Monday, November 12, 2012

Army boots

As a footnote (no pun intended) to my post yesterday, I came across this paragraph in an article on army salvage practices during WW1:
"Boots were even more important than clothes. After less than a fortnight of fighting, Sir John French's men were in desperate need of boots. When trench. warfare settled in its long course, many regimental officers either started repairing shops of their own or engaged contractors to keep the battalion well shod. The boot, however, was too important a thing to be left to individual officers. On it depended the marching power of the Army and for this reason it engaged the concern of the Commander-in-Chief, who in June, 1915, appointed Major-General Sir John Steevens; the Army salvage expert, to organise large central repair shops.
One was opened in Calais in the autumn of 1915, another was founded at Mudros during the Gallipoli operations and afterwards removed to Salonika. Later a shop was erected at Alexandria for the army of Palestine; while the army of Mesopotamia had its boots repaired at Basra. Other works were organised in England and Scotland, and these, with the Calais shop, were at last saving 150,000. pairs of boots each week. 
Instead of the Army having to purchase new boots at the rate of a quarter of a million pairs a week, only 100,000 were required. Large as was the economy in money, this was of secondary importance. The great thing was the saving in the stock of available leather, upon which all the Allies constantly needed largely to draw. Moreover the British manufacturing plant for Army boot-making, when partly released from service for the New Army, was able to work for millions of allied troops."(1)
Perhaps Granddad Thomas Henry's boot and shoe repairing skills were greatly appreciated by the army. I wonder if he got to work in the repair shop in Basra?

(1) quoted from "The Garbage of War - the great work of salving war material" by Edward Wright, found at 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance day - Thomas Henry Ward

British troops on the march in the dessert c 1916
(from the National Army Museum)
Today, November 11, is Remembrance Day, so it seems fitting to say something about the war-time experience of our grandfather, Thomas Henry Ward. Though he survived the war of 1914-1918 and went on to marry Grandma, his army service must have remained a significant part of his future life and is worth recording and remembering.

Unfortunately, without knowing what regiment he was in, it's difficult to trace his actual records. Many service records from the First World War were destroyed in a fire after the war, and those that are available (mostly medal cards) often don't provide enough information to distinguish one Thomas Ward from another.

However, I do know from Dad that Granddad was in India and Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) during the war. A bit of internet research on sites such as The Long Long Trail suggests that this narrows down the possibilities.

Only one British Army unit, the 13th (Western) Division, was involved in the campaign in Mesopotamia. As far as I can tell, the battalions that made up this Division never spent time in India. However most of the troops in 'Mespot' came from India as part of the Indian Expeditionary Force "D". The majority were Indian-born members of the British Indian Army, but some were from British Army regiments who had previously been stationed in India as part of the Territorial Forces.
British troops marching in Mesopotamia
(from Library of Congress, author unknown)

It seems that many of the Territorial Forces who were in India at the beginning of the war were replaced by battalions of less experienced volunteers, many of them older men, in order to free up the regular army men for service elsewhere. As the war went on, some of these units were themselves recruited to fight in Mesopotamia and were replaced by other Territorial regiments from England. (See the entry from "Alex" on this genealogy forum).

Given that Thomas Henry would have been close to 32 years old when the war began, he may well have been one of these 'older men' who were sent to India and then recruited for service in Mesopotamia. The other possibility is that he simply had contact with Indian troops while serving in Mesopotamia as part of the 13th (Western) Division. Either way, it's hard to imagine how a man who had spent all his life in small English mill towns would have adjusted to conditions in Mesopotamia.

60 pounder gun firing in Mesopotamia
By Varges Ariel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The parallels between the war in Mesopotamia in 1915-1918 and the war in Iraq in this century are many. In 1914 the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany, had declared a Holy War on the Allies (Britain, France and Russia). Britain sent troops to Mesopotamia in 1915 to secure their oil supply line from the Anglo Persian Oil Company, and to maintain British Army prestige among Indian Muslims who might be tempted to join the jihad. Over 600,000 Indians as well as British army troops eventually served in the Mesopotamian campaign.

