Thomas was born about April 1891 to William and Mary Ann Lancaster of Biddulph Moor. He was the youngest of three children with elder siblings Charles and William. Educated in Biddulph, Thomas then worked underground as a coal miner. On June 5th 1911, he married Sarah Ettie Hall, known as Sally, and later that year, on November 29th, their son Jack was born. The family lived at Well House Cottage, Biddulph Moor.
Thomas enlisted on March 8th 1915 with the North Staffordshire Regiment at Stoke-on-Trent. In his service records he was described as follows: Age 23 and 11 months, Height 5ft 4in, Chest measurements 35½in with 3in expansion range. Distinctive marks: brown eyes, brown hair, mole on back of neck, scar on front left forearm and scar above right shoulder.
On March 12th 1915, with the 3rd (reserve) Battalion, Thomas travelled to Devonport, Plymouth and was stationed there until May 6th. The Battalion was then billeted at Seaham, Co. Durham from May 7th to September 14th and then, from September 15th, at Forest Hall, North Tyneside until the end of the year.
Before the year was out, Thomas was drafted into the 7th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment, as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, and embarked on his posting from the UK to Gallipoli on November 14th 1915. No further details of his involvement in the Gallipoli Campaign were recorded in his service records, but an estimated transit time of two weeks would have placed him at his destination by the end of November.
Thomas Lancaster and wife, ‘Sally’, 1915.
As a reserve soldier, Thomas would have made a welcome addition to the casualty hit 7th Battalion North Staffords after they had already seen four months of action in Gallipoli as part of the 39th Brigade of the 13th (Western) Division. After landing at ANZAC Cove at the beginning of August, this Division was involved in three significant battles (Sari Bair, Russell’s Top and Hill 60), followed by further action at Suvla Bay from early September until the time of Thomas’s arrival.
By the end of November conditions at Suvla had deteriorated rapidly after three days of rain had flooded the lines, drowned soldiers and washed unburied corpses into the trenches. Then, at the beginning of December, the area was hit by a blizzard and further soldiers died of exposure. From December 7th plans to withdraw from ANZAC Cove and Suvla Bay were initiated. On December 19th-20th the Division was evacuated from Suvla and, after resting for a week, was transferred to the Helles Bridgehead from where, after repelling an Ottoman attack in the morning at Gully Spur, a final evacuation took place on the night of the 7th and the early hours of January 8th 1916. By January 9th, with the last troops withdrawn, the Gallipoli Campaign ended without achieving Allied control of the Dardanelles, the narrow strait connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. The human cost of the conflict to both sides totalled almost half a million casualties, which included 130,000 dead.
The fighting continued for the 7th Battalion North Staffords in Mesopotamia after first landing in Egypt, but for Thomas, his war came to an end in a military hospital on the island of Malta. His service records concluded with the line “Died of wounds Mil Hospital Floriana Malta 15.1.16”. Though the conditions at Floriana Hospital were good for the time, without the advantages of more modern treatments such as antibiotics, the survival of many injured soldiers often depended more on avoiding serious infection than recovering from the actual injury. No additional details relating to the circumstances of Thomas’s death were recorded in his service records, but further research identified his later burial at the Pietà Military Cemetery, Malta.
Back in England, on Sunday January 30th 1916, a memorial service for Thomas was held at Biddulph Moor Church. This event was reported in the local newspaper, The Chronicle, on February 6th (see below). In addition to his photograph, the report also, for some unknown reason, incorrectly stated that Thomas had died “from wounds in France on the January 17th 1916”.
Though the body of Thomas was not repatriated, in June 1916 his belongings were returned to his widow, Sally: Red Cross brooch, writing case, photographs, post cards, letter, purse, two metal rings, charm pendant, bullet belt, two shaving brushes, razor, strop, Memorial Card
The Weekly Sentinel reported on January 29th 1916 that “official information has been received by Mrs. T. Lancaster of Well House, Biddulph Moor that her husband died on January 15th in a military hospital at Floriana, Malta, from injuries received on December 7th 1915.”
Between 1919 and 1921 Sally received Thomas’s posthumously awarded 1914-15 Star, Victory medal and British War medal. She raised their son Jack on Biddulph Moor staying in close contact with family, in particular that of her brother-in-law, Charles.
Jack grew up, married and had two children, Irene and Roy. This brief history is dedicated to the memory of the grandfather they never knew.
Private Thomas Lancaster now rests in the Pietà Military Cemetery at Valletta Malta. He is also remembered on the Biddulph and Biddulph Moor memorials.