Tracing A Cannock Tommy: The Thomas Bradley Williams Story

Due to my finger being in a splint, I thought I would continue to write smaller articles for the time being; I also thought I would continue with answering some of the more interesting questions posed by Blog followers – well, ones that may have a wider appeal for one reason or another. This article returns the Blog to the Cannock area and to the First World War period, but what turned out to be a straight-forward question actually, in my view, has opened the door on an interesting piece of general social history and has also offered a solution to a personal mystery on the Cannock war memorial.

Cannock War Memorial, Market Place. 2015.

The question came from another long-time Blog follower, Brian Holmes: ‘Evening mate… I’m trying to trace a soldier ancestor of mine: Thomas Bradley from Cannock, born 1898. I’ve found a Thomas Bradley from Cannock, Regimental No 300719, who was killed-in-action in the Middle East Campaign on 1st May 1918, but I can’t seem to find him on any of the Cannock war memorials – I was wondering if you had come across him during your research?’

The Cannock St Luke’s memorial tablet for the fallen in the First World War, which does include a Tommy Bradley of sorts. 2017.

I hadn’t come across him. I thought I would do a few quick checks for Brian’s benefit, after which I fully expected after to come out with the likely reason for him not being on a memorial was that the family simply did not put forward his name for inclusion, or they may have moved away and his name possibly appears on the local memorial there. As I started to investigate, and the story unfolded, I discovered that there was more to it than I thought and I became convinced that he was on one memorial in Cannock at least – that of Cannock St Luke’s – but was also, although written erroneously, on the main memorial located in the High Street.

Now You See Me – Now You Don’t: Bradley, Bradeley and Williams
Thomas Bradley is a bit of an enigma, but I think this is due more to the circumstances of his of birth, and the complexities that surrounded it at the time, than any attempt to mask him as such: simply put, Thomas Bradley was born out of wedlock – which doesn’t mean that he was unloved – and which was something that was as commonplace then as it is today. Having researched all of the First World War fallen from Great Wyrley, several proved to be born out of wedlock, however, they were clearly raised in loving homes as their obituaries testify.

The view that back in 1898 such things often carried a judgemental and somewhat hypocritical element of social stigma and shame is illustrated by the fact that single women would often go away for confinement and the children would often be raised with grandparents. Further, under the 1913 Mental Defectives Act (and mental health was equally hushed-up) people could find themselves institutionalised for ‘moral’ behaviour, and increasingly it seemed that abused women and unmarried mothers ended up in asylums (colonies) – and in some cases I found, for life.

If one looks at his Commonwealth War Grave entry of 1 May 1918, as Brian said, it states that Thomas is the stepson of James and Emma Williams, 195 St John’s Road, Cannock. By the use of the word ‘stepson’, it gives the impression that Thomas was the son of Emma, who was likely a Bradley before she married James Williams. Well, he was not: James Williams proved to be his father, as we shall discover, but his mother turned out to be a Mary Bradley from West Chadsmoor.

It seemed at first that Mary Bradley and, in fact, the entire Bradley family were equally as much of an enigma as her son – this was until I discovered that the surname of Bradley and Bradeley were completely interchangeable with this family (though I will stick to Bradley for ease). Her parents were Thomas Bradley and Eliza Buckley, who were both from Shropshire: Thomas was from Cleehill and Eliza from Madeley. If they had not met before, the couple at least had married in the Cannock area in 1873. Their first child – Thirza – was born in 1875; their second – Julia – the following year; their third – Mary – was born in 1878; and Emma, possibly their last child, was born in late 1881.

In early 1881, the family were living in John Street, Cannock. Thomas Bradley is interestingly, and exotically, listed as a ‘Marine Store Dealer’: my understanding of this ‘profession’ is that it either sold equipment to mariners – although I think this would more likely be bargees than mariners, it being Cannock 🙂 – or that is was little more than a glorified junk collector. By 1891 the family had moved to West Chadsmoor. Thomas Bradley had become a coal miner, presumably in one of the local pits, and Mary and Emma were described as being at school. Thirza, I think, has left home and is working as a domestic in Leicester, whereas Julia was working for a grocer in Hanley.

