681869 GNR. H. S. THOMAS. R.F.A.
Hugh Stanley Thomas was born on 20 September 1893 in Walton, Liverpool. His father was John Thomas (b. 1856 in Anglesey), a joiner/builder. His mother was Hannah (maiden name not known, b. 1864 also in Anglesey). John had moved to Liverpool by 1881 and he and Hannah were married a couple of years later. They had 11 children, but lost one. The survivors were: William (b. 1884), Owen (b. 1885), Nellie (b. 1886), Effie (b. 1890), Richard (b. 1891), James (b. 1892), then Hugh, then Hannah (b. 1895), Edith (b. 1898) and finally Myfanwy (b. 1900). In 1911, the family (minus Nellie who had left home) was living at 271 Walton Lane, Walton, Liverpool. Hugh had joined his father in the building trade and was an apprentice joiner.
Hugh’s attestation papers have survived but they are very badly burned so difficult to read, but it seems Hugh initially attested in January 1915 and was posted to No 3 Company of the Royal Engineers. However, a note says that he failed to report as instructed and he was discharged. He must then have enlisted with the Royal Field Artillery; he was assigned service number 4613 and posted to “D” Battery of 276 Brigade. Perhaps because of the initial switching between regiments, Hugh did not land with his Brigade in September 1915 but he joined them in the field, probably in early 1916. His service number was later changed to 681869.
276 Brigade formed part of 55th (West Lancashire) Division. 55th Division fought at Guillemont and Ginchy (on the Somme) in September 1916, suffering severe losses especially at Guillemont. They also fought at Flers-Courcelette and Morval later that month, and then in October 1916 they were moved to the Ypres Salient, at the time a relatively quieter part of the front. Although there were no major engagements in early 1917, there was constant harassment, shelling and raids.
1917: Third Battle of Ypres
From 55th Divisional History: "The objective of what was called the Third Battle of Ypres was the capture of the enemy's Gheluvelt-Langemark system... The weather during the whole of June and during the greater part of July had been ideal for campaigning purposes. Unfortunately, on Sunday 29 July a particularly heavy thunderstorm filled up the shell holes and turned roads and tracks into a morass. The succeeding days were dull and hazy, making the completion of the artillery preparation peculiarly difficult and typical Flanders weather conditions prevailed on the morning of the 31st - the moment chosen for the attack. Low lying clouds which made aerial observation and cooperation as difficult as could be imagined; a dampness of atmosphere, threatening rain at any moment; a half sodden ground, greasy and depressing; such was the luck of the weather at 3.50am on 31 July 1917, when the barrage opened. Not since the war began had so intense a barrage been put down, and of its wonderful effectiveness all ranks in the line bore eloquent testimony."
Hugh Thomas died on 5 August 1917 of wounds received during the fighting of the opening days of the battle. He died at 32nd Casualty Clearing Station which was at Brandhoek, west of Ypres.
Service No: 681869
Date of Death: 05/08/1917
Regiment/Service: Royal Field Artillery, “D” Bty, 276th Bde.
Grave Reference: III. C. 11.
Cemetery: BRANDHOEK NEW MILITARY CEMETERY
Additional Information: Son of John and Hannah Thomas, of North Wales, and 271 Walton Lane, Walton, Liverpool.