680594 GNR. T. WHITTLE.  R.F.A.

 

Thomas Whittle was born in the second quarter of 1889 in Preston and baptised at Preston St Saviour’s on 6 June that year.  His father was John Thomas Whittle (b. 1865 in Preston), a cotton spinner.  His mother was Jane Elizabeth Hodgkinson (b. 1864 in Preston.  John and Jane were married in Preston in 1887 and they had five children, losing one in infancy.  I haven’t found the family in the 1901 Census so I have only found three of the children: Thomas was the oldest, followed by William (b 1891) and Alice (b. 1896).  In 1911, the family lived at 13 Blakehall Street, Preston, and Thomas was a spinner like his father. 

 

In 1912, Tom married Maggie Bibby (b. 1890 in Preston), and the following year the couple had a daughter, Mabel and the couple moved round the corner to 10 Lex Street. (Blakehall Street no longer exists.  It was off New Hall Lane, next to Lex Street which is still there.)

 

Tom probably enlisted in May 1915 and he was probably posted initially to “A” Battery of 286 Brigade, but at some stage he was transferred to “C” Battery of 256 Brigade.  256 Bde came under orders of 51st (Highland) Division.  51st Division had the misfortune to be engaged in all three phases of the German Spring Offensive in 1918.  The following is taken from The Long, Long Trail:

 

The Division remained near Cambrai until 21 March 1918, when the enemy launched a huge and overwhelming attack on the fronts of Fifth and Third Armies, the Division being in the latter near Flesquières.  The defensive front around Flesquères formed a salient and was strongly held by the British. The enemy decided not to attack it frontally, but instead drenched it with gas while attacking on either side. The pressure grew during the day, and from early evening the Division began a fighting withdrawal that took it over the next few days back several miles, through Beaumetz, towards Bapaume. In fighting a number of critical rearguard actions, Divisional losses built up to a total of over 4,900 men.


On 1 April, the Division entrained for the Béthune area where it was hoped things would be quieter. Unfortunately, the enemy opened a second phase of his offensive on 9 April 1918, and the Highland Division moved into defensive positions behind Richebourg Saint Vaast, where it played a key part in beating off incessant attacks, again at great cost: another 2,500 men.

 

At the beginning of May, the Division moved to Oppy near Arras, where it stayed until 11 July in a relatively quiet spell.  When a third huge enemy attack opened in the area held by the thinly-stretched French Army south west of Reims, Sir Douglas Haig agreed to send a British Corps consisting of 15th (Scottish), 34th, 51st (Highland) and 62nd (2nd West Riding) Divisions. The 51st and 62nd had several days of very heavy fighting, which is now officially known as The Battle of the Tardenois. Fighting took place in the valley of the Ardre, at Marfaux and Mont de Bligny. 

 

Tom Whittle was killed during intense fighting near Marfaux on 28 July 1918.  He was 29 years old.

 

Rank:  Gunner

Service No:  680594

Date of Death:  28/07/1918

Age:  29

Regiment/Service:  Royal Field Artillery, “C” Bty, 256th Bde. Cemetery/memorial reference:  VI. H. 1.

Cemetery/Memorial:  MARFAUX BRITISH CEMETERY

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