Thomas Birchall
Thomas Birchall WW1

Thomas Birchall was born September 6, 1888 and was baptized October 24, 1888 in Market Drayton, Shropshire. His parents were Thomas and Annie Birchall. Thomas Birchall senior, a printer, died less than a month later, December 10, 1888.

In the 1911 census Thomas, his mother Annie and brother William were living at 55, Shrewsbury Road, Market Drayton. Thomas was a liveryman for the Ginger Beer Works.

Thomas joined the York and Lancaster Regiment. He had joined the Barnsley Pals and at some stage had sailed to Egypt. By July 1, 1916 he had become a sergeant, 14/294. He died in the first few minutes of the Battle of the Somme, after heavy machine gun fire. Thomas is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Pier and Face 14A and 14B.


Thomas Birchall is the great uncle of Ken Fox of Aycliffe. Ken has provided a fuller account of Thomas's family below.

The History of Thomas Birchall
Thomas Birchall was born on 6th September 1888 in Market Drayton, Shropshire, the son of Thomas Birchall senior, who was born in 1848, and Sarah Annie Birchall who was born around 1852.

His father was a printer by trade and his mother later went on to become a laundress, working from home.  Thomas senior died when Thomas was only a few months old, in around December 1888.  Thomas’s grandparents, John and Elizabeth Birchall, would have been in their late sixties when he was born and it is not known for certain if he ever knew them.

Thomas was the second youngest of seven children. Sarah, the first child, was born in around 1877, Francis was born around 1879, next was Harry, born in around 1880, then came Nellie who was born around 1883.  In September 1891 she sadly died. Thomas’s sister, Edith, was born in around 1885 and Thomas was born three years later in 1888.  The final child was born in 1893, being William Birchall.  It is not known who the father of William was, Sarah having been widowed some 5 years earlier.

  Harry Birchall would later go on to join the police service in what is now West Mercia Constabulary.  He died in around 1935 and is buried at the Oakengates cemetery in Shopshire.  Edith later went on to marry Ephraim Daniels in 1906 and between them they had three children, Ephraim junior, Sally and Eva.  In 1933, Ephraim junior married Alice Lee and between them they had three children, Nora, Edith and David.  In 1964 Nora, at the age of twenty nine, married John Moors and they, in turn, had two children being Christopher and Richard. 

By 1901 Thomas’s sister, Sarah, who was now using her middle name of Annie, was married and living with her husband Thomas Blaze and their two children. Thomas, aged 4 years, and Charles, aged 2 years.  They were all living with Thomas, William and their mother, who had also reverted to her middle name of Annie.  The family were by now living at 72 Great Hales Road, Market Drayton.
Thomas’s father lived first at 99 Stafford Street, Market Drayton before marrying his wife, sometime around 1876.  By 1881 the family had moved to 117 Tinkers Lane, St Mary’s, Market Drayton.  By 1891 they had moved again, this time to Sutton, in the Christ Church area of Market Drayton. 

At some time after the turn of the century Thomas left school and began a career as a miner, moving to the Barnsley area.  It is not known what drew Thomas to Barnsley but he also served in the 4th Kings Shropshire Light Infantry as a territorial soldier. 
When war broke out in August 1914 it didn’t take long for Thomas to answer his country’s call to arms.  On 22nd January 1915 he went to the Barnsley recruiting office where he signed up to the York and Lancaster regiment.  He gave his address as Greta Terrace, Shafton, Barnsley and his occupation as miner.  Along with so many others from the Barnsley area he was to join the 14th Battalion, 2nd Barnsley regiment who became known as The Barnsley Pals.  He was given his service number of 14/294 and he was enlisted as a private.  By the 5th February 1915 he had been promoted to the rank of N.C.O sergeant and by the 5th May 1915 he had been confirmed in his post of ‘B’ company under the command of Capt. T Quest.

By May 13th 1915 the Battalion had left for Rugeley for initial training at Penkridge Bank Camp.  By September 1915 they had arrived at Hurdcott Camp, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire where they were to spend the next three months training before leaving for Devonport and on to Egypt.
The posting to Egypt, to protect the Suez Canal from any Turkish attack, took Thomas and his unit far from his home and family.  He had set sail on the T.S.S Andania on 29th December 1915 bound for Egypt.  On the 6th January 1916 they had stopped at the Mediterranean island of Malta to take on supplies, only officers and sergeants were allowed ashore and no doubt Thomas took advantage of the time to take in the sights of Valetta’s Grand Harbour.  The stop was only short and by the afternoon of 7th January 1916 they had set sail again, arriving at Port Said by the 13th.

The posting in Egypt made a change to the dull English weather and the horrors yet to face the York & Lancaster regiment on the Western Front.  Nevertheless, with high temperatures from the scorching Egyptian sun, rumours of the natives garrotting Australian troops and a murder a day being committed by the Arabs meant the soldiers were limited to the places they could go.  By January 20th the battalion had struck tents and prepared to dig in.

On 11th March 1916 Thomas set sail from Egypt heading for Marseilles on the H.M.T Megantic, arriving five days later.  From here it was a 2 day journey by train through Lyon, Dijon and Paris before finally pulling in at Pont Remy, southeast of Abbeville, not far from the river Somme.   From here the 14th Battalion marched to Fresnes.

From March onwards began the build up to the ‘big push’ on the German lines around the Somme.  Being miners the Battalion soldiers were utilised helping to dig the mines with the Royal Engineers and dispose of the chalky soil.  The 14th Battalion were busy preparing for their time in the trenches.  With a steady training regime of route marching and rifle drill they had marched to Courcelles Au Bois by April 2nd.  The following morning they left their bivouacs and made for the front line trenches opposite the German lines in the village of Serre.
From here on in the Battalion were subject to the horrors of war, including the German canister shell.  A two gallon drum filled with around two pound of explosive and packed with scrap metal, spent bullets, rusty nails and any other sinister filling that would maim and kill.  There were nightly raids by German patrols to contend with, and on 3rd April 1916 the second in command, Major G.A Sandford was stabbed by a German raiding party in the front line trench.

Thomas Birchall newspaper report of his death

By 1st July 1916 all preparation was complete for the ‘big push’.  There had been heavy shelling the previous week and during the early morning to soften the enemy and at 0720 hours that morning the British mine under Hawthorne Ridge was detonated causing the ground to shudder under the force of the explosion.  By 0740 hours that day, B company, under Major Guest, followed A company into No Mans Land.  Leaving Rolland trench Thomas Birchall made his way towards the German lines along with so many of the ‘pals’.  He had not advanced far when he was struck by machine gun bullets from the German Maxim 08 and died where he fell.  His lieutenant, H Strong, wounded during the same action, wrote to Thomas’s brother, Harry, who was by now a police sergeant.  In his letter he speaks highly of Thomas and describes the final moments of his life.  The contents of this letter were later published in the Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser, the local paper of the time.  The telegram containing the devastating news of Thomas' death was delivered to his mother at 55 Shrewsbury Road, Market Drayton and on 5th August 1916 an announcement was made in the Newport and Market Drayton newspaper concerning the family's recent bereavement.

Thomas was one of the 60,000 British servicemen killed in the first days of the Somme offensive.  He is forever commemorated, along with 73,000 others, at the Thiepval Memorial in the Somme region of France on pier and face 14A and 14B.  He is also remembered in his home town of Market Drayton on the local War Memorial, along with other local men who gave their lives for the freedom of others.