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War Memorials

In Memory of
Private 23834
'B' Company - 15th Battalion Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby) Regiment
Who died on Monday, 17th July 1916
Age 31

No Known Grave. Pier & Face 10C 10D & 11A
Thiepval "Memorial to the Missing", Somme, France

Commemorated in Perpetuity
by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Remembered with Honour
Thiepval Memorial

Thiepval "Memorial to the Missing", France1

Thomas Lawton was born in Derby in 1886 2, the son of Henry Thomas and Emma (née Woodhouse). Henry Thomas worked as a bricklayer but, in 1889 when Thomas was only three, he died leaving Emma in difficult financial position. By 1901, Harry had been admitted to Clifton Industrial School in Bristol and was learning brickwork3. This was one of a large number of similar establishments set up to help destitute children by removing them from the environment in which they had been living, providing an education and teaching a trade in a strict environment. In 1910, now back in Derby, he married Mary Green4 and they set up home in Court 2 House 1, Freehold Street, Derby with Thomas working as a bricklayer's labourer 5. Their first child, Florence May, had been born on New Year's Day6. At least two other children were born to the couple but, sadly, these died as infants7.

Thomas appears to have enlisted with the Sherwood Foresters in March 19158 with 15th (Service) Battalion which had been formed in the previous month in Nottingham by the Mayor and a committee as an all "Bantam" battalion. These Bantam Battalions were the brainchild of Albert Bigland MP, Chairman of Birkenhead City Recruiting Committee, who suggested that they be formed for able bodied men of below the usual qualifying height of 5 3". The 15th Sherwoods joined the 105th Brigade 35th Division which was part of the No 6 Recruiting District and, in June 1915, it was at Masham in Yorkshire where it became part of the 105th Brigade 35th, an all bantam Division. After training at various camps in England the Division arrived in France in January 1916.

On the evening of the 19th July 1916 the Divisional Commander arrived at Brigade HQ, fresh from a Corps conference and ordered that the Brigade should capture some 1,000 yards of enemy trench from Maltz Horn Farm northwards, coordinated with a French attack. The task was allocated to the Foresters and appears to have been a desperately difficult venture from the outset. The frontage was far too wide for a battalion assault, observed artillery support could not be provided where it was needed most, and little time was given to troops that were already exhausted, hungry and under heavy artillery bombardment. The officer commanding had decided that only two companies were fit to attack, the other two being badly shaken by shelling and had been in gas masks for four hours under tear and chlorine gas shell fire. Two companies of 23rd Manchesters were sent to support the attack. It was about this time that a corporal from the Sherwoods took his section of seven men out of the line The men had had no rations for three days and were unable to stand up to the strain with some retreating in panic. The corporal was arrested, Court-Marshalled, was found guilty of leaving his post, and was shot by a firing squad on 17th August 19169.

Nevertheless the attack went on after dawn with very limited success, held only briefly. But the cost to the Sherwood's was heavy - ten officers were killed and nine wounded, thirty nine other ranks killed, 146 wounded and 36 were missing.

Private Lawton was one of those killed. His body was never identified and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing which now stands adjacent to the Leipzig Redoubt. The memorial was unveiled on the 1st August 1932 by the then Prince of Wales and is the largest British War Memorial in the world. Standing 150 feet high, it dominates the surrounding area. The memorial stands on a concrete raft 10ft thick, built 19ft below the ground, the solution to the problems of building over the warren of tunnels that formed the German second line. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens the memorial has sixteen masonry piers, where can be found, on the panel faces, the names of some 72,000 British and 830 South African soldiers who died and have no known grave, during the period starting in July 1915, when the British Third Army took over from the French, through the Somme battles of 1916, until 20th March 1918, the eve of the last great German offensive on the Somme. The focal point of the memorial is the Stone of Remembrance, which lies under the great arch and centrally between the piers, for which Rudyard Kipling chose a quotation from Ecclesiasticus, "There name liveth forevermore".

Private Lawton was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal10. His financial effects of 2 16s 4d were paid to Mary, his widow on 20 October 1917. Early in 1918, Mary married Robert McLauglin in Derby and it was as Mary McLaughlin that she also received Thomas's War Gratuity of 5 10s on 4 October 191911.

Around this time, and certainly by 1921, Mary and Robert, together with Thomas and Mary's daughter Florence May, moved to Beeston where they set up home at 88 Station Road12, part of a row of terrace housing which then stood south of what is now the White Lion Public House12. Florence May married Henry Terry in May 1930 and set up home at 5 Clifton Street, Beeston. In 1938, Mary married Thomas Pickersgill. She died in 1971, aged 80, apparently still living at 88 Station Road13.

1The photograph of the Thiepval Memorial is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
2His birth was registered in Derby Registration District in Q2/1886 (Ref 7b 583)
3Bristol, 1901 Census, Piece 2370 Folio 141
4There marriage took place at St Alkmund's Church, Derby on 10 August 1910
5Derby, 1911 Census, Piece 20912 RD435 SD2 ED41 Schedule 29
6Florence May was baptised at St Alkmund's Church Derby on 18 January 1911. Her birth date was recorded in the register as 1 January 1911. Thomas was recorded as a brushmaker, another trade that was taught in Industrial Schools.
7Their son, Thomas, was born in Derby in Q1/1913 (Ref 7b 1156) and died in the same quarter (Ref 7b 730).
Their daughter, Violet Lilian, was born on 26 January 1915 and baptised at St Alkmund's Church, Derby on 14 March 1915. The family were then recorded as living at 70 Boroughs Walk and Thomas working as a labourer. Violet Lilian's death was registered in Basford Registration District (of which Beeston was part) in Q3/1916 (Ref 7b 241).
8As his Army Service Record has not survived, the date of his enlistment has been calculated based on the amount of his War Gratuity.
9This description of the circumstances around the attack are based on the account in The Blast of War: A history of Nottingham's Bantams. 15th Battalion Sherwood Foresters 1915-1919, by Maurice Bacon.
10Details from Thomas's Medal Card and Medal Rolls - available on ancestry.com.
11Details of the payments are from the "Army Register of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929" - available on ancestry.com.
12Robert McLocklin (sic) is recorded at this address in the 1921 Electoral Roll. Mary McLaughlin is recorded there on the 1930 Electoral Roll.
13Details of the family are derived from standard genealogical sources, including the September 1939 Registration for Beeston.

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