, Princess of Wales' Own Yorkshire Regt. (The Green Howards) (T.F.), eldest s. of Frederick William White Matthews of Low Hall, Sinnington, Yorks, J.P., formerly manager of Barclays's Bank, at Leyburn; his wife, Ellen Georgina, dau. of the late Rev. Hewett Carey; b. Hawes, Wensleydale, co York 25 April, 1879; educ. The School, Aysgarth, Yorks. [see image in Aysgarth, Home Front section] entered Barclay's Bank, and at the time of the outbreak of war was second in charge of their Market Weighton Branch. He had joined the London Rifle Brigade as a Private in 1897, and was given a commission as 2nd Lieut. in the 4th Yorks Regt., and served in the South African War [Boer War, see image below] in command of the 2nd Service Company of that Regt. For his services he received the Queen's medal with five clasps and was made an Hon. Lieut. in the Army, 26 July, 1902. He was promoted Capt. 30 April, 1904, and on the outbreak of the European War volunteered for foreign service, and was gazetted Major, 29 Aug. 1914. He left for France on 17 April, and was killed in action at St. Julien, north of Ypres, a few days later, 25 April, 1915. His Commanding Officer wrote: "He was killed in action leading his men work which earned the compliments of the General." Major Matthews m. at Dringhouse Parish Church, York, 12 July, 1911, Majory Phillis, yst. dau of Gervase Woodhouse, of 196 Mount Vale, York and had issue: Frederick Gervas b. 24 Dec. 1912; and Marjory Phillis, b. posthumous, 13 Oct. 1915."
Major H.C. Matthews is buried at Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, Belgium, plot I I. J. 4. Died 25th April 1915, age 36. He is also remembered on his parents', F.W.W. & E.G. Matthews, headstone in Aysgarth churchyard.
[Information from De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour].
Harold Carey Matthews, uniform of the Boer War (courtesy of Green Howards).
Major Harold Carey Matthews formerly of Aysgarth, (courtesy of Laurin Espie).
Major Harold Carey Matthews is buried at Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, Belgium, plot I I. J. 4. (courtesy of Linda).
Robert Pickering Metcalfe (1894-1917) Thornton Rust
"Robert was born at Thornton Rust in 1894, the youngest son of George Metcalfe, a farmer, and his wife Grace, living at Ashfield House. Robert worked on the family farm, but during the war he enlisted at Leyburn and was posted to the 8th Battalion K.R.R.C.
On August 22nd 1917 they were in Sanctuary Wood, close by the position occupied by Bernard Grime Lodge [Dent], when they were heavily shelled and lost 50 men. As they were about to be relieved on August 24th, an SOS signal went up indicating a German counter-attack and "A" and "C" Companies defended part of Inverness Copse.
The counter-attack was a failure, except on the left where a few patrols pushed through but did not get far. During the day 8th Battalion had to withdraw from Inverness Copse and suffered severely from shell fire, loosing six officers killed, others wounded and 100 casualties in the other ranks. One of those was Robert Pickering Metcalfe, the first casualty from Thornton Rust. Rifleman Metcalfe, along with a party of ten others, were ordered to storm the front line of the enemy's trenches, when a shell burst amongst them, causing the death of all but two, who were slightly wounded.
His Captain wrote, in a letter to his mother Grace, "Your son has done extremely good work out here as a Lewis gunner, and his death is greatly deplored by all of us."
Both Bernard's and Robert's names are commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium, the former on Panels 128 to 131 and 162 and 162A, the latter on Panels 115 to 119 and 162A and 163A. Robert died 24th August 1917, age 24."
[Transcribed form 'Wensleydale Remember', by Keith Taylor]
Robert is also remembered on his parents' G. & G. Metcalfe's headstone in Aysgarth churchyard. He is also commemorated on the gate pillars at the entrance of St. Andrew's Church, Aysgarth, on a brass plaque within the Church and on the village war memorial Thornton Rust Village Hall (see Aysgarth and Thornton Rust, Home Front Section for images).