After securing the port of Basra, which had some strategic value, the army was ordered to march on up the Tigris and take Baghdad, which had no real value to Britain.  In December 1915 the British-Indian garrison at Kut-al-amara came under seige and it proved impossible to relieve the 8,000 or so men stationed there, who were taken captive in April 1916. Eventually Baghdad was captured, but at great cost in lives. The conditions in which the British and Indian troops found themselves were truly appalling - searing heat and dust in summer, bitter cold, flooding and mud in winter, along with insects and vermin, disease and dehydration, poor supplies and inadequate medical support.
Hospital Ship 1 on the Tigris c 1916
By E. E. Jones [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

These  diaries written by a doctor who served in Mesopotamia and a soldier transferred from the Territorial Forces in India give some insights into what it was like. Around 92,000 British and Indian soldiers died (including Robert Palmer, the soldier who wrote the diary), most of them from infections and disease.

Fortunately Thomas Henry returned to England with no lasting physical injuries, but who knows what mental scars he and others like him carried.

(More pictures and information can be found at

UPDATE; see At last - a regiment for Thomas Henry Ward

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Children of Thomas and Frances Ward

Here's a brief summary of the lives of the children of Thomas Ward and Frances (nee Dickinson).

John (1803) was born while the family were still living in Charnock Richard near Chorley, and was baptised at St Laurence, Chorley. He became a joiner like his father. John would have been about 10 years old when Thomas died.

Sometime before the age of 25 he moved to Liverpool. He married Rosa Connor at St Peter's in Liverpool in 1828. Rosa was recorded as being from Cheshire in every census except in 1871, when she was said to be from Ireland.  They had four children (that I'm aware of) - Frances (1829), Ann (1831), Ellen (1834) and John (1838). The family moved to West Derby, near Liverpool, after 1851.

John died sometime between the 1871 and the 1881 census, possibly towards the end of 1872 in West Derby.

Margaret (1805) was born in Walton Le Dale. She married Peter Warburton Lowe at Manchester Collegiate church (later Manchester Cathedral) in 1838. Peter was the son of Joseph and Mary Lowe and was born in Rainow, Cheshire. Margaret and Peter had four recorded children - Joseph (1839), Thomas Henry (1841), Fanny (1842) and Roger Leigh (1847). They continued to live in Salford.

Peter's name is mentioned along with a William Tomlinson and a Richard Tomlinson in a business venture announced in the London Gazette of March 27, 1857. Whether this is the same William who was his father-in-law is unclear. The name William Tomlinson was quite common in Lancashire.

At the time of the 1841 census Margaret's niece Fanny, daughter of John and Rosa, was staying with them. I haven't been able to find the Lowe family in the 1851 census, but there are several gaps in the 1851 census in Salford due to the records being damaged. In the 1871 census Esther Ward, Margaret's sister, was included with the Lowes.

Margaret died sometime before the 1881 census. Peter died in 1872.

Esther (1807) was also born in Walton Le Dale. Her name appears as Easther on the baptism register. She never married. In the 1841 census she was living with her mother and step father in Salford. In 1851 she was with her step-sister Cathrine Tomlinson in Manchester, and was working as a mangle-woman. I can't find her in the 1861 census, but in 1871 she was with Margaret and Peter. She doesn't appear in the 1881 census.

The only Esther Ward of the right age who died in the period between the two census was registered in 1878 in Ormskirk, near Liverpool. Perhaps, if this is the correct Esther, she moved after Margaret and Peter died.

Richard (1809 or 1813?) lived in Walton Le Dale all his life. He married Mary Baines and they had 9 children, including John, our great great grandfather. I'll say more about this family in a later post.

Fanny (1818) was born to Frances 5 years after Thomas died, and no father is recorded in the Walton Le Dale baptismal record of November 24 1818. She was with Frances and William Tomlinson in Salford in 1841.

Fanny married George Hayes, a calico bleacher from Chorley, at Manchester Collegiate church in 1843. Their children were Joseph (1844), Thomas (1847), Esther (1850) Daniel (1854, died 1855) and Margaret (1857). In the 1851 census they were living next door to William and Frances Tomlinson in Salford (although the street names are different, presumably due to being on a corner). They remained in the same house in Hulme St, Salford for many years, even after the Tomlinsons moved on.

Fanny died in 1871.