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Military records (and those of the War Graves Commission) record the spelling of Thomas’ name as Monroe, although his commemoration on the Stockport War Memorial and local family history records indicate it as Munroe. In the early part of the 20th Century, such differences in spelling, even between different branches of the same family, were not uncommon.

The family history website, ChehsireBMD, indicates that Thomas’ birth was registered at Stockport in 1896. Nothing else is known about his life, other than he was living in the Portwood area of town when he enlisted into the army at Ashton under Lyne.

On 20 November 1917, British forces launched a large attack on the German fortified Hindenberg Line, near to the French town of Cambrai. For the first time, tanks were used in large numbers and were extremely successful. Troops pushed the Germans back several miles. The fighting continued for several days more and there was now a significant salient pushed into the German line. Throughout this period, Thomas’ unit had been held in reserve. On the 26th, they moved into the front line, east of the village of Villers Guislain.

The Germans had started to plan a counter attack almost immediately and seeing that the British advance had run out of steam, prepared to launch their assault on the morning of the 30th. At 7am, a very heavy artillery bombardment was opened on the whole of the area occupied by 55th Division (which included the North Lancashires). The roads leading to the front line were also shelled, with the intention of preventing re-enforcements moving up.

Just before 8am, the North Lancashires reported back to Division that there was “No infantry action” but, only 15 minutes later, the situation had completely changed. The Battalion’s War Diary, written probably less than 24 hours after the action records “Front line Companies surrounded. Nothing definite known as to what happened.”

“B” and “D” Companies, in the front line, had borne the brunt of the German assault. Along the whole of the 7 mile sector held by 55th Division, overwhelming numbers of German infantry had attacked. Companies and whole battalions had found themselves outflanked and surrounded. “A” Company, in the support trench had also suffered badly. “C” Company and Battalion Headquarters were in the reserve position in a trench called Gloucester Road. The War Diary records that these men “made a stand …..until 8.30am. Seeing themselves outflanked on both sides by the enemy, they were forced to withdraw to Fourteen Willows where they dug in.” Nearby a group of men from several units, including some from the North Lancashires occupied “Limerick Post” and, although surrounded, resisted until 5am the next day when they were able to escape back to their own line.

The War Diary records that over 400 members of the Battalion had become casualties – dead, wounded or missing. Many had been taken prisoner, but later records confirm that over 80 had been killed. Most, like Thomas, have no known grave and are commemorated on the nearby Memorial to the Missing. His name is one of over 7000 soldiers whose bodies were never recovered and identified from the fighting at Cambrai in November and Decmeber 1917.

Rank: Private
Number: 4725
Unit: 1/5th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment
Date of Death: 30 November 1917
Age: 21
Cemetery: Cambrai Memorial, Louveral, Nord, France

This article has been reproduced with kind permission from the Stockport 1914-18 website.



Paul McCormick
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