Photograph of Tommy in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MRP/10/041
(L to R) British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal; General Service Medal 1918-62 with clasp 'Iraq'; 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal; Efficiency Medal
Thomas was born on the 5th May 1899 at 15 Aspden Street in Ancoats, Manchester. His father was called Henry Francis and his mother was Sarah Ann. He had an older brother called William H. and 4 younger siblings: Sarah Ann, Henry F., John A. and Nellie. The family had lost two other children by 1911. He was always known as Tommy to his comrades, so this is what we will call him.
Tommy was born into poverty. As he put it: 'In our family, including me mother and father, there was 10 of us. There was not one of us children born in the same house. Every 18 months we moved house, sometimes to get rid of the landlord when we couldn't pay the rent.'
Henry worked as a carter in 1901, and the family lived at Number 1 house in Number 2 Court, off Store Street, near what is now Manchester Piccadilly Railway Station. The house did not have electricity, gas or its own water. There was a water pump in the courtyard, and 'the toilets was at the back of the houses, back of the square court, and they was long wooden huts with partitions. Under seats there was running water and everything went away with it'. By 1911 Tommy and his family lived at 2 Paris Street in Ardwick. Henry was a general labourer.
The First World War broke out in August 1914 and Tommy joined the Manchester Regiment on the 26th July 1915. He became a member of the 23rd Battalion, with the service number 28554. We can only assume he had lied about his age in order to enlist, because he was discharged as 'under age' on the 20th December. He found civilian work as a labourer.
Tommy tried again on the 1st May 1917, just 4 days before his 18th birthday. This time he was successful and joined the 48th Training Reserve Battalion at Prees Heath in Shropshire. His service number was TR/4/2802. When he enlisted he was 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 105 pounds. He had a 'pale' complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. He was slightly bow-legged and had acne.
Later Tommy was transferred to the 72nd Training Reserve Battalion, also at Prees Heath, and then the 217th Graduated Battalion at Kinmel Park in North Wales, where he was given the service number 14813. On the 27th October this became the 51st (Graduated) Battalion of the King's (Liverpool Regiment). It was based at Fermoy in County Cork, Ireland.
Tommy arrived in France on the 1st April 1918. We believe he joined the 2/6th (Rifle) Battalion of the King's. The Rifle term meant that instead of holding the rank of Private, Tommy was a Rifleman. He had been given the service number 94926. Before the end of the month he needed hospital treatment for scabies. After entering hospital on the 23rd Tommy was back with his unit by the 1st May.
The Allies launched a series of attacks, beginning in early August 1918, that became known as the Hundred Days Offensive. Tommy took part in this, he fought in the Second Battle of Arras in late August and the Battle of Cambrai between the 8th and 10th October, as well as the final advance in the Artois region that brought the war to an end on the 11th November.
Tommy seems to have avoided being wounded during this period of intense fighting. He needed treatment for impetigo on 3 separate occasions during August and September though.
By the 6th March 1919 Tommy was back in Manchester. On this day he was admitted to hospital suffering from influenza. He was one of the victims of the flu pandemic that spread around the globe during this period. It is estimated to have infected up to 1/3 of the world's population and killed between 20 and 50 million people. Young, fit adults such as Tommy were most vulnerable to this outbreak.
Tommy was treated at Number 2 Western General Hospital in Manchester. He recovered and was discharged from hospital on the 28th May. As the war was now over the Army was demobilising thousands of war veterans. It still needed soldiers though, so the Army offered cash bounties to men willing to volunteer to stay in the Army. It is likely that Tommy took advantage of this offer.
On the 23rd June Tommy was 'discharged to re-enlist' in the Manchester Regiment. He was given his old service number: 28554. Later that year he joined the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment at Tipperary in Ireland. They were sent to Mesopotamia, now Iraq, on the 13th February 1920.
Between April and July the Battalion was based in Tikrit, they then moved to Hillah. Many of the soldiers in Iraq were inexperienced and were not fully trained on all the Battalion's weaponry. Many of the men who had served in the First World War had already been demobilised. Tommy's experience will undoubtedly have been helpful to him and his comrades.
