Lance Corporal, London Regiment, 1st/24th Bn
Service no. 1909
Died 22 April 1915, aged about 23
Remembered at Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France
Thomas William Gray was born in 1892 in Plumstead, southeast London, the second child of Walter and Helen Elizabeth Gray. As a child, Thomas lived in Hare Street, within sight of the Thames. It was a short walk downhill to the Woolwich ferry, with the vast complex of the Victoria and Albert Docks across the river. The area was home to the Woolwich Arsenal and a Royal Engineers barracks but still had the open space of Woolwich Common and Shooter’s Hill on its southern boundary.
By the time of the 1911 census, the family was living in the crowded environment of Lambeth. Walter and Helen were now in their fifties. Six of their eight children had survived into adulthood, but it was just Thomas, then 18, and his sister Annie, 17, who lived with their parents. The family included an elderly widowed aunt. Walter worked for a biscuit manufacture as a commercial clerk, Thomas was as a clerk at tourist agent and Anne was a costumier’s dressmaker. The family had four rooms at 16 Thorne Road, a house they shared with two other families.
Thomas was one of the thousands who volunteered in the first week of August 1914. He had gone to the drill hall in nearby Braganza Street (previously New Street), Kennington, where the 24th (County of London) Battalion (The Queen’s) was based. As part of the Territorial Force, battalion was mobilised on 5 August, but were under-strength and needed to large numbers of new volunteers from Lambeth and beyond.
Thomas was on the move in mid-August when The Queen’s marched to a camp in the St Albans-Hatfield area. Training continued through the autumn and winter until the battalion left for France, disembarking at Le Havre on the 16 March. Thomas had already been promoted Lance Corporal. Between March 28 and April 18 The Queen’s were mostly employed to dig trenches at Lapugnoy, near Bethune in northern France. A hot march on 19 April took The Queen’s into the front line trenches at Richebourg Saint-Vaast.Sporadic shelling wounded one man on 20 April, killed another and wounded two on 21 April. It was noted that ‘1 NCO was wounded from A company’ on 22 April 22. Thomas Gray’s war had been cut brutally short.
The wedding of Thomas’ sister Annie Alice May on 22 December 1917 to Robert Bessant, a former neighbour, must have brought some comfort to the family. Bessant had volunteered for The Queen’s in September 1914 but was discharged unfit in April 1916, having never served in France.
At the end of the war Thomas’s parents received a small pension. The REgister of Soldiers’ Effects shows that the war gratuity was split between his father and May Elizabeth Martin, a dressmaker from Southwark, who we can infer was probably Thomas’s sweetheart.
Members of the Gray family remained at the Thorne Road address until at least 1932.
The Queens’s memorial is in Kennington Park.