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Thomas Gardner was born in Kirkham in 1881 the son of Henry and Sarah Alice Gardner (nee Threlfall). Henry who was a bricklayer by trade and originally from nearby Treales married Sarah Alice Threlfall on the 7th December 1872 in St. Michael`s Church in Kirkham. The couple had seven children including Thomas but sadly three died in infancy; James (1873-1873), twins Alice (1875-1878) and Nancy (1875), James Edward (1879), Thomas (1880)*, Ann (1882) and Elizabeth (1885-1886).

After his parent`s marriage the family lived in Kirkham but then spent a short period in Preston where the twins Alice and Nancy were born before returning to live in Kirkham again. Thomas` father Henry passed away in 1889 aged 37 years and he was buried in St. Michael`s Church in Kirkham. Two years after his death the 1891 Census shows his widow and four surviving children; Nancy, James, Thomas and Annie living at 27 Freckleton Street in Kirkham. Thomas and his family were still living in Freckleton Street in 1901 with Thomas and his three siblings all involved in mill work.

On the 4th December 1909 he married Jane Townsend at St. Michael`s Church. A daughter May was born in 1910 and she was baptised in St. Michael`s Church on the 4th June 1910 but sadly she only lived for two months and was buried on the 20th July at the same church.  The 1911 Census shows Thomas and Jane as being resident at 102 Marsden Street in Kirkham, the home of his widowed mother, also present was his brother James Edward. Later the same year Thomas and Jane had a second child, a son, and they named him Henry.

In the April quarter of 1913 another son George was born but sadly he died at four months old and was also buried at St. Michael`s Church. Just prior to the outbreak of war Thomas and Jane had their fourth and final child, his birth being registered in the September quarter of 1914.

At the end of August 1914 a recruiting rally was held in the Market Place in Kirkham, a Preston newspaper reporting;

Thomas was just one of the many local men who attended and then on the 1st September 1914, he, along with the other volunteers lined up in the Market Square ready to march the 8 miles to Preston. The men, headed by a brass band and the local Boy Scouts were waved off by the locals including children from St. Michael`s School who had been allowed out of school for the occasion. The men apparently had a rest break at the half way point in Lea where they had refreshments. They arrived at the Recruiting Office in Preston later that same day ready to sign their attestation papers.

Thomas Gardner was one of the men who signed his papers on the 1st September 1914. He was issued with the service number 12779 and joined the 7th Battalion LNL agreeing to serve a term of 3 years. The Medical Officer noted that he was just above the average height standing at five feet seven and a quarter inches tall. His weight was recorded as 106lbs and he had grey eyes and fair hair.

The 7th Battalion remained in training until mid-July 1915 when on the 16th of the month the Battalion transport made their way to Southampton for the crossing to Le Havre. The remainder of the Battalion left on the 17th going by train to Folkestone and then sailing to France, the Battalion coming under the command of the 56th Brigade of 19th (Western) Division. Thomas sailed on the 17th and was a member of “B” Company.

According to his service record Thomas was wounded on the 1st March 1916, unfortunately the entry referring to this is unclear (no further information) but there is no indication that he returned to England.

After the Battalion`s involvement on the Somme in July 1916 the Battalion was temporarily moved to the Flanders area where they remained until early October 1916. By the end of October they had been sent back to the Somme which was an area they knew well and where they had lost so many men during the fighting around La Boisselle in July. Plans were made for an attack up the valley of the Ancre but this was later postponed due to the incessant rain and the poor state of the ground.

At the beginning of November the 56th Brigade was holding the front line of the sector around Aveluy, the weather had improved and the 19th Division was now set to take part in the Battle of the Ancre (13th – 18th November 1916).

AVELUY

12th November 1916: Companies moved off to the trenches at 3 p.m. Relief completed by 7.30 p.m.

13th November 1916: “A” Coy. took over the front line. Other Coys. assembled in and near BAINBRIDGE. Had hot oxo at 1 a.m. and then moved forward in front of STUFF TRENCH. Remained there until zero 5.45 a.m. when all three Coys. advanced in two waves. “A” Coy. remained to hold STUFF TRENCH.

Whole attack went well and objective gained in 10 minutes thanks to the able leading of Captain H.C. Bennett and the way in which the men kept close to the artillery barrage. Very thick mist all day – which helped the attack. The enemy were taken by surprise and large numbers of prisoners, between 100 and 200 men, were captured by the Battalion. Our own casualties were slight – about 5 Officers and 81 other ranks. Prisoners of about 5 different regiments were taken, 72, 91, 144 and 167th.

Owing to the mist, Companies had got very much mixed up and in all cases had overrun the objective. Patrols had gone forward to the river ANCRE. New line consolidated throughout the day from R.20.a.8.8. to R.14.c.o.1. In touch with 7/E.Lan.R. on right and 1/Herts on left.

In the early hours of the morning of the 14th November “A” Coy took part in another raid along BATTERY VALLEY. The raid was successful although the casualties amounted to 1 Officer and 16 other ranks. Later that day “C” Coy were withdrawn from the front line which was then taken over by “B” Coy up to the junction with the BLACK WATCH.

