HERBERT W THOMAS 1895 - 1916 - A SOLDIER FROM SPRING HILL SHEFFIELD

In June 201l I accessed the 1911 Census to find out about the people and families who lived in Spring Hill one hundred years previously. In the course of compiling the information I came across this family who were living at 33 Spring Hill Sheffield

SURNAME Age Rel Occupation Place of Birth
John Henry Bingley Thomas 44 Head Drysalter Sheffield Yorkshire
Gertrude Harriet Thomas 45 Wife   Sheffield Yorkshire
Ellen Marjorie Thomas 19 Daughter Student Teacher Sheffield Yorkshire
Marion Kathleen Thomas 17 Daughter   Sheffield Yorkshire
Herbert William Thomas 15 Son Grocers Errand Boy Sheffield Yorkshire

Name Herbert William Thomas Relationship to Head of Household Son Condition Single Gender Male Age 15 Estimated Year of Birth 1896 Occupation Errand Boy Employed Y Working at Home N Industry Grocer's Errand Boy Place of Birth Yorkshire

Sheffield Enumerator Information Address 33 Spring Hill Sheffield Parish Ecclesall Town Sheffield Type of Building Private House Number of Rooms 5 Inhabited Yes Reference RG14PN27737 RG78PN1588 RD509 SD2 ED17 SN173 Administrative County Yorkshire (West Riding) Registration District Ecclesall Bierlow Registration Sub District Ecclesall West Central Enumeration District 17

1901 Census

Name Herbert William Thomas
Relation to Head of Family Son
Age Last Birthday 5 Sex Male
Profession or Occupation Juvenile
Where Born Yorkshire Sheffield Address 235 School Rd Civil Parish Nether Hallam Rural District Town or Village or Hamlet Sheffield
Ecclesiastical Parish St Thomas Crookes Parliamentary Borough or Division Hallam County Borough, Municipal Borough or Urban District Sheffield Administrative County Sheffield Ward of Municipal Borough or Urban District Nether Hallam

The only interesting point of note is that Herbert's father John Henry Bingley Thomas's occupation is listed as being a self employed architect and surveyor. There is also a servant living at the property, Out of curiosity I checked the 1891 Census and found the following information

Name John Thomas
Age 24 Estimated Year of Birth 1867
Relationship to Head of Household Head
Occupation Architect & Surveyors Assistant
Address 45, Sydney Road District Ecclesall Bierlow, Nether Hallam Parish Nether Hallam Administrative County Yorkshire (West Riding)
Birth Place Sheffield Birth County Yorkshire

The couple were married a year earlier

Surname First name(s) District Vol Page
Marriages Mar 1890 MIDDLETON Gertrude Harriet Ecclesall B. 9c 336 THOMAS John Henry B

It seems that in the period 1901 - 1911 John must have experienced some problems in his career and had no option but to leave the profession. His occupation in the 1911 Census is given as a "dry-salter" - a dealer in a range of chemical products, including glue, varnish, dye and colourings. They might supply salt or chemicals for preserving food and sometimes also sold pickles, dried meat or related items. 

On the face of it just a normal family but I had the feeling that tragedy was going to befall them - a fifteen year old only son in 1911 means that he would have either been enlisted or conscripted to fight for his country in the 1914-1918 war. A check on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Roll of Honour revealed that Herbert was a fatality in the war   

Name: THOMAS, HERBERT WILLIAM
Rank: Private
Regiment/Service: King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
Unit Text: 7th Battalion.
Age: 21
Date of Death: 07/10/1916
Service No: 18822
Additional information: Son of John and Gertrude Thomas, of 37, Spring Hill, Sheffield.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Pier and Face 11 C and 12 A. Memorial: THIEPVAL MEMORIAL

A check on the Great War Forum gave a summary of Herbert's Battalion and Regiment's movements

7th (Service) Battalion was Formed at Pontefract on 12 September 1914  as part of the Army Orders authorising Kitchener's Second New Army, K2 and attached to 61st Brigade in 20th (Light) Division. Early days were somewhat chaotic, the new volunteers having very few trained officers and NCOs to command them, no organised billets or equipment. The units of the Division first assembled in the Aldershot area with brigades at Blackdown, Deepcut and Cowshott. Artillery was particularly hard to come by; 12 old guns arrived from India in February 1915! When in the same month the Division moved to Witley (7th), Godalming and Guildford, the artillery had to go by train as there was insufficient harness for the horses. Another move was made, to Salisbury Plain (7th) in April 1915.

