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imageThomas Rigby was born in Freckleton in 1887 to James Marsden and Jane (Jenny) Rigby. James and Jenny were married on the 29 April, 1876 in St. Paul`s Church in Warton near Freckleton.

After Thomas`s parents married they went to live in Lower Road in Freckleton where James was working as a wheelwright and Jenny was employed in the local mill as a cotton winder.

The couple had seven children of their own; Alfred (1882), Jane Harrison (1884), Margery (1886), Thomas (1887)*, Ellen (1889), Robert (1891), James (1895-1895) and they also gave a home to another child Thomas Ryding Pougher (1890).

By 1901 the family were living in Preston Road in Freckleton. Thomas`s father was a joiner carpenter by trade and he was using those skills working locally on a farm at the time while Thomas, Alfred, Jane and Margery were all employed as weavers in a cotton mill.

Thomas`s sister Margery married in 1910 and the following year the census shows Thomas and the rest of the family living at 76 Preston Road in Freckleton. By this time Thomas had left his job in the mill and was following in his father`s footsteps of carpentry and was now working in the shipbuilding yard in Lytham.

In 1912 Thomas married Margaret Hull at St. Nicholas`s Church in the nearby village of Wrea Green and the pair set up home in Church Row in the village.

After the declaration of war Thomas Rigby enlisted into the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment 4th Battalion Territorials at Lytham. His name appears on the Volunteer Roll under “E” Company which he signed at the Public Hall in Preston on the 8 August, 1914. His pal, Robert Rawstrone who was another Freckleton lad signed his name immediately under Thomas`s.
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While Thomas was away training his wife Margaret gave birth to a son in February 1915 and they named him James Marsden Rigby after his paternal grandfather.

The 1/4th Battalion were due to leave for France on the 4 May, 1915 and as a general rule the men were usually allowed a brief period of home leave prior to departure. Hopefully Thomas would have been able to see his wife and meet his new baby son before he sailed for France.

According to the Battalion History a certain amount of reorganisation of the companies took place while the Battalion were in training at Sevenoaks in Kent. Initially there had been 8 Companies but in line with the Regular Army the eight were reduced to four namely, A, B, C and D and so Thomas became part of C Company.

An advance party of the 1/4th Battalion left Bedford by train on the 2nd May, 1915 and after arriving at Southampton they boarded the “SS Rossetti” with the Battalion transport. Thomas left Bedford the following evening with the remainder of the Battalion and boarded the “SS Onward” at Folkestone and sailed for Boulogne in the early morning of the 4th May.

The total strength of the Battalion at this time was 31 Officers and 1003 non-commissioned Officers and men. A week after the Battalion arrived in France they became part of the 154th Brigade in the 51st (Highland) Division.
The 1/4the Battalion was soon to see their first major action of the war just about a month after landing in France.

Extract from the Regimental History
At 6pm on the 15th June the attack was launched by the 4th Loyal North Lancashire and the 6th Scottish Rifles. The attack was at first successful; the west end of the German salient was carried, and the attack pushed on to the main German line near the Rue d`Overt, and for a time the third German trench was occupied and held.

Unfortunately the attack by the Division on the right of the 51st made little or no progress, and when night fell the 154th Brigade had penetrated the German line on a narrow front, but had both its flanks in the air. The attack consequently failed, but as stated in the Divisional History, “great praise is due to the 154th Infantry Brigade for their advance in the face of heavy artillery and close range rifle and machine gun fire. There is little or no doubt had the operations on the flanks been successful, they would have had every prospect of holding their gains”

The casualties from the action totalled 431 men either killed, wounded or missing. Sadly, Thomas Rigby was one of the men posted as missing. For official purposes his death would later be confirmed as being on or after the 15th June, 1915.

News of the 1/4th Battalion`s first major action of the war soon filtered back home to the families and for days afterwards the local papers printed casualty lists and information about the men who had died or were missing. They also printed extracts from letters sent home to the families from men who had survived that night.

One such letter dated the 18th June, 1915 was written by 2244 Corporal Albert Askew to his father back in Preston. Corporal Albert Askew was also a member of `C` Company.

“On Sunday morning we were told we were going into the trenches again – for the 3rd time but this time, on the Tuesday night, we were going to make a bayonet charge. We made it, and, thank God I am still living and unhurt. The artillery started bombarding soon after we got into the trenches. We lay there for two whole days with scarcely anything to eat or drink. On the Tuesday afternoon we captured a German. He was a Saxon. It was then about 3 o`clock. He told us what time we were going to charge and said the Germans were ready waiting for us.

Our Officers picked 50 men out for the first line to charge. I was one of the 50 that went first – there are only 7 of us left. At 5.30 the bombardment proper started. It was awful, shells were flying and bursting all over the place. I was really glad when 6 o`clock came and we got the order to “mount the parapet”
I can tell you the boys went over as if they were drilling. It rained bullets when we were advancing. As soon as we got on top of the German trenches the Germans put up their hands, some of them offered us watches, rings & etc., saying “comrade” and asking for mercy. We gave none, we bayoneted and shot the lot. I accounted for a few myself. Our Officers were amongst the first losses sustained on our side.

After that we charged about 200 yards on our own, clearing the trenches as we went. We advanced altogether about 600 yards. When we got to the third line of German trenches we found our artillery had not blown down their barbed wire entanglements, and it was impossible to advance any further, so we dug ourselves in with our entrenching tools. It was hot work.

We held this position until the reinforcements came up. It was worst to see our pals go over and not be able to stop and help. There were some awful sights. There are very few of our men left. I don`t know what they will do with us now. We shall at least get a long rest and we need it.”

A brief article about Thomas was printed later in the Preston Guardian.

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Thomas`s wife would later receive his entitlement of the 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals. As his body was never recovered from the battlefield Thomas is remembered on the Le Touret Memorial.

His name is also remembered on the War Memorial in his home town of Freckleton.

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Janet Davis

Janet Davis

Janet Davis has been researching her family history for many years and through this she discovered many relatives who served in WW1. This interest then led Janet to do many walking the battlefield tours with her husband. In April 2013 she discovered this website and volunteered to help. Janet believes that there are lots of stories still to be told, most of them very sad but at the same time they are a fascinating insight into the men, their families, what they did and where they came from.
Janet Davis

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