RFA West Lancs Bdes
681775 DVR. T. THOMPSON. R.F.A.
Thomas Thompson was born on 20 March 1894 in Everton, and baptised at St Peter’s Church on 20 May. His father was Robert Thompson (b. 1861 in Liverpool), a carbonizing foreman in a gas works (carbonization is part of the process for extracting gas and tar from coal). His mother was Mary Edwards (b. 1860 in Llangollen). Robert and Mary were married in 1890 and they had two children; Tom had an older sister, Catherine (b. 1891). In 1911, the family lived at 26 Arundel Street, Liverpool, and Tom then aged 17 was working as a solicitor’s clerk.
It isn’t possible to tell the story of Thomas Thompson without also telling the story of Alfred Welsby. Alfred was born on 2 November 1897 in Toxteth and he was baptised on 26 January 1898. So he was three years younger than Thomas. Alf’s father was Jonathan Welsby (b. 1851 in Altrincham), an engineer’s pattern maker. His mother was Jane Westcott Davies (b. 1855 in Liverpool). Jonathan and Jane were married in 1872 and they had eleven children, though four died in infancy. The survivors were: Lucy (b. 1875), Edward (1878-1911), George (b. 1880), Harry (b. 1882), Susan (b. 1889), Jane (b. 1892), and Alfred, the youngest. In 1911, the family was living at 130 Alt Street, Liverpool. Alf was 13 and still at school. Jonathan died in 1914, at which time the family was living at Tagus Street, Toxteth.
It seems to me unlikely that these two young men knew each other before the War: Tom lived at Arundel Street, Everton, which is 4 miles north of Tagus Street, Toxteth, where Alf lived. When War broke out in 1914, Tom was 20 and Alf was still only 16. Yet they both enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery, and they had consecutive service numbers: Tom’s initial service number was 773 and this was later changed to 681775; Alf’s service number was initially 775 and later became 681776. Tom may have done some service with the Territorials, and Alf may have joined them too, but he couldn’t have done more than a couple of weeks’ training during the summer of 1914. Both men were posted to “D” Battery of 276 Brigade and they landed together in France with 55th Division on 29 September 1915.
681775 Dvr Thomas Thompson
681776 Dvr Alfred Welsby
55th Division relieved 42nd (East Lancashire) Division in the front line at Givenchy and Festubert on 15 February 1918. Here, it faced numerous strong enemy raids in March. Early April was at first much quieter but this was the quiet before the storm.
From the War Diary
9 April 1918 4.15am Enemy opened heavy H.E. and Gas bombardment on all Battery areas, Headquarters, and Wagon Lines. Batteries opened on “Counter preparation” and later on S.O.S. Hostile infantry reported attacking, and pressing back our Infantry on the Left. 164th Infantry Brigade still holding GIVENCHY. Continuous hostile shelling throughout the day. Enemy infantry at one time reached forward gun of A/276 Battery in GUNNER SIDING, but counter-attacked and driven off.
6.42pm A/276 Bty report all guns destroyed and personnel manning trench in front of position. Ordered to move personnel to Wagon lines with all material that can be salved. D/276 Battery moved forward gun back to main position. Throughout the day information received of enemy concentration. Batteries opened fire on all occasions, and with the exception of local encounters no further attack on a large scale developed on Group Front.
8.00pm Information received that 800 prisoners captured to date.
10 April 1918 7.30am FESTUBERT heavily shelled and enemy attacking in neighbourhood of LOISNE. (The enemy attack continued throughout the day but by) 8.30pm Infantry report enemy attack driven off. All Batteries ceased fire on S.O.S. lines but continued harassing fire at slow rate.
11-14 April The enemy attacked, were repulsed, re-grouped and attacked again, but the ferocity of the attacks slowly diminished. They make another effort on 18 April but again are repulsed. On 26 April 164th Infantry Brigade feel confident enough to mount a counter-attack which is initially successful but they are later forced back to their original line.