The Division was inspected by King George V at Knighton Down on 24 June 1915, by which time all equipment had arrived and the Division was judged ready for war.
24 July 1915 : landed at Boulogne  - On 26 July 1915 the Division completed concentration in the Saint-Omer area, all units having crossed to France during the preceding few days. Early trench familiarisation and training took place in the Fleurbaix area. The Division served on the Western Front for the remainder of the war, taking part in many of the significant actions:
1916
The Battle of Mount Sorrel, a local operation in which the Division recaptured the height with the Canadians
The Battle of Delville Wood*
The Battle of Guillemont*
The Battle of Flers-Courcelette*
The Battle of Morval*
The Battle of Le Transloy*
The battles marked * are phases of the Battles of the Somme 1916

There are a few references in the book "The Somme-the day by day account" by Chris McCarthy. 20 Division first appears in the account from 22 August 1916, slightly west of Martinpuich. They were at the Battle of Guillemont (3-6 Sept), Flers-Courcelette (15-22 Sept) and Transloy Ridge (1-18 Oct).

As Herbert was killed on 7th October 1916, it seems as though he was a casualty in the The Battle of Le Transloy. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission amongst others notes that

"The Battle of Le Transloy was the final offensive mounted by the British Fourth Army during the 1916 Battle of the Somme.

With the successful conclusion of the preceding Battle of Morval at the end of September, the Fourth Army of Lieutenant General Henry Rawlinson had finally captured the third line of German defences on the Somme. Unfortunately, while there had only been three lines at the start of the Somme battle in July, the Germans had not been idle during the slow Allied advance and Rawlinson's army was now confronted by a fourth line of defences along the Transloy ridge beyond which fifth and sixth lines were under construction. The prospect of a breakthrough was as distant as ever.

Nevertheless, the British commander-in-chief, General Sir Douglas Haig, still had plans to achieve a breakthrough involving his three armies on the Somme; the Fourth Army in the south, the Reserve Army (later the Fifth Army) in the centre and the Third Army of General Edmund Allenby in the north. The first step was the capture of the Transloy line by the Fourth Army. 

The battle, which opened on 1 October, began well with the capture of Eaucourt L'Abbaye by the 47th (1/2nd London) Division as well as an advance along the Albert-Bapaume road towards Le Sars. The advance was resumed on 7 October and Le Sars was taken by the British 23rd Division but progress along the Canadian lines stalled.

The weather was rapidly deteriorating and the battlefield, which had been pummelled to dust by relentless artillery bombardment over the preceding three months, turned into a quagmire. Rawlinson mounted further attacks on 12 October including the Newfoundlanders at Gueudecourt, 18 October and 23 October but there was little chance of a significant gain. The last throe (which by now included the Australian forces of the I Anzac Corps), came on 5 November despite protests from some corps commanders who believed continued attacks to be futile."

More specific comments was made about the advances

"In dreadful battlefield conditions a second advance was made on 7 October by six Divisions (one of which was 20 Div ,which contained 7 KOYLI), and resulted in heavy British casualties"

" .. an advance on III Corps entire front was launched, after a seven-hour bombardment, at 3.15pm on 1 October. The attack met fierce German resistance and it was not until the afternoon of 3 October that the objectives were secured. Rawlinson’s follow-up attack was delayed by atrocious weather. Starting at 1.45pm on 7 October the advance involved six divisions and resulted in heavy British casualties and little success except for 23rd Division's capture of Le Sars. Continuous rain during the night hampered the removal of casualties and further forward moves."

Putting it all together, it looks as though Herbert life was sacrificed like tens of thousands of others in a vain attempt to secure a breakthrough on the Western Front. Like previously the British commander-in-chief, General Sir Douglas Haig and his generals ignored the ground conditions, the weather, and the German defences and just mounted a series of attacks that were becoming mere exercises in futility.

Herbert does not have a known grave - his body was never found and so he is listed alongside another 71.193 soldiers on the THIEPVAL MEMORIAL TO THE MISSING OF THE SOMME.

Herbert also appears on .the Roll of Honour at St Thomas Church, Crookes. Sheffield

There was also this small notice that was placed in the Yorkshire Telegraph and Star dated 19th October 1916. 

The only and dearly loved son of John and Gertrude was known as Billie

As for his parents John and Gertrude they did remain in Spring Hill. The 1911 census has the family living at 33, but Herbert's notice on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Roll of Honour has his parents living at 37 Spring Hill. They did in fact move after 1913  and remained in the house for many years. His father John Henry Bingley Thomas appears on the Burgess Rolls (Register of Electors for the year 1929 - 1930 (Hallam Division) as living at 37 Spring Hill. And the Kelly's Directory for the year 1944 still lists a Gertrude Harriet Thomas as living at number 37. Gertrude was 78 at the time of the entry but sadly two years later she died

Deaths Mar 1946 Thomas Gertrude H 80 Sheffield Volume 9c Page434 

Ten years later in 1954 the Electoral Rolls for the year still show John Henry Bingley Thomas living there with a Ellen M which is his daughter Ellen Marjorie (see 1911 Census)  

Given my connection with the family, I would be delighted to hear from anyone who has additional information

Sources

1891 - 1911 Census

THIEPVAL MEMORIAL TO THE MISSING OF THE SOMME.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The Great War Forum

Yorkshire Telegraph and Star dated 19th October 1916. 

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This page was last updated on 25/03/15 09:36