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4075 Private Thomas Shaw 1st BattalionThomas Shaw was born in Preston on the 8th August 1883 the son of pork butcher Thomas Shaw and Ellen Wallbank. His parents married in the Parish Church of St. John in Preston on Christmas Day 1864 and they went on to have at least eleven children including Thomas, the others being; Ann Jane (1866), Agnes (1867), William (1870), Robert (1872), Mary Ellen (1874-1874), Mary Ellen (1875), Elizabeth (1877), Agnes (1879), John James (1885) and Walter (1887).

By 1891 Thomas` mother Ellen had passed away and he was living with his father and some of his younger siblings at 35 St. Mary`s Street in Preston.

On the 18th September 1900 Thomas at the age of 18 years and 1 month enlisted into the Militia joining the 5th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. His home address at the time was 5 Curwen Street in Preston and his occupation was a weaver working for Mr. Eccles at the Wellington Mills in Deepdale Mill Street. Thomas was unmarried and his medical inspection revealed that he was five feet three and a quarter inches tall, weighed 108lbs and had a 31” chest. He had a dark complexion, blue eyes and brown hair.

In 1901 Thomas and his elder brother Robert were boarding in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hall at 11 Wignall Street where both of them worked in the one of the local mills as weavers.

Later information states that Thomas did serve overseas with the Lancashire Fusiliers and took part in the Boer War but by the 1st May 1903 he was back in Preston and on the payment of £4 he was released from the Army. At the end of the following year on the 24th December 1904 he married Elizabeth Foster in St. Mary`s Church in Preston. The 1911 Census confirms that Thomas had worked his way up the mill ladder and had become an `overlooker` and the couple also had three children; Thomas (1906), Stanley (1908) and Norman (1910), the family home was now at 27 Skeffington Road in Preston.

At some point prior to the outbreak of war Thomas had also joined the National Reserve and later information also states that when war was declared he asked to be transferred to a service battalion. On the 19th September 1914 Thomas enlisted into the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment at Preston. The Medical Officer noted that he was now 5`6” tall and he weighed 123lbs, he was passed fit to serve and was issued with the service number 4075. Thomas embarked for France on the 29th November 1914 with a batch of reinforcements for the 1st Battalion. When he left Preston his wife Elizabeth was also expecting their fourth child.

Thomas had only been overseas for a couple of weeks when he was admitted for treatment for `gastritis` on the 14th December at Hazebrouck. He re-joined the Battalion a week later on the 21st December which was the day the Battalion was scheduled to leave Hazebrouck to take part in the action at Givenchy on the 22nd December. Read an account of the action here…

Sadly, Thomas was one of the 320 men posted as missing or wounded during this action. Afterwards it appears that his fate remained the subject of a number of rumours, both from official sources and from men who were still at the front. However, Elizabeth remained convinced that her husband was still alive and a few months later her faith was rewarded when she received a communication from him. The following article was published in the local paper;

“With regard to Private Shaw, whose wife and family live at 32 Annis Street, all sorts of stories were circulation as to his fate. A confirmation from an official source in April (1915) stated that he was in hospital in Rouen. A soldier at the front, in a letter to a relative, asserted that he had seen Private Shaw killed, but in spite of such assurances Mrs Shaw persisted in the belief that her husband was still alive, and a few days ago she was overjoyed to receive a letter from him, stating that he was at Wittenburg, in the best of health, and requesting to be supplied with such “luxuries” as homemade cakes, cheese, butter, sugar, jam, soap, and a little money.

Private Shaw, who is 32 years of age, is well known in Preston. He served with the Army in South Africa, and when the war broke out was in the National Reserves, from which body he asked to be transferred to a service battalion. He is a member of the Committee of the Co-operative Society, and as an officer of the Prince of Wales Lodge 167 has rendered considerable service to the local, Loyal Orange Institution”.

After his capture Thomas was taken to Wittenburg prisoner of war camp where not long after his arrival there was an outbreak of typhus. Thomas was one of the lucky ones and he managed to survive the disease.

In the June quarter of 1915 Thomas and Elizabeth`s fourth child arrived, a son, and Elizabeth named him John Kitchener Foster Shaw.

In October 1916 Thomas sent his wife a photograph of a memorial built to honour the memory of the men who had died of typhus at the Wittenburg prisoner of war camp, the memorial having been paid for by the prisoners out of their meagre wages.wittenburg memorial

The memorial lists the names of all of the men who died as a result of the typhus outbreak and it includes the names of 13 men who had also served with the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.

wittenburg memorial article

Thomas remained a prisoner for the duration of the war before finally being repatriated back to England in December 1918. His service record shows that he was posted back to the Depot on Boxing Day 1918. He was finally discharged to Class Z Reserve on the 27th March 1919, his address at discharge given as 4 Ansdell Street, Ribbleton Lane in Preston.

In 1939 Thomas, Elizabeth and two of their sons, Stanley and John were living at 197-199 Kent Street in Preston where Thomas was running a general grocery and off-licence store.

Elizabeth Shaw died in 1949 and Thomas passed away six years later aged 72 years on the 8th August 1955 at Sharoe Green Hospital in Preston, his home address at the time was 5 Wren Street in Preston.

Janet Davis
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