Robert's name is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium on Panels 115 to 119 and 162A and 163A, (courtesy of The Commonwealth War Graves Commission).
William Metcalfe was born in Gayle in 1894. His parents were James Metcalfe and Betty née Iveson. In the 1891 census the family were living at Gayle. James was a stonemason, Betty was a hand knitter and they had three children at that time: James jnr., aged 5, Catherine, aged 2, and Margery aged 1. By the time of the 1901 census the family had left Gayle and moved to Accrington in Lancashire. James was still working as a stone mason; his son, James jnr., now aged 15, was a railway clerk; his daughter, Catherine, aged 12, was a cotton weaver. Margery was now 11 years old and two more children had been born since 1891, Jane, who was 7 in 1901, and William, who was 6. All the children were born in Gayle, so the move to Accrington came after 1894.
By the time of the 1911 census, the family had returned to Wensleydale and were living at the Manor House (later changed to Manor Farm), Thornton Rust, which they rented from the Chapman estate. Father James, continued to work as a stonemason and helped to build Thornton Lodge on the edge of the village for Harry Tunstill. The children living at home with James and Betty Metcalfe, were, James jnr., aged 25, who was now working with his father as a stonemason, William, aged 18, who was a mason’s labourer. There are two further additions to the family, Betsy, aged 8 and Isabella, aged 6 both born at Thornton Rust so they returned from Accrington before Betsy’s birth in 1902. The census also shows us that in the twenty-six years of marriage there had been 9 children born, 2 of whom have sadly died.
Private William Metcalfe (courtesy of granddaughter Eleanor Scarr)
William Metcalfe aged 21 married Eleanor Dinsdale aged 19 in October 1915 at Aysgarth Church. William’s occupation was a mason of Thornton Rust and Eleanor, was the daughter of Owen Dinsdale, miller’s carter from Yore Mills, Aysgarth. From this union there were two sons, Sydney born February 1916 and his brother William born November 1917.
Manor Farm, Thornton Rust (courtesy of Clive Torrens)
William served in the army and was in the Royal Field Artillery, looking after the horses. His family know that he served in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). Little else is known of his service and there is no recollection of medals. He did suffer thereafter with respiratory problems due to the gas used. William’s wife, Eleanor, was taken very ill during the flu epidemic. Eleanor and her two young sons went back to living at Yore Mills, Aysgarth, with her parents. When she became ill, her mother, Margaret Ann, who was one of the Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses Dr. Pickles had recruited in 1915, was able to nurse her. Sadly, little could be done for Eleanor and she died at her parents’ home. William was sent for, but he missed seeing her by a couple of days. She passed away in July 1918, aged only twenty-two, and is buried in Aysgarth churchyard. William had to return back to duty, only returning home from the war in mid-1919. Fellow soldier John Wood of Carperby also lost his wife to the flu epidemic, but managed to be present at her death.
William re-married in June 1923, his bride Cicely Dent was aged 29, as was William, his occupation and that of his father’s had changed to farmer. William and Cicely had two daughters Cicely and Eppy, and they lived and farmed at Manor Farm, Thornton Rust. William died on 19 September 1943, aged 50, he is buried in Aysgarth churchyard. Williams sons Sydney and William jnr. kept the farm going until it was sold in 1965.
Above photograph of Owen Dinsdale, carter of Yore Mills c.1890 (courtesy of Keith Taylor)
The cart are approaching the eastern end of the way through Freeholders Wood from Aysgarth Falls. The carts are returning to Yore Mill loaded with trestles, canvas and a set pot after a days celebration. Owen Dinsdale is holding the white horse’s head.
Opposite photograph of Margaret Ann Dinsdale, Voluntary Aid nurse, stood to the right of Dr. Pickles c.1915 (courtesy F. & M.E. Snaith)
Owen and Margaret Ann Dinsdale, of Yore Mills, Aysgarth were Eleanor Metcalfe’s parents.
