Sapper Thomas Jones: A Place to Call Home

A Place to Call Home…
After the story of William Simpson, who appeared on more war memorials than you can shake a stick at (King’s Bromley, Wyrley, Harrison’s Club and the Great Wyrley Methodist Church plaque), I thought I would do the story of Thomas Jones. Normally I start with a name on a local memorial but in this case I can’t, as Thomas doesn’t appear on any of them and hence the name of this article.

I found Thomas when I was doing a general sweep of soldiers on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website that had Landywood or Great Wyrley as their ‘location’. Many soldiers have nothing at all, but several did come up and one of these was Thomas Jones. Jones was described on the website as: ‘Husband of Emily Jones, of 12, Bungalow, Walsall Rd., Great Wyrley, Walsall, Staffs.’

Initially I thought this may have highlighted an error, as there is no Thomas Jones on any local memorial but there was a Thomas James: and my suspicions deepened when I found no war grave on the same site for a Thomas James. However, as I begun to piece together the tragic story of Thomas James, thus proving there was no error, I too looked into the somewhat obscure Thomas Jones and to the reasons as to why he isn’t on the memorial…

Keeping up with the Jones', even the Military struggle with the enigma that is Thomas Jones. 1921. (National Archives)

Keeping up with the Jones’, even the Military struggle with the enigma that is Thomas Jones. 1921.
(National Archives)

Thomas Jones
While Thomas Jones’ war records are damaged and incomplete, they do at least provide the starting point by listing his place of birth as Pendlebury in Lancashire. Today, Pendlebury is a part of Greater Manchester agglomeration being located just north of Salford, but back in 1869, when Thomas was born, it was a separate community with Swinton to the west and Clifton to the North. It was centred on Pendlebury Colliery; Clifton also had a mine.

Thomas signs on at Hednesford, July 1915 - his birth parish is listed as Pendlebury, Lancashire (National Archives)

Thomas signs on at Hednesford, July 1915 – his birth parish is listed as Pendlebury, Lancashire
(National Archives)

Unless I purchase certificates, I can only trace Jones with certainty from 1907. It is amazing just how many Thomas Jones’ are born in the Salford area a year either side of 1869, and it is frightening just how many of them did not reach their first birthday. So, while it isn’t proved there is a good chance that Thomas is, just two years later, found in Bilston, Staffordshire, with his parents William and Mary. It is worth noting that William and Mary originally hailed from Bilston and that William was also a miner, as this would offer a possible explanation as to why Thomas ended-up in Staffordshire and as to why he ended-up down the mines.

1871 census, likely for our Thomas Jones

1871 census, likely for our Thomas Jones  (National Archives)

By 1881 the family appeared to have returned to the Pendlebury area – well, just up the road at Clifton. Thomas is now listed as being born in neighbouring Clifton (where they are living). This in itself isn’t unusual as minor changes to birthplaces are common enough on differing census’, after all they are 10 years apart. There are a number of new siblings: William Henry (10) was born in Sedgley, Staffordshire – adding credence to the fact this is the same family – as they were in Staffordshire 10 years before; Isiah (7) was born in Pendlebury and George (4) and Richard (2) in Wigan. William Jones is clearly an itinerant miner.

Thomas and the two next eldest brothers are described as ‘scholars’. Thomas would have been 5 in 1874. The 1871 Education Act aimed to provide schooling  for children between 5 and 12 through supplementing the existing provision (church and dame schools for example) with the new Board schools; however, attendance at this point was not completely compulsory and you had to pay to attend. Now one thing that is certain is either Thomas Jones was a pretty bad student or more likely he didn’t go to school despite what is on the census, as we know Thomas was illiterate because he could only sign his attestation with a cross in 1915.

The believed 1881 Census for Thomas Jones (National Archives)

The believed 1881 Census for Thomas Jones (National Archives)

Whether this was our Thomas Jones or not, he really sinks further into obscurity until he pops up in the Cannock region around 1906.  He is certainly there in 1907 as he has met Emily Ford, and by the December of that year they have had William Henry together (which was the name of what I think is one of his brothers, William also being his father’s name). In February 1908 the couple married at the Cannock Register Office; Thomas was 40 years of age, while Emily, who was originally from Hednesford, was just 24 (lucky bloke 🙂 )

By 1909 the family had set-up home at 128 Lichfield Rd, New Invention. The family has grown with the addition of a daughter named Florence May on New Year’s Eve, 1909. In 1911 Emily’s brother, George, is stopping with them. He is also a coal miner.  As events moved towards the War, the Jones family had two more children: Violet Maud was born in September 1912 and George Bertram (George is also a brother’s name in our possible family), was born in May 1915 – and would be yet another child that would have absolutely no recollection at all of his father.

1911 census for Thomas Jones, now in New Invention, Short Heath. (National Archives)

1911 census for Thomas Jones, now in New Invention, Short Heath.
(National Archives)

Thomas signed-up on 30th July 1915 and while his attestation states he was 45, he was in fact 47.  His address was given as 128 Brewers Row, New Invention but I suspect this is the same as the 128 Lichfield Rd of 1911 – Brewer’s Row was a row of cottages.