Thomas Bradley died in 1894 and the family began to break-up further. Eliza returned to Madeley to live with or visit Noah, her unmarried brother, before returning to Cannock to marry grocer Charles Keeling in 1903. She passed away in 1923. Thirza married Elihu Hill in Cannock in 1896, she lived in the Cannock area with her family until her death in 1957. Julia married a Thomas Rowley, and she too remained living in the Cannock area with her family until her death in 1929. Emma married Albert Summers in 1917, she passed away in 1953, also in the Cannock area.

Brian states that Thomas Bradley was born in 1898 and there is both a birth certificate – issued in the December quarter of 1898 under the name of Thomas Bradeley – and a baptism entry under the name of Thomas Bradley, for Cannock St Luke’s, on 7 December 1898. Whatever the circumstances at the time, and it was only Mary’s name on the baptism entry, it seems that Mary was not shy in registering Thomas’ birth locally.

Thomas’ baptism at Cannock St Luke’s on 7 December 1898. (Findmypast)

Whatever the arrangements were at Thomas’ birth, within a short while he would be living with his father. While this could be seen as an abandonment of Thomas by his mother, I think there were very practical reasons for this: firstly, I said before that many children were left to be raised by grandparents, but as Mary’s family had started to fracture even before the death of her father in 1894, I don’t think there was anyone in her family that could raise the child. Secondly, Mary moved away, becoming a domestic for a butcher in Shifnal, but before she is accused of running away you have to remember that she may have had no family home in Cannock and leaving to get domestic work, which is only what her two elder sisters did, would be seriously impinged with a young child.

So, in 1901 Thomas Bradley is living with his father, James Williams. James was the son of Thomas Williams, who was born in Cannock in 1854, and Isabella Moore, who was born in Stafford in 1857 (but later moved to Wheaton Aston). The couple married in the Cannock area in 1875, and James would be one of eleven children – all of which survived infancy. In 1881 the couple were living on the Walsall Road with their first three children: Mary Ann, Thomas and James (born in 1879). Four more children (Maria, Jane, Lizzie and Samuel), had been born by the time the family are recorded in Mill Street, Cannock, in 1891.

1901 Census for James Williams and son, Thomas Bradbury. (Findmypast)

The 1901 census return is interesting: the family have moved to the Old Penkridge Road and while Mary and Maria have left the home, not only have three more children been born (Ada, Charlie and Arthur), but Thomas Bradley is also residing there and, in fact, he is older than his Uncle Arthur! This makes a household of eleven persons in all – twelve when Laura, the last child, was born in 1902. Thomas is a lamp cleaner in the coal mines, and Thomas junior and James have also headed to the mines – although both work above ground.

1901 Census for James Williams and son, Thomas Bradbury. (Findmypast)

James Williams had left the family home on the Old Penkridge Road by April 1911, by which time only seven were remaining in the house. James and his son, now named Thomas Williams, were lodging with the Pearce family in Mill Street, Cannock. James has left the mine and is now a coachman for a grocer, whereas young Thomas is still at school – in the ‘higher grade’.

1911 census showing James, and the now Thomas Williams, lodging in Mill St, Cannock. (Findmypast)

James and Thomas would not be residing with the Pearce family for much longer, as James married Emma Lloyd a few months later. Emma was born in 1877, in Cannock, and was the daughter of a tailor. In 1911, she was acting as housekeeper to her sister’s family in St John’s Road, Cannock, but not long after their marriage they would be living at 26 Walsall Road. The couple would have a daughter, Dorothy, in early 1914.

We don’t know when Thomas left school, but we do know he ended-up working with his father at the East Cannock Colliery. The East Cannock Colliery was on the East Cannock Road behind the now defunct Globe Inn. James was simply described as a miner at the time, and Thomas appears to have worked above ground, with duties that involved the railway yard.