William Henry Metcalfe was born in 1889 and baptised 10th November, at Aysgarth Church, son of Thomas and Eleanor, of Cote Bottom Farm, Thoralby, father's occupation farmer. In the 1881 census, Thomas and his recently married wife Eleanor Routh were living at Smelter, Bishopdale, where he was employed as a gamekeeper, most probably for the Lodge family of the Rookery.
By the time of the 1891 census Thomas and Eleanor had moved to Thoralby and Cote Bottom Farm, Thoralby and his occupation is farmer, this is also the case in the 1901 census. William Henry and his siblings would have attended Cross Lanes School, Newbiggin and would therefore have had the long walk across the fields for ¾ mile to school, downhill on the way, but uphill at home time. William Henry was one of nine children and by the time of the 1911 census the family have moved to Worton and Thomas and his son William Henry aged twenty-one, occupations are Road Contractors.
William Henry Metcalfe volunteering at Settle cricket field, September 1914, (courtesy of Alan Metcalfe).
Whilst on leave William Henry married Annie Ethel Wooler of Settle at Long Preston, Settle in March 1917. He remained in the army until 1919, and then he as wife made their home in Settle, where they had three sons. William Henry's occupation after the war was goods porter on the railway. The campaign medals awarded have sadly been lost. He died at Skipton in December 1956, aged sixty-seven and is buried at St Mary's Church, Long Preston, Settle.
[Information and images have kindly been provided by Alan Metcalfe, grandson.]
On the 9th September 1914, William Henry aged twenty- five enlisted into the Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment. He embarked for le Harve, France in December 1914, joining the second Indian Cavalry division, as a driver, in the horse transport division, Army service corps. Spending over 4 years in France.
William Henry volunteering at settle cricket field, in 1914. Notice the band on his arm to indicate he was part of Kitchener’s new army, in the photograph opposite.
Private William Henry Metcalfe and Annie Ethel Wooler on their wedding day March 1917, (courtesy of Alan Metcalfe).
"John's father, William Percival, was born at Woodhall, Askrigg, in 1854. He married Mary Sayer, a Carperby girl, and with William working as a general labourer, they settled first at Drummond Cottage and then by 1914 at Hazel House, Aysgarth. Children John, Tom, William, Annie and Margaret were born.
Leaving school at 14, John had a number of jobs before becoming chauffeur to a local landowner. On enlistment in 1916 he joined a motorised section of the Royal Army Service Corps, where his days were spent delivering ammunition and rations to the dumps on the front line.
At the beginning of 1918 he suffered a severe dose of phosgene gas when a gas shell exploded nearby. He was brought back to England and discharged from the army but tuberculosis had set in and after some months of illness he died on April 8th 1918, age 21.
John Percival was interned in the churchyard of St. Andrew's Church on April 12th" [see headstone below].
[Transcribed form 'Wensleydale Remember', by Keith Taylor].
He is also commemorated on the gate pillars at the entrance of St. Andrew's Church, Aysgarth, on a brass plaque within the Church and on the village war memorial in the centre of Aysgarth village and on Thornton Rust Village Hall (see Aysgarth and Thornton Rust, Home Front Sections for images).
John Percival's headstone in Aysgarth Churchyard, (courtesy of Pip Land).
Private John Percival, Aysgarth.
"'Timothy [Spensley] Percival was born at Carperby in 1889 and by 1901 was living there with his widowed mother, Elizabeth, a farmer, and his older brother William.
He saw action in the war with a trench mortar battery, both in the Ypres Salient in 1917 and in the "Advance to Victory" in 1918.
On one occasion, whilst on leave in Carperby he mentioned that with his luck in the war so fdar, he believed that no German bullet would stop him. With only weeks to go before the conclusion of the war, however he was wounded and taken to a hospital near Cambrai.