On the 24th July 1920 the Battalion was around 20 miles outside Hillah when it was attacked by Arab tribesmen. They held off the Arabs until nightfall, and then D Company was ordered to hold position to allow the rest of the Battalion to get away. Tommy escaped back to Hillah, but 79 of his comrades were captured by the Arabs. They were released in October.
Tommy and the 2nd Battalion left Mesopotamia on Boxing Day 1920 and moved to Kamptee in India. He was given the new service number 3512717. At some point he returned to the UK, and was discharged at the 'termination of his engagement' on the 31st March 1922.
Tommy's character was assessed as 'very good' when he was discharged. He went to live in Ancoats, although we don't know exactly where. By May 1924 he lived at 37 Caroline Street Dwellings, off Great Hancock Street in Ancoats. We don't know what job he had as a civilian.
On the 20th August 1928 Tommy rejoined the Manchester Regiment. He became a member of the 8th Battalion, a Territorial Army unit based at Ardwick. This meant he kept his civilian job and trained as a soldier during the evening and at weekends.
After 4 years Tommy left the 8th Battalion. He must have missed it though, as he rejoined on the 21st November 1934. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on the 21st January 1936.
During this time there were 6 members of the 8th Battalion who had served in Iraq in 1920. Of these men, the medals of Tommy and of George Gunn are in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection.
Tommy was still serving when the Second World War broke out in September 1939. The 8th Battalion was called into service and began training at their drill hall. After further training at Marlborough in Wiltshire, on the 23rd April 1940 the 8th Battalion was sent to France. The Battalion did not join the British Expeditionary Force that was preparing for a German attack; it continued on to Gibraltar for a brief period and arrived in Malta on the 20th May.
Malta was vital to the British forces in North Africa, especially once Italy declared war in June 1940. It soon came under air attack. Tommy and the 8th Battalion were originally sent to help defend the island against an invasion, but they soon found themselves busy building shelters for people and aircraft, as well as repairing the damage caused by air raids.
Malta was soon under siege, which meant that as well as constant air raids ships carrying supplies could not always reach the island. Food and clothing were in particularly short supply.
By the end of 1942 the Germans were retreating in North Africa. They were less able to spare aircraft to attack Malta and by the end of November the siege had effectively been lifted. The 8th Battalion left Malta for Egypt on the 27th August 1943.
At some point around the end of 1943 Tommy left the 8th Battalion. They were preparing to join the war in Italy, and he was too old for the demands of frontline fighting. The rest of his war is a mystery, although we know he eventually reached the rank of Sergeant. He was released from the Army on the 23rd October 1945, after the end of the war. Again, we don't know what job he went back to.
Tommy joined the 8th Battalion Old Comrade's Association (OCA) in order to keep in touch with his friends. He was one of the men who represented the battalion at the new Queen Elizabeth's Ex-Servicemen's Royal Review in Hyde Park, London on the 5th July 1953. In 1955 he was elected to the Committee of the OCA, at the same time as Norman Marsden, whose medals are also in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection.
As the years passed Tommy continued to be a recognised and respected figure in the OCA. He became the Honorary Treasurer, although we don't know when, and was a regular attendee at remembrance ceremonies and the 'turning of the leaves'. This was a simple ceremony, held every 2 weeks, in the Manchester Regiment Chapel in Manchester Cathedral. The Chapel contains books holding the names of all the men of the Regiment lost during the 2 world wars. During the ceremony the pages of these books are turned. Tommy and Norman Marsden were two of the veterans who continued to take part in this ceremony well into the 1980s. The photograph shows Tommy at the Chapel on the 11th November 1983.
Tommy celebrated his 90th birthday in May 1989 by taking a hot air balloon ride. He died later that month on the 29th. We don't know whether Tommy had ever married or had children, but many of his family attended his funeral, along with a large number of his friends from the OCA. He was cremated on the 6th June, and his ashes were buried in the grounds of Manchester Cathedral on the 19th July.