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War Memorials

In Memory of
Private 235264
4th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment
Who was Killed in Action on Friday, 31st May 1918
Age 35

No Known Grave
Soissons Memorial to the "Missing", Aisne, France

Commemorated in Perpetuity
by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Remembered with Honour
Soissons Memorial to the "Missing"

Soissons Memorial to the "Missing"1

Thomas Branson Knowles was born in Stapleford, Nottinghamshire in 18832, the second of seven surviving children, eldest son, of Henry (b. 1859, Beeston, Notts) and Louisa (b. c1855, Stapleford, Notts, née Branson). Henry, had married Louisa Branson in Stapleford, Notts in 1880 and they had at first lived in Stapleford where their first three children were born. By 1890, they had moved to Beeston where, in 1891, they were living on the High Road where Henry was trading as a pork butcher3. By 1901, the family had moved to 6 Union Street, Beeston4. By then, Henry was working as a publican's brewer and Thomas, then aged 18, was in business for himself as a greengrocer.

In July 1904, Thomas married Mary Jane Chaplin, the daughter of Henry & Elizabeth (née Deverill) Chaplin at Beeston Parish Church. Henry Chaplin operated a fish shop in Bulwell. Thomas and Mary's son Thomas was born in Beeston in April 19145. By 1911, they had moved to 13 Prospect Place, Willoughby Street, Lenton, Nottingham from where Thomas continued to operate as a greengrocer6. Another son, Sydney was born later that year but died shortly afterwards. A further son, also named Sydney was born in 19147.

As a married man with children and with a business to run, it is perhaps understandable that Thomas was not amongst those who enlisted so enthusiastically in the early months of the war. By 1916, however, the number of men volunteering for service was diminishing and was not meeting the relentless demand from the Western Front and the Government was looking for ways to fill the gap. The Derby Scheme, which introduced canvassing for volunteers had still not persuaded the required numbers and the Military Service Act was now enacted which meant that, from March 1916, all single men aged between 18 and 41 (with some exceptions) would be automatically conscripted. By June 1916, this was extended to include married men. In the event, Thomas appears to have enlisted in November 1916, apparently first joining the Lincolnshire Regiment for training8

Although we have no record of exactly when, it seems that, at some point in the next 2 years, Thomas was transferred at least twice between regiments. Apparently, at one point he was with The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment9 but, eventually joined 4th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment with which he was serving when he was killed. This 'Extra-Reserve' Battalion, probably including Private Knowles, landed at Havre and became part of 7th Brigade of 25th Division on 10 October 1917 and settled in to the routine of trench fighting.

In mid March 1918, the battalion was in the line at Fremicourt, west of Bapaume. Based on intelligence from raiding parties and captured prisoners, a major attack by the enemy had been expected for some time and enemy positions had been strangely quite during the early days of the month. Then, on 21st March, the German Army launched its Spring Offensive from the Hindenburg Line with the objective of ending the war before American troops and resources could tilt the balance towards the Allies. The objective was to smash through the Allied lines, push the British forces into the sea and to cut off their supply lines by seizing the ports. It was a period of attacks and counter-attacks along the whole front line and the battalion was moved continually as the situation developed and the Allied forces fell back to a new line. On 10th April, the battalion received heavy shelling on its front, support and reserve positions with the inevitable casualties. It was a pattern that continued throughout May and, on the 27, the battalion was involved in severe fighting south-west of Cormicy and were forced to withdraw to Pevy where further fighting over the next few days, with several days, resulted in many casualties - the diary on the 29th records 11 officers and 265 other ranks10.

As his body was not identified, Private Knowles is remembered on the Soissons Memorial. The town of Soissons stands on the left bank of the River Aisne, approximately 100 kilometres north-east of Paris. The memorial there commemorates almost 4,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom forces who died during the Battles of the Aisne and the Marne in 1918 and who have no known grave. The memorial was designed by G.H. Holt and V.O. Rees, with sculpture by Eric Kennington. It was unveiled by Sir Alexander Hamilton-Gordon on 22 July 19289.

Private Knowles was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal10. His Army financial effects of 12 19 3, which included a War Gratuity of 8 10s, were paid to his widow on 9 December 191911.

In the 1920s, Thomas's father, Henry Knowles operated a fish shop at 94 High Road, Beeston with Horace Knowles next door at number 96, trading as a tobacconist. Louisa Knowles died in February 1938, aged 83, followed by her husband Henry in October 1939, aged 80. They were buried in Beeston Cemetery where their memorial survives. Thomas's widow, Mary Jane, moved back to the Bulwell area and, towards the end of 1919, married John Jordan12 and they went on to have two children together - John in 1920 and Thomas in 1923. Thomas and Mary's son, Thomas, was living and working in Beeston in 193913.

1The photograph of Soissons Memorial to the "Missing" is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website (http://www.cwgc.org).
2His birth was registered in Shardlow Registration District (of which Stapleford was part) in Q1/1883(Ref 7b 531).
3Beeston, Notts, 1891 Census, Piece 2871 Folio 38.
Thomas's siblings were Mary Ann (c1880-1974), Henry (b. c1887), Horace (b. c1890), Louisa (b. c1896), Elsie (b. c1900) and Ernest (c1893-1904).
4Beeston, Notts, 1901 Census, Piece 3153 Folio 106.
5Thomas & Mary Jane were married on 19 July 1904. Their son Thomas was born on 15 May 1905.
6Lenton, Nottingham, 1911 Census, Piece 20493 RD430 SD1 ED4 Schedule 443
7The first Sydney's birth was registered in Nottingham Registration District (of which Lenton was then part) in Q2/1911 (Ref 7b 353). He died there in Q3/1911 (ref 7b 353). The second Sydney was born in Nottingham Registration District in Q3/1914 (Ref Q4 1914).
8As his Army Service Record has not survived, his enlistment date has been calculated based on the amount of his War Gratuity. His early attachment to the Lincolnshire Regiment (Service number 63735) is from his entry in 'Soldiers Died in the Great War'.
9His attachment to The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (Service Number 235038) is recorded in the Medal Rolls, but with no dates.
10This summary account of 4th Battalion's deployment is based on its War Diary. Although Private Knowles is officially recorded as having been killed on the 31st, it is more likely that he was amongst the many recorded as missing on the 29th. By the 31st, the battalion had left the front.
9The description of the Soissons Memorial to the "Missing" is based on that on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website (http://www.cwgc.org).
10Details from Thomas's Medal Card and the Medal Rolls - available on ancestry.com.
11Details from "Army Register of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929" - available on ancestry.com.
12Their marriage was recorded in Nottingham Registration District in Q4/1919 (Ref 7b 1104).
13At the time of the Registration in September 1939, he appears to be unmarried and lodging at 2 Wood Street, Beeston. Later details have not been located.

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