Timothy Spensley Percival is buried in grave 111.A.26. in Cambria East Military Cemetery, France, (courtesy of The Commonwealth War Graves Commission).
The problem was worsened by the onset of pneumonia, which was prevalent at this time, and he died on November 16th 1918, age 28. Timothy [Spensley] Percival is buried in grave 111.A.26. in Cambria East Military Cemetery," [France].
[Transcribed form 'Wensleydale Remember', by Keith Taylor].
He is also commemorated on the gate pillars at the entrance of St. Andrew's Church, Aysgarth, on a brass plaque within the Church and on the village war memorial in the centre of Carperby village (see Aysgarth and Carperby, Home Front Section for images).
Walter L. Percival (1899-1918) Thornton Rust
Walter's parents were John Percival of Woodhall and Jane Prest of Thornton Rust. They married in May 1891, both aged 22, at Aysgarth Church. At the time of the 1901 census, the family was living in Thornton Rust and John was a 32-year-old farmer. The children were Martha, aged 9, Joseph, aged 7, Francis, aged 6, Timothy, aged 4 and Walter, aged 2. By the time of the 1911 census, the family had moved away from their home area probably for better job prospects. The family was living in Leeds and John's occupation had changed completely: he was a colliery labourer, above ground. The children in the family now were Martha, aged 19, Joseph, aged 17, Francis, aged 16 (these 3 children were all working), Timothy, aged 16, Walter, aged 12, and Arthur, aged 6 (all at school). The first of the children to be born in Leeds was Elizabeth, aged 5, followed by Nora, aged 3, Henry and John, twins aged 1, though sadly John died in infancy.
Walter enlisted at Leeds into the 1st/5th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment. Whilst serving in France, Private Walter Percival was captured and died of dysentery 30 July 1918 aged 19 whilst a prisoner of war. He was buried in Plot: N. 5, at Sissonne British Cemetery, Aisne, Picardie Region, France (see images below).
Private Walter Percival is buried in Plot: N. 5, at Sissonne British Cemetery, France, (courtesy of The Commonwealth War Graves Commission).
Private Walter Percival, originally of Thornton Rust, (courtesy of IWM).
Alfred was born July 1876, the first child of Thomas and Jane née Potts. He was born at Kirkby Fleetham, near Bedale and at that time his father’s occupation was a blacksmith. In the 1881 census they were living at Lodge Cottage, Kirkby Fleetham and there was a younger brother Thomas.
By the time of the 1891 census, the family had moved to nearby Ellerton on Swale, his father was still a blacksmith, but Alfred now aged fourteen’s occupation was also blacksmith.
The 1901 census shows that the family had returned to Kirkby Fleetham, father Thomas remained as a blacksmith, own account, but he was also an innkeeper and son, Alfred, now aged twenty-four was employed by his father as a blacksmith.
In April 1901, Alfred married local girl Helena Metcalfe at Kirkby Fleetham parish church, his occupation remains as blacksmith. However, by the time of the 1911 census, things have changed. Alfred, now aged 34 occupation was innkeeper, of the Black Horse, own account. The census also shows that in the nine years of marriage, four children have been born, but only two have survived.
His father Thomas, had left the area and was in Holbeck, Leeds in the 1911 census. His occupation was blacksmith, along with son Sydney who was also blacksmith.
The photo shows Alfred and Helena Plews with my grandfather Alfred William, born in 1902, known as Billy
(courtesy of Sally Stone)
The next thing we can be certain of is that in 1912, Alfred emigrated to Quebec, Canada, occupation shoe smith, aged 35, settling in Saskatoon in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. His wife and children remained in England. Whilst in Canada Alf enlisted into the Canadian Engineers and served in the Great War, his medals opposite being a testament to this.
Helena is the one who seems to move with her family to West Burton, prior to 1915, where she was landlady of the Black Bull, and she also ran a small lodging house for lead miners. In 1919 a son Robert is born to them and, a son Henry in 1922, both at West Burton.
