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Thomas William Kell was born in 1890 to Joseph Austin and Clara Kell (nee Banks). Joseph and Clara married in the church of St. Paul in Southport on the 9th October 1887. Both Thomas and his older sister Harriet May (1887) were born in Southport but by 1901 the family had moved to Preston. They were living at 22 Hamilton Road and Joseph Kell had gone to work on the railways as a ticket inspector although his original occupation had been a shoemaker.

By 1903 the family had also increased in size and Thomas had two more sisters and four brothers; Bertram (1893), Ethel (1894), Alfred (1896), Alice (1898), Sidney (1900) and Reginald (1903).

In 1911 Thomas and his family were living at 221 Marsh Lane in Preston and his father was still employed on the railways. Thomas and his brother Alfred had jobs at the Wood Milne rubber heel works and sisters Harriet May and Esther were both weavers in a cotton mill.Kell 1

After war was declared Thomas left his job and enlisted into the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment at Preston. He was given the service number 2659 and posted to the 4th Battalion. His service papers have not survived so unfortunately no other detailed information about his enlistment is available.

Thomas sailed to France with the 1/4th Battalion as part of “C” Company on the 4th May 1915. Just a few weeks later the 1/4th Battalion received news that they were to take part in their first major action in Festubert on the evening of the 15th June 1915. The local papers later describing the action as “the great bayonet charge”

“C” Company led the charge so Thomas would have been part of the first wave of men to “go over the top”. Sadly, after the action he was one of the many men reported missing and then later presumed to have died on the 15th June 1915.

The following was sent to the Preston Guardian by 2244 Private Albert Askew, a Preston lad and also a member of “C” Company. Albert survived Festubert but was killed in September 1916.

“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 of the first line to charge. I was one of the 50 that went first – there are only 7 of us left. At 5.30pm 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.”

After the action the remnants of the Battalion made their way back to Le Touret where a roll call took place. Only 243 men answered the roll call, in their first general action the total casualties numbered 431 killed, wounded and missing.

Thomas`s parents were eventually informed that their son had been reported missing and the local paper later printed the following photograph which also asked if anyone could provide any information as to Thomas`s whereabouts.Kell 2

Thomas`s body was never recovered from the battlefield and so his name was recorded on the Le Touret Memorial to the Missing. After the war his parents received his 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals.

Rank: Private
Service No: 2659
Date of Death: 15/06/1915
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 1st/4th Bn.

Additional family information

The Dick Kerr`s factory on Strand Road in Preston became a munitions factory during the war and Thomas`s younger sister Alice Kell (b.1898) went to work there. In 1917 which was two years after Thomas died the factory formed the famous Dick Kerr Ladies football team. Alice Kell joined the team and played for them for a number of years and she also took on the role of Captain. Dick Kerr Ladies went on to play matches at home and abroad and often in front of thousands of spectators. The income from the matches was donated to many war time charities including Preston`s own Military Hospital on Moor Park.

Janet Davis
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