THOMAS GARDNER MARSHALL
Thomas was a Lancashire lad through and through but he wasn’t from Blackburn. He was born, raised and lived most of his life in Lancaster. He was born on the 30 January 1882 and baptised in St Mary’s Church on the 9 April. He was named after his maternal grandfather Thomas Gardner who was also a property owning gentleman from Lancaster.
Up until his thirties he lived in the family home ‘Wheatfield’, a substantial house, which still stands on Dallas Road in Lancaster.
The family were well off and he shared the house with his mother and father Mary and Thomas. He had an elder brother Reginald who went on to be a solicitor and two sisters Mary and Gertrude. They also had a live in cook, servant and even a governess for a while.
His father, who died in 1907, was a wine and spirit merchant who also owned the Bear and Staff Hotel in Lancaster which they sold in 1899 to F W Woolworth.
He was educated at Lancaster Royal Grammar School and went on to be a stained glass artist. Lancaster at the time was a centre for stained glass with three well known Also in the town were a noted firm of architects, Paley and Austin, who built lots of the churches in the North West including St Silas in Blackburn the tower of which was completed in 1914.
Some time in 1912/13 Thomas moved to Pleasington and lived in Feniscowles Old Hall, not the ruined New Hall, on what is now Links Lane. Why he moved to Pleasington we are not sure but Harold Cooper who had lived in the Hall in 1911 was an architect so perhaps he was working for him and Harold also had three sisters so perhaps this was the connection.
When war was declared Thomas joined the East Lancs. Regt at Canterbury Street in 1914 when he was thirty two years old.
The 1st Battalion although recruiting mainly from Blackburn was stationed at Colchester as part of the 11th Brigade and then moved to Harrow. When in August the battalion mobilised for war and landed at Le Havre to engage in various actions on the Western Front Thomas remained in England. It wasn’t until June 1916 that he joined the battalion in France just before the Battle of the Somme.
At 0730 hours on 1st July 1916 the artillery barrage lifted and the British infantry, including the 1st and 11th East Lancashires, advanced in extended lines towards the German trenches.
For a few moments there was silence, and then suddenly machine guns opened up from behind largely unbroken wire and cut down the attackers in swathes.
The casualties, some 57,470 men, were the worst ever suffered by the British Army on a single day.
Within a few hours The East Lancashire Regiment suffered more casualties than on any other day in its long history. Out of 700 officers and men of the 1st Battalion who went into action, only 237 were present to answer their names when the roll was called, while the Accrington Pals lost 594 killed, wounded and missing out of the 720 in the attack.
Those of the regiment who were left were pulled back from the front to give them time to rest and recuperate.
After weeks of heavy rain no mans land was a vast lake of mud pitted with shell holes and the local command request that the assault was delayed. But the decision was taken to go ahead and on the 18 they advanced over the sea of mud. A and C companies were in front with B company following behind while D company was held in reserve. Heavy rain continued to fall and the night was pitch black, the sky was lit up by an artillery barrage and at zero hour the men floundered into the mud. Wearing full equipment and carrying extra bombs they were met by heavy machine gun fire and made slow progress, soon they were utterly exhausted and scarcely moving most were shot down or drowned in shell holes. Those who survived were rounded up at day break and taken prisoner. B and D companies fell back to their original lines and no one from A or C returned, they lost all the officers, NCOs and 362 other ranks.
He was buried in a temporary grave and after the war he was re-interned and lies in the Villers-Plouich Communal Cemetery in Northern France.