Sadly, Private Thomas Gardner was killed during the actions on 13/14th November, his date of death recorded as being 14th November 1916.

On the 2nd December 1916 the Preston Herald printed a letter they had received from one of the Preston Pals, the letter describing his experiences of the battle, the piece entitled;

GRAPHIC STORY FROM ONE WHO WAS IN IT”

The following letter has been received from one of the Preston Pals and describes his experiences during the `big push` of three weeks ago, when over 5,000 prisoners were taken and the British line materially advanced – “I slept all yesterday after I wrote home and it is terribly cold. We went up to the trenches on Sunday night, and spent the night in a reserve trench, passing the time away eating the next day`s rations, as we knew we shouldn`t get much time for eating the following day. At last, it came time to move up, and they peppered us with shells as we moved up to the front line. We got down in front of our line, getting as much cover as possible, as we knew we should need it. There was a lot of moving about here, getting in position, and I was on the left flank of our Company near the leader of the charge. Our artillery started the `barrage` my word I`ve never seen anything like it in all my life. Thousands of shells bursting at once, and it seemed impossible for anything to live in it. –                                                        

CAUGHT ON THE HOP

I saw the Company moving off on my left, but I couldn`t see those on my right moving, so I thought I`d better get a move on, and got with those on my left, near their Captain. We hadn`t got very far before we came across a dug-out with Huns in it, and here about six of us bombed and fired down it, here I accounted for two, the only ones I have ever `seen off`, but it was such a chance, and we caught them absolutely on the hop. There was a thick mist on all the time, which was really a God send. The only opposition we had near me was a few bombers, but they were a half-hearted lot and threw only a few bombs and then ran like mad. For about half an hour I was roaming about and Fritz`s were giving themselves up wholesale. They were a weary looking lot of humanity. One group where I was were `cowered` down in the trench headed by 2 Officers.

TAKING PRISONERS

None of us could speak German and we were doing our best to make them `fall-in` and make their way back to our lines, but they didn`t `compre` at all, and then we suddenly struck on French, and they nearly went mad with delight, and all started shouting. Their Officers said something to them and they shut up very quickly, and we soon got them away. Here we got a German doctor to bandage one of our chaps up, who was rather badly wounded. We kept going on until somebody discovered we had passed our objective so we had to `about turn` and come back and dig a trench. Well we worked at this like mad, as the mist was splendid cover, and soon got a fairly respectable trench, which would be good protection against their fire. We had been on this job for about three hours, and then we moved to a German trench, which was quite a good one, and we soon adapted it for our use. There were plenty of souvenirs here, whole kits untouched, and my word they have some splendid outfits. Some of the chaps changed their shirts, I devoured part of a black loaf, which I might add was quite palatable and much superior to the French bread we buy.

A TRYING TIME

From this trench we dug an advanced one, where I spent three days I shall never forget. It was so cold and wet. No chance to exercise our legs, frozen water in our bottles, and the first day we hadn`t rum. We didn`t get many shells here but what did come were too near to be really pleasant. On the last night I was first bayonet man on a bombing raid. This is generally the lad that is `seen off` or gets a decoration. Fortunately for me, we didn`t come across any Germans, so three of us went about 400 yards out to scout round, but we never came across one. Somehow `Fritz` got the wind up and signalled to his artillery and shells were soon falling thick and heavy, and we did a run for it. I got one or two clouts with lumps of mud.

FROZEN STIFF

We came back to the reserve trench and spent the night there. I think it was `umpteen` below zero this night, for in the morning my legs refused to behave properly, so I went to S.B.`s and they let me lie down in a bit of a dug-out and made some tea, which I don`t think I`ve tasted the equal of. At night we were relieved, and it was a relief to get out, as we had no sleep for five days, and I think I can safely say we have had a rough time. Now we are out of it thank goodness, and I think there are brighter days in store, as we hope to move back in a day or two. You will have seen in the papers the official account of the attack and the number of prisoners. I am so glad I was in it, as I am convinced their infantry are very weak; the only thing is their artillery. Please excuse mistakes and scrawl, the Postman has just come for the letters. Cheery ho and best of love to all”.

After Jane Gardner received the news of her husband`s death the following notice was printed in the Preston Guardian;

*Although the article states that Thomas was killed in the attack on the 13th November, his service record and the CWGC both record his death as 14th November 1916.

Thomas` papers confirm that none of his personal effects were returned to his widow. Jane Gardner was later awarded a pension of 22s/11d for herself and their two children with effect from 4th June 1917.

Along with thousands of others, Thomas` body was never recovered from the battlefield where he fell and so his name was later remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme. After the war Jane took receipt of her husband`s 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals and she would also have received his Memorial Plaque and Scroll in recognition of his sacrifice.

As well as his name being recorded on the Kirkham War Memorial Thomas is also remembered on the Memorial Plaque inside St. Michael`s Church in his hometown of Kirkham (pictured below).

Roll of Honour – St. Michael`s Church, Kirkham

Rank: Private
Service No: 12779
Date of Death: 14/11/1916
Age: 36
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, ‘B Coy’ 7th Bn.
Memorial: THIEPVAL MEMORIAL

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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