THOMAS WALSH

Private 306532, 2nd/7th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment

Died 3 May 1917 aged 32

Son of Michael and Mary Walsh

Buried in Ecoust Military Cemetery, Ecoust-Saint-Mien, Pas de Calais, France


Thomas was born on 3 February 1886, the eldest son of Michael and Mary Walsh (née Gallagher).  His parents were married on 26 January 1885 at St Patrick’s Church (later Holy Spirit) in Heckmondwike.  Thomas was baptised there on 21 February 1886 and confirmed on 4 September 1904.  Michael was originally from County Sligo; Mary was from County Mayo.

In 1891 living in Royle Fold Heckmondwike were Michael and Mary; Thomas; Anthony aged 4; Kate aged 2 and new born Mary; together with five adult lodgers.  Still in Royle Fold in 1901 a son Martin aged 2 had been added to the family.  But of the total of 8 children born to the Walsh parents just 3 were still living by 1911: sons Thomas, Anthony and Martin.  We know that sadly both Thomas and Anthony were killed in France in 1917 and the evidence available at this point suggests that the youngest son Martin had died in 1915, aged around 16.

Thomas enlisted on 6 March 1915 and would have trained with the Battalion in Thoresby Park near Ollerton and other camps in England before eventually moving to Bedford on 2 November 1916.  There the Battalion continued their rifle and light machine gun training on the firing range.  The war diary author thought it important enough to record that the training included firing both those weapons ‘from the hip’, perhaps in the hope that future battles might be more mobile in nature.  On 15 January 1917 at 6.00am the soldiers went by train from Bedford to Southampton, sailing for Le Havre at 3.30pm that day.  After a series of train journeys and marches the Battalion arrived at Bus-les-Artois north west of Albert on the Somme on 23 January 1917.

The war diary shows that the Battalion’s first experience in the trenches came on 7 and 8 February 1917 ‘for 24 hour instruction’ near Hebuterne before returning to their huts at Bus.  The weather remained ‘exceedingly cold with hard frosts’.  There was a ‘plague of rats in the billets, the Medical Officer being bitten whilst asleep’.  After a thaw on 15 February 1917 ‘everything was as sticky as could be, mud very bad’.  There were ‘no trenches at all’ just a ‘line of posts in shell holes’.  ‘Conditions could not have been worse, consistently shelled but the men quite cheery’.  That situation continued for the next weeks as the Battalion trained for a forthcoming attack which was to take place over ground which was broadly that of the Somme battlefield of July 1916.

Then one sentence in the war diary for 17 March 1917 reveals the dramatic changes to come for the Battalion: ‘Company patrols failed to get in touch with the enemy’.  Largely undetected, the Germans had been preparing new defensive lines some miles to their rear.  This entry in the Battalion war diary is one of the very first indications that the German withdrawal to the new Hindenburg Line was taking place.

Soon the Battalion had moved forward to the new German line near Ecoust-Saint-Mien south east of Arras.  At 3.37am on 3 May 1917 the Battalion, with 14 officers and 430 ‘other ranks’ together with other Regiments advanced towards the Hindenburg Line near the ruins of the village of Hendecourt.  But the artillery barrage had fallen short, the wire had been only partially demolished and the machine gun fire was very heavy.  Some soldiers did enter the German lines, but then had to fall back to a line of shell holes.  One group of soldiers was seen by an aeroplane to be through the first and second trenches, but none of them returned.  The action ceased around 9.30pm with survivors back in their original positions.  In total around 300 soldiers from the battalion were casualties.  Thomas Walsh was killed that day.

On Saturday 12 May 1917 Mr and Mrs Walsh received a letter from a chaplain with news of the death of Thomas.  He wrote that Thomas had ‘fallen on the field of battle.  He was brought back to Battalion headquarters unconscious and so badly wounded that he expired in a few moments.’

Mary Walsh was sent her son’s outstanding pay and allowances of £4 5s 4d in June 1917; the War Gratuity of £4 was sent in October 1919.  Thomas, who never married, was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal.  Another Heckmondwike man in the Battalion, Frederick de-Forge Bartle, was killed in the same action.  There are three others remembered in the Memorial book all with the Walsh surname: Edward, James and William, all lived in Royle Fold and all survived the war.  It has not yet been possible clearly to establish any family link.
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