Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Thomas Kay

Thomas Kay :

Thomas Kay : Allied Victory Medal

Allied Victory Medal

Thomas was born in around 1893 in Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, Australia. His mother was called Amelia. We don't know his father's name. He had 2 older siblings: Jack and Annie, and 2 younger: James and Emily.

Emily was born in around 1898, and at some point after that the family moved to the UK. By 1911 they were living at 2 Norbury Street in Higher Broughton, Salford. Thomas' father had died by then. We don't know exactly when he died, or whether this was before or after the family moved to the UK.

Amelia had been born in Reddish, on the other side of Manchester, in around 1861. We know she had relatives in the Manchester area in 1919. Jack was older than his siblings, and he stayed in Australia. In 1919 he lived in Melbourne.

In 1911 Thomas worked as a boot salesman. We don't know exactly what his job was. Except for Emily, who was at school, every member of the family had a job.

The First World War broke out in August 1914 and Thomas joined the Manchester Regiment on the 6th February 1915. He became a member of the 8th Battalion. This was a unit of the Territorial Force and before the war it was based in Ardwick, Manchester. As the Army expanded at the beginning of the war the 8th Battalion had formed a second 8th Battalion (2/8th). It also formed a separate training unit called the 3/8th.

When Thomas enlisted he was 5 feet 7 1/4 inches tall and weighed 132 pounds. He was given the service number 3583 when he joined the 3/8th Battalion to begin his training. We don't know how long Thomas spent with the 3/8th Battalion. They moved to Witley in Surrey early in 1916.

After he finished his training Thomas was posted to the 2/8th Battalion. This was based in Colchester, Essex from March 1916 onwards. On the 4th July Thomas was confined to barracks for 7 days for 'not complying with an order'.

The units of the Manchester Regiment that were serving in France during this time had taken heavy casualties during the first few months of the Somme Offensive. They needed reinforcements. Thomas was one of a number of soldiers who left the 2/8th Battalion to join one of these units. He was sent to France on the 27th July and joined the 18th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment in Busnes on the 4th August. The 18th Battalion was not part of the Territorial Force, so Thomas was given a new service number: 44085.

Thomas spent the rest of August behind the lines as a member of a working party. These did all sorts of unglamorous but essential jobs such as moving stores or providing the labour for construction projects. He served in the trenches for the first time between the 3rd and the 8th September, near Festubert. He then spent the rest of September training at Fleselles.

On the 4th October the 18th Battalion moved to Buire-sur-Ancre. The next day Thomas found himself in trouble again. He was charged with 'stealing money the property of a comrade'. After a trial before a Field General Court Martial he was convicted and sentenced to 1 year in prison.

The court martial had been made up of members of the 18th Battalion. The battalion was part of the 90th Brigade, and court martial sentences had to be confirmed by the Brigade commander. He decided that Thomas should not go to prison. On the 7th his sentence was commuted, or reduced, to 84 days Field Punishment Number 1.

Field Punishment Number 1 involved doing hard physical labour, and being tied or handcuffed to a fixed object for up to 2 hours per day, on 3 days out of every 4. It kept a soldier with his unit, so he did not escape the risks his comrades were running, but made his life more uncomfortable than theirs. Thomas only had to endure a few days of it before the 18th Battalion was sent back into the trenches on the 10th.

The battalion was ordered to take part in an attack on several villages near the town of Bapaume. They were called Ligny-Thilloy, Thilloy and Le Sars. The attack began on the afternoon of the 12th October. It was a disaster. The British artillery had not destroyed enough German machine guns or artillery, so they were able to mow down the battalion as it advanced. After spending the night on the battlefield the survivors returned to the British lines on the morning of the 13th.

Thomas was not with them. He was one of around 50 men killed that day, out of an attacking force of around 350. Another 200 were wounded. Thomas was around 24 years old when he died. He is buried in the Australian Imperial Force Cemetery near Flers alongside 1211 other men. His grave reference is IX. L. 3.

After the war, in December 1919, the Army asked Amelia to list the names and addresses of all of Thomas' relatives so that his medals could be sent to the appropriate person. Amelia could not write, instead of a signature on the form, she made 'her mark' (an 'x'). Annie was not listed on the form, which may mean she had died.

James also served in the Manchester Regiment during the First World War. He joined the 6th Battalion on the 1st July 1915. He served with the 1/6th or the 2/6th Battalion until he was discharged as 'no longer physically fit for war service' on the 7th December 1918. He married Doris Hill in Salford, Lancashire between April and June 1922. They had no children. James lived at 2 Norbury Street until he died between October and December 1950 at the age of 56. James' nephew in law remembers that he spoke with 'an Australian accent' his entire life. This suggests that Thomas did too.

James' and Thomas' medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment together in July 2007. As well as their Allied Victory Medals, both brothers also received the British War Medal for their Army service.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
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Telephone: 0161 342 5480
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council