On 8 January 1913 an incident occurred that ended-up in a Magistrate Court appearance for Thomas – although he was not the defendant – which was reported to the police by James Williams. Thomas, described as ‘a boy’, after all he was just 14 years of age, was struck by a John Stubbs Craddock following some kind of altercation. It appears that at 9.30am three horses – I assume connected to Craddock – were in the road and preventing Thomas from pulling some points (I assume, railway). Craddock was found guilty of hitting Thomas and knocking him down – he was fined.

According to his brief obituary in the Walsall Observer, Thomas must have left the East Cannock Colliery – as it states that he worked at the Littleton Colliery before the war.

Tommy Tommy
Ordinarily, I thought tracking Thomas’ military career would be difficult – his war record does not survive and the regimental war diary has not yet been digitised by the National Archives and so is unavailable for ‘easy’ consultation. With Thomas we have a saving grace, as he attested into the Staffordshire Yeomanry and we have a diary written by Trooper William Raymond Brown that covers his movements.

We have some idea as to when Thomas attested: Brown, we know, signed up on 29 September 1914 and was given the number 2956; Thomas was number 3476 (the 300719 number quoted by Brian was given out in 1917), so unless there was another significance to the number other than chronology, he signed-up sometime later – but definitely before May 1915. Thomas would have been 15 years of age in August 1914, so he was likely 16 when he attested – a fact that the Walsall Observer made in his obituary.

Why did he go into the Staffordshire Yeomanry? Well, we don’t know. It may have been because it was convenient, he may have been better suited physically for the cavalry, had experience with horses, or thought it more glamorous. I think it more likely that it was because it was a territorial outfit and you could enlist at 17 years (you should be 18 to enlist in the regular army and 19 to serve abroad).

Territorials would be destined for home service only, but saying that, all territorials were asked to sign an agreement to serve abroad – many did, and those that did became the 1/1 Staffs Yeomanry, those that did not became the 2/1 Staffs Yeomanry and remained in England. Thomas, like Brown, clearly agreed.

Whenever he actually attested, he was likely given some basic drill before being packed off to Billingford in Norfolk. Here, over a period, he received further training, equipment and a horse! In August, the Yeomanry were moved to Langley Park (South Norfolk) and for a while they became an infantry unit, until they were returned to cavalry status before their departure on war service.

On 26 October 1915, Thomas and the rest of the 1/1 Staffordshire Yeomanry headed for Southampton, where the following day they embarked on the SS Nessian for a crossing to Alexandria. On 9 November they disembarked, after a little sea-sickness, to life in and around Cairo (especially Fayoum). Here Thomas would pass his 17th birthday, if he hadn’t already, and then Christmas. The Yeomanry, part of a bigger cavalry force, acclimatised and patrolled the western frontier of Egypt against incursions by the Senussi, a religious sect from Libya and Egypt sympathetic to the Turkish. The Yeomanry remained in this area for around a year – indeed, Thomas would be in transit on the 18th anniversary of his baptism – and then they would really head towards war.

The Yeomanry headed across the Suez into the Sinai desert – to areas recently wrested from the Turks. In March the Egyptian Expeditionary Force approached Gaza, in Palastine, which was held by unified enemy forces. On 26 March, Thomas and the Yeomanry were a part of the attacking force in what became known as the First Battle of Gaza. They came under shell fire and sniper attack, but when Turkish reinforcements were wrongly believed to be closing in, the offensive was called off.

A burnt-out tank at Gaza (Walsall Local History Centre)

Thomas remained around the Gaza area, undertaking escort and other duties. The Allies again failed to take Gaza in the April, where the Yeomanry had some marginal involvement. In May they supported an attack on the Beersheba railway – where ’15 miles of track were sent into the air’. On 24 August they confronted a Turkish force near Beersheba, with fighting going on much of the day.

Things were about to get very heated for the next few weeks, with the 1/1 Staffordshire Yeomanry playing direct and supporting roles (observation and patrols, for example). Beersheba and Gaza fell to the Allies between 31 October and 2 November after heavy fighting. Rearguard actions (and battles at Mughar Ridge and Nebi Samwil) continued as the Allies moved north. On 6 November the Yeomanry were bombed and fired at ‘incessantly’, and Brown reported in his diary that they lost several horses, that his brother had been wounded (he lost a leg) and that Thomas Bradley was suffering from shell-shock.

