The Pykett family from Ayston suffered more than most during the First World War. Tom Downs Pykett and his elder brother Arthur and younger brother Harry all went off to fight. Tom and Harry were killed, Arthur survived. Two of their cousins, Frank and James Pykett, also living in Ayston were killed as well. Tom was the middle son of George and Amelia Pykett. The family was originally from Exton, and Tom was born in Wardley. The family later moved to Ayston closer to their cousins who were already living there. Tom was a carrier's assistant before the war. He joined up on 31 March 1916, and served in France with the 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment, where he was killed in action on the morning of the 15 September during the Battle of the Somme. The Leicestershire's were part of 71st Infantry Brigade which took part in an ambitious attack aimed at capturing Morval, Lesbouefs, Gueudecourt and Flers. The battalion war diary described what happened: "At about 5.50am two enemy aeroplanes appeared above us but did not stay long. About this time also a tank was noticed on our right moving quietly up to the enemy's front line. On arriving there he immediately opened fire with his machine guns enfilading the German trenches on either side. He was very heavily fired on by the enemy's machine guns which apparently had no effect." Zero hour was fixed for 6.20am. "The leading Companies advanced at the walk at 30 yards distance between lines. A heavy machine gun was immediately opened by the enemy. The support Companies followed in the same formation 300 yards in rear of last wave of leading Company." Things were beginning to go wrong. "The mist and smoke was terribly thick and allowed no observation by support Companies and Battalion HQ as to exactly what was happening...throughout the advance the battalion suffered very heavily from machine gun fire...and held up by very strong and undamaged wire in front of Quadrilateral [a German strong point]." The attack petered out and eventually the Leicestershires were forced to withdraw with casualties of 14 officers and 410 men killed and wounded, including four others from Rutland. Tom has no known grave and today is remembered on Pier 3A of the Thiepval Memorial and also on the war memorial inside the church at Ayston.
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