1162

Brewer’s Row, Lichfield Rd. Home of the Jones family prior to his attestation in 1915. (Walsall Local History Centre)

The less than impressive rear of Brewer's Row. Undated (Walsall Local History Centre)

The less than impressive rear of Brewer’s Row. Undated (Walsall Local History Centre)

He wasn’t one of Colonel Harrison’s boys so he wasn’t in the Territorial Force prior to signing-up, in fact he had not served in any capacity in the military before. He registered at Victoria Street, Hednesford, but by the 3rd August 1915 the 5′ 4″ miner was in London. It is from this date that his service was reckoned.

Thomas attests, and signs with a cross (National archives)

Thomas attests, and signs with a cross
(National archives)

Thomas’ basic training lasted less than a month, as on the 28th August he has embarked on the ship to France. He originally appears to have been signed-up as a Tunneller’s Mate, at a rate of 2s 2d a day. Eight Tunneller Companies had been hastily formed in the early months of 1915 in reaction to the initial ‘mining’ attacks by the Germans. Clearly insufficient, more companies were formed throughout 1915 and it is possible Thomas was caught-up in the appeals at home for men to form them.

Thomas joined the 179th Tunnelling Company in September 1915, the company having been formed in France on 2 August. The 179th were assigned to the La Boisselle region on the Somme – indeed, they were to finish the mine that created the Lochnagar crater on the opening day of the battle of the Somme. It is an eerie place to visit.

The chief aim of the the tunneller companies in 1915 was to dig mines under the trenches of the Germans, however, the Germans were doing the same and so a war of nerves was conducted underground – as gut-wrenching as any scene from ‘Das Boot’.  Sound detection devices were employed and the slightest noise at the wrong time could get you, your team and your mine blown to pieces. If enemy workings were detected, a camouflet was set  – that was an explosive device that destroyed their workings (yours too, likely), vaporising some of their tunnellers and entombing many more. Horrific.

Thomas would not live to see Lochnagar. On 24 December 1915 the Company were around Albert in France and Jones was killed in action as his eldest daughter celebrated her 6th birthday on 31 December 1915. His body was never recovered and he was set to become one of the 72,195 names on the Thiepval Memorial. I thought I may glean more information when I viewed the company war diary at the Royal Engineers’ Museum, but all I found was that he was one of two men killed that day. This suggests to me that he was lost to shell-fire rather than a camouflet (as I would have expected this to have been mentioned in the diary).

So, shouldn’t Thomas Jones appear on the Short Heath (New Invention) War Memorial? Well, yes – but he doesn’t.

The Short Heath War Memorial, which covers New Invention - Thomas Jones does not appear. 2014.

The Short Heath War Memorial, which covers New Invention – Thomas Jones does not appear. 2014.

Immediately after his death the military sought clarification as to the next-of-kin regarding the separation allowances. Emily was listed, but with the address of 4 The Rick Yard, Wednesfield. The Rick Yard was found at the junction of High St and Church St, Wednesfield – now where the pedestrian area starts. Indeed, the Lloyd’s Bank car park is pretty much where the road was. It isn’t clear when Emily moved here, or why – the house was empty in 1911, so I can’t trace a relative for example.  As names for war memorials were collected late on, or after the war, the reason why he doesn’t appear on the Short Heath memorial is simply that there was nobody in New Invention to put his name forward.

January 1916, Emily has moved to the Rick Yard, Wednesfield. (National Archives)

January 1916, Emily has moved to the Rick Yard, Wednesfield.
(National Archives)

This would mean that he is on the Wednesfield memorial? Well, no – he isn’t there either.

The Wednesfield Memorial, in St Thomas' Memorial Garden - yards from where Emily was living in 1916. 2014.

The Wednesfield Memorial, in St Thomas’ Memorial Garden – yards from where Emily was living in 1916. 2014.

On 7 January 1916, Thomas Jones was formerly re-mustered as a fully-fledged tunneller – this may have been for pension reasons, a genuine error in the records, or his promotion may have actually started on the day he died. Whatever, this gave Emily and the four children some financial assistance – and we know from July 1916 she was receiving 22s 6d a week.

1st July 1916 - Thomas is re-mustered as a tunneller (National Archives)

7 January 1916 – Thomas is re-mustered as a tunneller
(National Archives)

So, why isn’t Thomas on the Wednesfield memorial? Well, Emily had moved again and the same applies to Wednesfield as to New Invention. It isn’t really clear as to when Emily moved to 6 Harrison’s Buildings on Gorsey Lane, Landywood, but it must be after March 1916, when articles of his property were dispatched to her. By the time his three medals; British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the 1915 Star were dispatched to her, Emily had moved to the address noted by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission – the bungalow on the Walsall Rd, Great Wyrley.

So, is Thomas on the Great Wyrley memorial gates? Well, no. Emily may not have been in Wyrley when the first roll of honour was taken in late 1917, but even if she was, she may have felt that he shouldn’t be on Wyrley’s memorial as he wasn’t living there when he died. Thomas has no grave, the best he has is to be one of the ‘millions of the mouthless dead’ on Thiepval. I am hoping we can do a little better and at least give him a local home, as he seems never really to have had one.