Yeomanry on observation duty (Walsall Local History Centre)

How quickly he recovered we do not know, but on 20 November they sighted Jerusalem. The were bombed over the next few days as the battle for Jerusalem began. The Yeomanry suffered on several occasions, notably on 26 November. Jerusalem fell on 9 December.

The Yeomanry were given rest at Gaza for the opening months of 1918, and while they rested Jericho fell in the February. March and April saw the Yeomanry head through Palastine again, being at Jerusalem on 26 April. The following day they would be in the Jordan Valley, clamping eyes on the Dead Sea and camping on the plain outside of Jericho. On 1 May 1918, part of the Yeomanry (‘B’ Squadron) were sent to reconnoitre the enemy strength and position behind Jericho. Brown wrote in his diary: ‘Had a hot time. Tom Bradley hit and died an hour later.’

The Jerusalem Memorial, on which Thomas Bradley’s name appears – aged 19. (CWGC)

What happened to Thomas’ body is unclear. He appears on the panel of the memorial in Jerusalem, so he has no known grave. Brown states that he died an hour after being hit, so this suggests his body or his initial grave were later lost, or became inaccessible for some reason.

Thomas Remembered
Thomas’ death received some recognition in the local press, although there was no photograph. The Walsall Observer had a paragraph on him, whereas the Cannock Advertiser had an entry in the roll-of-honour from the family. The family, father, mother (I assume this to be Emma Williams) and sister, tender a poem as a remembrance. There is no mistaking that the entry is for Thomas Bradley, as it has his age and date of death upon it, but it is made out to Thomas Bradley Williams.

The Roll-of-Honour entry for Thomas in the Cannock newspaper (Cannock Library)

In time, Thomas was awarded the 1915 Star, as well as the War and Victory medals.

I initially suspected that he did not appear, either as Bradley or Bradeley, on any of the local memorials as the family did not seek to have him put on for one reason or another, however, with research showing that he was recorded as a ‘Williams’, I broadened my search. The problem is of course that we are not dealing with the rarest of names in Thomas Williams.

Thomas E Williams and James G Watson on the Cannock memorial on High St. 2014.

Cannock has a church memorial in St Luke’s Church and its town memorial on High Street. Neither of these memorials had a straight Thomas Williams, but St Luke’s did have a Thomas B Williams and the High Street memorial a Thomas E Williams. The two monuments do not have to have the same names, although many are the same, after all they are set up for different reasons: one for those that once or now reside in the Cannock area, the other would be for current or former members of the church congregation.

Thomas B Williams and James G Watson on St Luke’s memorial. 2017.

I have problems with the town memorial: first, the later names are completely out of order alphabetically, which does not make them wrong of course; second, and saying that, there are clear errors with some names, as with many monuments, and James Watson, just below Thomas E Williams, was one – despite being in the unveiling ceremony programme as James G Watson, he was put on the memorial as James E Watson (now corrected); finally, while a Thomas E Williams was in the unveiling programme, I cannot track him with certainty.

The St Luke’s memorial gives me a little faith 🙂 : it had James G Watson correctly named and I can at least place a Thomas B Williams within the Cannock area. If the family put his name forward for the Church memorial, I can’t see why they would not have done so for the High St memorial. I have a feeling that Thomas E Williams on the High St memorial is Thomas B Williams (a B easily mistaken for an E), and that Thomas B Williams is Thomas Bradley.

This, I cannot prove. I would not seek an alteration to the memorial, although Thomas Bradley (Williams) has every right to be added should the family seek to do so. I think, though, that anyone seeking his name on such a memorial can at least view that in St Luke’s and feel perfectly happy that it does represent Thomas Bradley

My thanks to:
Walsall Local History Centre
Cannock Library
Cannock St Luke’s Church
Staffordshire Yeomanry Museum
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
and… Brian Holmes