Private Alfred Plews WW1 Medals
(courtesy of Sally Stone)
In the 1939 ID Register Alfred and Helena were living at Skipton and in 1945, Helena dies in the Keighley registration district, aged 65. He was cared for by his daughter-in-law Annie Plews until his death in May 1960, aged 83 and is buried in Aysgarth churchyard.
William was born in Leeds in March 1885. His parents were John Jagger Pickles, a general practitioner, and Lucy Dobson. All six of their sons went into medicine. William graduated in 1910 and began working in Leeds, but in 1912 he visited Aysgarth as a locum for Dr. Edward Hime. Later that year, he served as a ship's doctor on a voyage to Calcutta and, on his return to England, he resumed working for Dr. Hime. Also in the practise was Will’s friend, Dean Dunbar and, when Hime decided to move away from the area in 1913, Will replaced him. It was then that he first met Gerty, the second youngest daughter of Harry Tunstill, a mill owner from Burnley, who built Thornton Lodge on the outskirts of Thornton Rust in 1909 (see photograph of Thornton Lodge in the Home Front section). They developed a mutual attraction and Will thought that the future looked rosy in both his professional and personal life.
However, with war looming, he joined the Royal Naval Reserves in April 1914 with the rank of Surgeon. When war was declared, Will received a telegram ordering him to report to HMS Albion at Plymouth. The Albion was an old battleship of 12,000 tons with a crew of 800 and was of a type that preceded the Dreadnoughts. In his biography, Will Pickles of Wensleydale, John Pemberton wrote: “On that first Sunday morning in August, he went round all the villages with his brother Jack, who had come over to help Dunbar in his absence, saying goodbye to his patients…To Will the bottom seemed to have fallen out of his world. The afternoon was spent in packing and that night he caught the milk train to Northallerton, and arrived in Plymouth on the morning of Monday, August 3rd.”
HMS Albion, his first ship (courtesy of IWM).
Surgeon-lieutenant, William Norman Pickles, Royal Navy, (courtesy of John Pemberton).
After the Albion helped to guard the Expeditionary Force as it sailed to France and then spent several weeks in Gibraltar and the Cape Verde Islands, an accident on board ship meant Will had to be sent ashore to a hospital in Gibraltar and then back to England for an operation. Whilst recuperating in Leeds and Aysgarth, he saw Gerty as often as possible. During this period at home, he managed to recruit twenty local women, including Gerty, as V.A.D.s, to provide nursing care. (For further details, see Aysgarth in the Home Front Section.)
Dr. Will Pickles and his V.A.D.s, Aysgarth c.1915 (courtesy of F. & M.E. Snaith).
After a couple of months, he was fit enough for duty and was posted to a merchant cruiser, the Macedonia. “In one of his letters to Gerty he asked her to marry him, and after the fewest possible number of weeks, he received a favourable reply.” After serving in the South Atlantic for a couple of years, Will and another naval surgeon called Russell were scheduled to be relieved. “Russell with great unselfishness insisted that Will should go first, as he knew he wanted to get married. This kindly act probably cost Russell his life as the ship to which he was later posted was torpedoed off the Isle of Wight and he was drowned.”
“In 1917, the Macedonia returned to England and Will was assigned to shore duties. Immediately after going on leave he travelled to Aysgarth, where his marriage to Gerty took place in the parish church on May 5th. Their brief honeymoon of five days was spent at Windermere. After this he was posted to Dover, where they found rooms three miles out of town and had to have ‘passports’ in order to get in and out of Dover.” Although much of his work was routine, there were moments of high drama, such as the explosion when the Glatton blew up in the harbour and Will treated many of the casualties on the quayside, or the aftermath of the raid to close the German submarine base at Zeebrugge with blockships, which was successful, but Will was among the doctors who treated the 500-600 wounded who were brought back to Dover. “With his brother Medical Officers, Will did what he could to ease the sufferings of the wounded as they lay in a shed in a railway siding at the docks awaiting transfer to the hospital train, but many were past all help and others died before they could reach Chatham hospital. It was an experience of the horrors of war which Will would never forget.”
