Mrs Emily Ada Pickford (Lena Ashwell's Concert Party, Y.M.C.A) Died 7th. February 1919. Buried Abbeville Community Cemetery Extension Plot V, Row G, Grave 23.
Occasionally, you find a name of a civilian on a War Memorial, but when you find one who is a civilian, and a woman, and you discover that she did not die until 7th. February 1919, you begin to suspect that this might be an interesting story. One of the names on the memorial in Alexandra Park, Penarth, is Emily Ada Pickford, and when we first spotted it we thought that she could have been a nurse, and that she might have died in the ‘flu pandemic, but we uncovered quite a different story.
Emily was a well respected teacher of music and elocution, and a popular Sunday School Teacher at Tabernacle chapel. She had been born Emily Ada Pearn, the daughter of Mr William Pearn, a self-employed baker and confectioner, and his wife Emma, who lived at the Temperance Bar, 81, Glebe St., Penarth, where they sold soft drinks and sweets. She had three younger brothers, Thomas, William and Albert, and despite being described as "cast in a fragile mode" she was a tireless worker for charitable causes.
In 1907, when Emily was 25, she married Mr. Ernest E. Pickford, a member of another well known local family, who was later to become the co-owner of the "Penarth Times", and they set up home at 101, Windsor Rd., Penarth.. As was customary for musicians at the time, she was usually referred to as "Madame Pickford", and as such she won prizes for her performances at the Eisteddfod as well as conducting the Penarth Ladies’ Choir. During the war, Emily and her husband conducted many popular concerts at the Lavernock Camp, and at the end of the war she and her pupils toured the hospitals, giving over 500 concerts for wounded soldiers and raising over £300 for local charities.
On a number of occasions she had been a member of Miss Lena Ashwell’s Concert Parties which for four years had been touring the Western Front in groups of 6 or 7 to entertain the troops and is said that her performances were very well received. Today they would probably be entertained by the likes of Claire Sweeney or Geri Halliwell, but entertainment at the time of the Great War had rather more to do with being spiritually uplifted, and tended to be organised by the Y.M. C.A. Miss Ashwell, a well known actress and worker for women’s rights, who was later to become Lady Simpson, had enlisted the help of Princess Helena Victoria to set up organised entertainments for the troops, and from 1915-1919 she had raised £100,000 to pay for them. The concert parties usually consisted of a soprano, contralto, tenor and bass as well as an instrumentalist and an entertainer. Once the war was over there were thousands of troops left in France, kicking their heels and waiting for their de-mob, and you know that for them a concert must have been a welcome diversion, especially when you read that the army’s idea of relieving the monotony was to send them lecturers to speak on such thrilling subjects as "Re-enlisting" and "The purpose of the Service of the Divisional Advisory Board"!
On a cold February night in 1919, Emily Pickford was in France, one of a party of 7 of Miss Ashwell’s entertainers, who had put on a concert at Guoy. They had been in France for a week and were due to return to their base at Abbeville, a journey that was organised by the ventriloquist, Mr Tom Burrows, who was in charge of the group. Two cars had been provided for the journey, which involved driving on the tow-path alongside the River Somme.
Emily joined Miss Jean Nolan and the baritone, Frederick Vincent Taylor in the first car, while Miss Violet Shirley, Miss Blanche Napier, and Miss Helen Young were to follow in the second car with Tom Burrows. In a letter that he sent home, this is how Tom Burrows described the tragic end of the evening.
"I was about to jump in when I heard the other car start, and to my horror saw it slide over the icy bank into the river Somme. I heard Mr Taylor call ‘Help me, I cannot swim !’ It was very dark and none of the men present seemed to realize at first what had happened. I got nearer to the edge of the water, where I saw Miss Nolan almost exhausted, and I was able to reach out over the river. Fortunately, a soldier who had jumped into the water, assisted her to the bank. Mme. Pickford was never heard nor seen again, and Mr Taylor was lost from view after his pathetic appeal for help." He went on to say that the driver of the car, whom he doesn’t name, was rescued, and that the explanation of the accident seemed to be that the car had skidded on an awkward corner due to the ice on the road and had tipped over into the river. Emily’s family believe that the truth was that the driver was drunk.
Miss Ashwell, whose Concert Parties had survived the war years without any mis-hap, was extremely upset at the deaths and visited Emily’s family in Penarth to express her concern. Emily Pickford and Frederick Taylor are buried alongside each other in Abbeville Communal Extension Cemetery. There is a note in the CWGC Register giving Mr. Taylor’s age as 29, and his parents, Herbert E and Alice J. Taylor of Hornsey, London, have supplied the information that he was unable to serve in the war owing to a physical disability. Emily’s entry gives the names of her parents and her husband and says that she was aged 38.
Emily’s death was a great shock to all who had known her. Her husband received over 200 letters of condolence in the weeks following the accident, including one from Princess Helena Victoria. Sympathy was also expressed by the Cardiff Exchange, Glamorgan English Baptist Association, Tabernacle Chapel Sunday School and Band of Hope, Stanwell Road Baptist Church, the Primitive Methodist Church at Abertillery, several Good Templar lodges and the Penarth District Choir. Memorial services were held in the Y.M. C.A. huts in France and the church at Abbeville as well as in Tabernacle, Penarth.
Penarth has also remembered her on its war memorial, where she appears among the "Men of Penarth who died for their country in the Great War" because hers was one more tragic death that, by a strange quirk of fate, resulted from that conflict.
Back to home page