The enemy attack continued until 18 April, when it slackened off then ceased. On 20 April, the Division re-captured a number of trenches near Givenchy and skirmishes continued until the end of the month but neither side made any gains.
During May, the Brigade remained near Givenchy but there were no more attacks and on 27 May they were relieved from the line and withdrew to bivouac at Bois des Dames. They moved back into the line between 9-12 June and between 13-20 June they supported a number of infantry raids. Throughout July, August and September they engaged in harassing fire, mainly by night. Some relatively minor infantry raids were mounted but the action was mainly to disrupt the enemy and prevent any counterattack. On 2 October, the Brigade received information that the Germans had begun to withdraw and the Brigade then began its advance. They reached Hantay on 4 October, Hocron on 16 October then Allennes and Seclin on 17 October, Fretin on 19 October, and Esplechin on 20 October (they were now in Belgium). Here they encountered some resistance and they were still in Esplechin at the end of the month. It was during the fighting at Esplechin that Tom was killed on 21 October 1918. He was 24 years old.
Service No: 681775
Date of Death: 21/10/1918
Regiment/Service: Royal Field Artillery, “D” Bty, 276th Bde. Cemetery/memorial reference: I. A. 4.
Cemetery/Memorial: ESPLECHIN CHURCHYARD
Additional Information: Son of Robert and Mary Thompson, of 26 Arundel Street, Liverpool.
In February 2021 I was contacted by Marc Satchell, a Network Technician for Cadent Gas. ‘Cadent’ being the new name for the ‘Gas Works’. He had discovered a memorial stone hidden away behind some equipment at a site known as Caryl Street gas works. We know that Tom's father worked at the gas works and it's quite likely that Tom worked there too. It's a wonderful memorial, just a pity that it is inaccessible to the general public.
So what became of Alf? Alf survived the War and after he came home, in 1920, he married Catherine Thompson, Tom’s sister. The couple had a son in 1922, whom they named Thomas Alfred. Catherine died in 1932 and Alf married a second time in 1945, and he died in Liverpool in 1959.
It’s obvious that Alf and Tom must have become very close friends during the War, and Alf’s loss of his mate in October 1918 was compounded by the fact that his brother Harry had been killed only 10 days earlier. Harry was 42704 PVT. H. WELSBY. LINC.R. Harry was born in 1882 and he was a carpet planner. In 1910, he married Jane Yardley (b. 1885 in Crewe) and the following year the couple moved from Liverpool to Manchester. They lived at 109 Cleveland Road, Crumpsall, Manchester. They had two daughters: Marjorie (b. 1913) and Norah (b. 1916). Harry probably signed up in 1916, and he joined the Lancashire Fusiliers. He was first assigned service number 204792 and posted to 2nd/5th Battalion. From 1916, 2/5 Lancs Fusiliers came under orders of 164th Brigade in 55th Division, so for at least some part of the War, Harry, his brother Alf and his mate Tom were all engaged in the same actions. However, at some stage, Harry was transferred to 8th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment, and given a new service number, 42074. 8Bn came under orders of 63rd Brigade in 37th Division. In 1918, 37th Division had been enaged in the early phase of the German Spring Offensive, at the Battle of the Ancre, and also in the second phase, at the Battle of Albert. In September, they joined the major advance towards Cambrai and fought at the Battle of Havrincourt on 12 September, and then the Battle of the Canal du Nord (27 September – 1 October). Cambrai was taken between 8-10 October. During this fighting, Harry was wounded in action and he died at 12th Casualty Clearing Station on 10 October 1918. He was 35 years old.
Service No: 42074
Date of Death: 10/10/1918
Regiment/Service: Lincolnshire Regiment, 8th Bn.
Cemetery/memorial reference: XIII. C. 24.
Cemetery/Memorial: ROCQUIGNY-EQUANCOURT ROAD BRITISH CEMETERY, MANANCOURT
Additional Information: Husband of Jenny Welsby, of 109 Cleveland Road, Higher Crumpsall, Manchester.
Harry Welsby is one of the men in this photo but I don't know which.