17103, 14th Bn., Welsh Regiment
Died 16th April 1917
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Remembered with Honour
Essex Farm Cemetery
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Born in 1891 in Swansea, Harry was the son of Alfred and Sarah Thomas, born in 1862 and 1866 in Carmarthen and the Swansea Valley respectively, and married in 1886 or 1887.
Alfred was a journeyman tailor and in 1891 was boarding in New Oxford Street, Swansea, while his wife Sarah was living at her parents’ home in Pontardawe with her own two children, Maggie and David. It is likely that she was expecting Harry at that time.
In 1901, Harry, aged 10, was at home with his parents in Tycoch, together with 2 brothers and 3 sisters. In 1911, the parents’ home had moved to 6 Edgware Road, Swansea, and Harry lived there and worked as a ‘trammer’ in a colliery.
He enlisted in the 14th Battalion (Swansea Pals) Welsh Regiment, no. 17103, in Swansea during the early months of the war.
Harry Thomas, promoted to the rank of Sergeant, died on 16th April 1917 in an area to the north of Ypres in Belgium. Most likely he died of wounds as he was buried at Essex Farm Cemetery which was adjacent to the Essex Farm advanced dressing station.
This area was the northernmost held by the British during the Great War. The burials were made without definite plan and some of the divisions which occupied this sector north of Ypres may be traced in almost every part of the cemetery.
There are 1,200 servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in this cemetery. 103 of the burials are unidentified but special memorials commemorate 19 casualties known or believed to be buried among them.
There were six major battles in the Ypres Salient between October 1914 and October 1918 but Harry Thomas’s death does not coincide with any of these. British casualties who died near to the location of Essex Farm were buried in this cemetery. Thomas probably died from wounds received at the nearby front line.
It was in Essex Farm Cemetery that Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Army Medical Corps wrote the poem ‘ in Flanders Fields’ in May 1915:
Captain McCrae was manning the dressing station with other officers and men from the Canadian Army Medical Corps of 1st (Canadian) Division who treated many gas cases. He was later promoted and by 1918 was a Lieutenant-Colonel at a Base Hospital near Boulogne. Having worn himself out McCrae died of pneumonia in January 1918 and is buried in Wimereux Communal Cemetery, Pas de Calais, 3 miles N of Boulogne.
The Swansea Pals:
During World War 1 a total of 144 Pals or Pals-type battalions were raised. A Pals battalion is defined as a unit raised by a local authority or private body which undertook to organise, clothe, billet and feed the recruits.
From inauspicious beginnings, when many Pals trained in civvies and held broom-handles as makeshift rifles, they were drilled, drilled and drilled again. A lot of care and attention was lavished on them with many of the battalions, including Swansea’s, not leaving for France until late 1915.
The men who lived in the same streets, who worked together, joined up together and trained together, became casualties together when they faced the German machine guns on the Western Front. That was the tragedy of the Pals Battalions.
After the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, many Pals battalions effectively ceased to exist. When replacements were drafted in, they were men who were posted to make up numbers only. The special character of those battalions was lost forever.
There were about 1,200 men in the Swansea Battalion at the outset known simply as “The Swansea Pals”. Officially, they were men from Swansea and surrounding towns including Neath and Port Talbot who made up the 14th (Service Battalion), The Welsh Regiment, part of the Welsh 38th Division during World War I.
After training they landed at Le Havre in December 1915 and in July 1916 they were in action at Mametz Wood on The Somme. In 1917 they were in action in the Third Battles of Ypres in Belgium. In 1918 they were in action on The Somme, in the Battles of the Hindenburg Line and the Final Advance in Picardy.
At Mametz Wood the “Swansea Pals” battalion found itself in one of the deadliest battles of the war, in which almost 100 of them were killed and 300 more injured out of 676 men that took part.
By the end of the war, more than 600 of the Swansea Pals had given their lives in the fighting.
Speaking 60 years after the war had ended, 88-year-old Harry Bardsley, a Manchester Pal with the 18th Battalion Manchester Regiment, recalled the battalion’s blooding on the Somme in July 1916:
“We were well equipped, well trained men and intelligent men and we were all volunteers. There were no conscripts in 1916. They were well trained young chaps and they just slaughtered them, hundreds and hundreds of them for nothing at all.”
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THOMAS Harry died on 16th April, 1917. He was a Serjeant in the 14th Bn., Welsh Regiment. His service number was 17103. He is buried at Essex Farm Cemetery, Belgium.
In 1911, the family lived at 6, Edgeware Road, Uplands. Alfred (a journeyman tailor) and Sarah Thomas had been married for twenty four years, had had ten children, eight of whom were still living. At home with them were Harry (age 21— collier – trimmer), Gwenny (age 18— dog girl), Alfie (14 – office boy at a solicitor’s office), Catherine (11), Willie (9), Reggie (6) and Clifford (4). Catherine, Willie and Reggie attended school.
In 1901, the family lived in Tycoch, near Tycoch Farm. Arthur was born in Carmarthen town and Sarah in Lianguike (sic). They were both bi-lingual. With them lived their children – Maggie, Harry, Gwenny, David, Alfred and Catherine. The census does not state that the children were “scholars”, but one would presume they attended school.
In 1891, Alfred Thomas lodged at 80, New Oxford Street. He was listed as a tailor.
In the 1881 census, Alfred (aged 19— tailor) lived 12, St. Catherine Street, Carmarthen, with his mother Catherine (aged 47), his step father John Phillips (aged 40— licenced victualler) and step siblings Catherine J and David Phillips.
In 1871, Alfred lived at “The Lark” public house with his mother, step father (innkeeper), Benjamin Thomas (aged 7— brother), John (aged 3) and Catherine Phillips (aged 2), his step siblings. Catherine married John Phillips in 1867.
I have been unable to trace the family in the 1861 census.
In 1851, Alfred Thomas (senior – aged 59— landed proprietor), his wife Frances and servants Rachel Rees and Anne Owen lived at Wellfield, Carmarthen town. Alfred was born in Haverfordwest and Frances in Carmarthen.
In 1841 Alfred lived at Wellfield Villa, Carmarthen. He is described as a land agent. With him lived his wife, Frances, Henry Price (aged 20— land surveyor), Margaret Jones (aged 48 female servant) and William Lewis (aged 32 — labourer).