So, where should he be commemorated? I believe, as it was his marital home, birthplace of three of his children and the place he attested from, it should be New Invention – failing that, Wyrley was where his family and his medals came. I will make enquiries.

UPDATE: 12 November 2014.
And so, as I promised, I did make some enquiries. I contacted Walsall Council, supplying the proof as presented in this article. I heard nothing until, like a bolt out of the blue, I had a phone call from W.E. Jones Stonemasons. I was somewhat bewildered until they explained that they were at the Short Heath memorial and needed to know if a Thomas Jones was killed in the first or second world war! Somebody had clearly received my email and acted upon it. He was added at the tail end of last week, in time for Remembrance Sunday.

P1040395

Short Heath war memorial on the night of 12 November 2014, bedecked by poppy tributes to the fallen. This year, Thomas Jones will also me remembered for the first time.

And so I can say at last, from Pendlebury to the midlands, Thomas Jones now has a place to call home.

Sapper Thomas Jones, now added to the memorial. 2014.

Sapper Thomas Jones, now added to the memorial. 2014.

In memory of Thomas Jones, this article is dedicated to my father who would have been 79 today. He remains my inspiration.

My thanks to:
Walsall Local History Centre
National Archives
Walsall Council

Comments
  1. Becca Black says:

    What is the story of Thomas James? Garston Historical Society is researching our local church memorial and there are several names of men who don’t appear on cwgc or sdigw for various reasons plus a few whose names are common so can’t be identified with a particular member of the community.

    • wyrleyblog says:

      Hi Becca, I am hoping Thomas James will be the next soldier covered, but I still have a few things to do yet – and I have to fit the research around the day job!

  2. Becca Black says:

    Your blog is very interesting, my daughter keeps saying I should start a blog about my research but it is all I can do to keep up with researching the soldiers, as we hope to complete the project by September.

  3. angvs72 says:

    A great article, it is satisfying to read about these “rank and file” whose lives would otherwise be lost to history but who are indicative of many thousands more.
    “Some day soon, perhaps in forty years, there will be no one alive who has ever known me. That’s when I will be truly dead – when I exist in no one’s memory. I thought a lot about how someone very old is the last living individual to have known some person or cluster of people. When that person dies, the whole cluster dies,too, vanishes from the living memory. I wonder who that person will be for me. Whose death will make me truly dead?” ― Irvin D. Yalom, Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy

  4. Becca Black says:

    We have now completed our project to memorialize the 227 names on Garston Parish Church memorial apart from 3 men who we have been unable to identify on cwgc and a few more who we’ve identified on cwgc but can’t link to a specific resident of garston due to a common name. The most difficult one was Thomas McHugh of the loyal north lancs who it emerged had served under the alias of John Kenny . My next project is to try and compile a database of men who are not on any f the garston memorials listed on merseyside roll of honour. I have alreadyvcollected some names from newspaper articles and soldiers died in the great war

  5. Cedric Fletcher says:

    What an interesting article about Thomas Jones. On which ever memorial their name is inscribed they should not be forgotten. It does mean I shall have to write an addendum to my book about the names on the New Invention Methodist Church & Lane head Memorials.

    The position Mrs Jones, with a young family, moving from one address to another it is likely she never heard about the memorial being erected at Lane Head in 1925. What is even more surprising is that when he was living in New Invention he was about 200 yards from the local Methodist Church. The memorial plaque in the church (which has now closed) which was unveiled on the 19th April 1920 contains 18 names of local men lost in WW1 but no Thomas Jones. I have a copy of the program for a Memorial Service held at the church on 1st December 1918 which lists all those from the village who served and died in WW1 and yet no one by the name of Jones on the list.

    Re Walsall MBC and their adding the name on the Lane Head Memorial. Being New Invention, Willenhall born and bred I have never had a lot of praise for Walsall MBC yet I must give them credit for the work they have done over later years in renovating local War Memorials in the Borough. Also in 2003 I mentioned to them that the memorial at Lane Head only contained names from WW1. They immediately aggreed to provide an headstone for those lost in WW2. Unfortunately for me I had the task of getting together th e 36 names which are inscribed on it. This memorial which stands immediately behind the WW1 memorial was dedicated on Remembrance Sunday 2003.

    You are right that the house numbers in Brewers Row did form part of Lichfield Road. A dirt track from the main Road led to a row of houses on the left called Sandy Row faced on the right by the houses known as Brewers Row. In your article it should have read that the photo showing the clothes on the line was the back of the houses and the one with the lorry in the background was the front. These photo’s courtesy of Walsall History Soc. would I believe have been taken in the early 1950’s. The house you see over the top of the lorry would be in Moore Road on the Beacon Estate. The roads and sewers for this estate were laid by German prisoners of war brought from a POW camp near Pottal Pool, Cannock after the end of WW2.

  6. Graeme says:

    Hi

    His son was killed in WW2 and is commemorated on the Walsall RoH,

    Graeme

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