For several years, Will had been taking a correspondence course to complete his M.D. qualification and took the final examination in the summer of 1918. As the war ended, a virulent flu epidemic broke out, killing nine million people world-wide – more than perished in the war. Will had two houses converted to provide extra sick beds at Dover as he did his best for those afflicted. Around this time, Will and Gerty moved to a furnished house on the outskirts of Dover, where their only child, Patience, was born.
He was demobilised on 29th January 1919 and returned immediately to Aysgarth to resume his duties as a country doctor. The contrast most have been overwhelming. Since there was no house available for the Pickles when they returned, they lived temporarily at the Palmer Flatt, one of the two Aysgarth inns and then at a succession of rented houses in the village. Dissatisfied with this makeshift arrangement, he decided to build his own house, buying a two-acre field called Town Ends for £200, where he built a comfortable four-bedroomed bungalow, in which the family lived from 1922 to 1952.
Dr. Dean Dunbar, Will's senior partner on his Triumph motorcycle, (courtesy of John Pemberton).
In the days before most people had telephones, a designated house in each village was used to receive a message for the doctor to call. This was usually the Post Office and requests for repeat prescriptions were also handled in this way. The doctors usually did their rounds on horseback: one of the horses was always keen for the journey home and if William wasn’t quick enough, she would set off for home before he was properly seated in the saddle. Local man William Sayer (1896-1986) of Aysgarth was the groom for the doctors until he enlisted into the army (see the Roll of Honour for further details.)
Dunbar had a motorcycle, which he used on some occasions instead of the horse. “Will occasionally combined the railway with the bicycle to carry out his rounds … When Will started in Wensleydale only the main roads were macadamised. The secondary roads to the outlying villages were rough and dusty in the summer and quagmires in the winter.”
During the 1920s Drs. Pickles and Dunbar continued to use horses whilst making house calls. “Sometimes when their own horses were tired after the long day’s round and a man arrived on horseback in the evening from high up on Walden with an urgent message, Will or Dunbar would ride back on the man’s horse and tell him to wait at the surgery. Having examined the patient and made a diagnosis the doctor would ride back on the same horse and make up some medicine which the man would take back. The whole process would take about 5 hours.”
When the horses were sold, they bought a Model T Ford and Gerty learned to drive, becoming Will’s chauffeur. “In 1925 Ralph Blades’ daughter, Madge, became dispenser to the practice and occupied a singularly important place in it for more than forty years.” Madge was also one of Dr.Pickles V.A.D. nurses. [See separate biography of Madge Blades].
The former, Aysgarth Doctors' House, the waiting room and dispensary were in the extension on the left. The consulting room was in the main house, in the first, front downstairs room, (courtesy of Martin Hannon).
The Aysgarth Doctors' Surgery and Dispensary, 1953 (courtesy of The Dales Central Practice, Aysgarth).
As well as treating his patients, Will was interested in studying their ailments and “his book, Epidemiology in Country Practice (1939) contained pioneering work on the incubation periods of common infectious diseases of the time and earned him the reputation of one of the world's leading epidemiologists.”
Dr. William Pickles remained at Aysgarth medical practice for more than fifty years and I think the following comment he made sums up his service to the people of Wensleydale: “And as I watched the evening train creeping up the valley with its pauses at our three stations, a quaint thought came into my head and it was that there was hardly a man, woman or child in all those villages of whom I did not know their Christian name and with whom I was not on terms of intimate friendship. My wife and I say we know most of the dogs and, indeed some of the cats.”
Will and Gerty both died in the same year, 1969, aged 83 and 78, and are buried together in Aysgarth churchyard.
Will and Gerty, 1951, (courtesy of John Pemberton).