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War Memorials

In Memory of
Gunner 117828
99th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery
Who Died of Wounds on Friday, 28th June 1918
Age 33

Plot III Row E Grave 27 Aire Communal Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France

Commemorated in Perpetuity
by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Remembered with Honour
Aire Communal Cemetery

Aire Communal Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France1

Thomas Peach was born in Beeston, Notts in 18852, the third surviving child, only son of Thomas (b. 1849 Beeston) and Catherine Peach (b. 1850, Beeston, née Bottomer). Early in his working life, extending into the early years of his marriage to Catherine in 1875, Thomas senior had worked as a throwster at the local silk mill. But, by 1901, with the silk mill fallen on hard times, he had found work as a labourer at the Humber cycle works. During this time, the family was living at 22 William Street, Beeston and, by 1901, all three children were working in the lace trade. Thomas junior, was then aged 15 and described as a card lacer3. By 1911, Thomas's sister Edith had married and left home and the rest of the family had moved to live at 68 Chilwell Road, Beeston. Thomas senior was now working as a jobbing gardener, Humbers having closed in Beeston and moved to Coventry. Thomas junior was now a twist hand, making lace curtains4.

Thomas's Army Service Record, which has survived, tells us that he attested at Beeston on 10 February 1916, probably under the terms of the Derby Scheme which allowed volunteers to be assigned to the Reserve with the understanding that they would be mobilised at a future date, when required. In the event, Thomas was mobilised with the Royal Garrison Artillery on 6 September 1916. During the next seven months, Gunner Peach was attached, in turn, to 256th, 279th and 288th Siege Batteries, for training while stationed in England5.

The Royal Garrison Artillery had developed as a separate part of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, armed with heavy, large calibre guns and howitzers - some road or rail mounted - intended to destroy or neutralise the enemy artillery, as well as putting immensely destructive fire down on strongpoints, dumps, stores, roads and railways behind enemy lines. It was organised into Batteries, each consisting of about six officers, a similar number of NCOs and upwards of 200 men6.

On 5th April 1917, having completed his training, Gunner Peach crossed from Folkestone to Boulogne with 288th Battery. On 18th April, he was transferred to 99th Siege Battery and began his service on the Western Front. The Battery fought as part of the British Fifth Army and, as such, took part in the Battle of Arras in April and May 1917 and the Third Battle of Ypres - known as the Battle of Passchendael - which began on 31 July 1917 and continued for over three months during which those involved faced dreadful weather conditions and very high casualties.

During these long weeks and months, the conditions became atrocious when the heavy and persistent rain caused thick treacherous mud which was constantly churned by the artillery offensives, forming water filled holes in which men and horses drowned. For Gunner Peach, these conditions inflamed a problem that had developed with both his legs and, by October, after treatment in nearby military medical units, he was returned to England on the 15 October for treatment for 'ICT' - Inflamed Connective Tissue - no doubt caused or aggravated by the weather conditions he had faced.

Now back in England, he was first admitted to 2nd Western General Hospital in Manchester and then to the Voluntary Red Cross hospital at ‘The Bolling’ in Malpas, Cheshire for further treatment and convalescence. After his release from hospital on 14 January 1918, he returned to duty. 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. In early attacks the British had faced intense bombardments and fierce attacks and suffered heavy casualties while being forced to retreat to new positions. Facing a desperate need for men to replace the heavy losses and to hold the line, it is not surprising that Gunner Peach was returned to France on 6th April to rejoin the 99th Siege Battery.

On 24 June 1918, 99th Siege Battery was north of St Vernant in the Pas de Calais when, during the night, the gun positions were heavily shelled with gas. About 10 of the men were killed outright with the remainder leaving their position before returning in the following morning without wearing respirators. Unfortunately, mustard gas still lingered around their gun positions and virtually the whole Battery became victims of the gas - only one Officer and 15 men were not casualties7. Gunner Peach was one of the casualties and was passed through the evacuation chain for treatment at 39th Stationary Hospital, than at Aire. Despite the best efforts of the staff there, Gunner Peach died of gas poisoning on 28th June 19188.

He was buried in the nearby Aire Communal Cemetery. Aire is a town about 14 Kms south-south-east of St. Omer. From March 1915 to February 1918, it was a busy but peaceful centre used by Commonwealth forces as corps headquarters. The Highland Casualty Clearing Station was based there as was the 39th Stationary Hospital (from May 1917) and other medical units. The cemetery now contains 894 Commonwealth burials of the First World War and a few French and German war graves. There are also 21 Second War burials, mostly dating from the withdrawal to Dunkirk in May 1940. The Commonwealth plots were designed by Sir Herbert Baker9.

Gunner Peach was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. His financial effects of £8 13s were paid on 9 October 1918 to his mother as his sole legatee under the terms of his soldier's will. She also received his War Gratuity of £8 on 14 November 191910.

In addition to the memorial in Beeston Parish Church, Gunner Peach is also named on the memorial in Chilwell Road Methodist Church, Beeston.

Thomas's parents were to live out their lives at what had been the family home at 68 Chilwell Road, Beeston, with their two married daughters living, at various times, either nearby or at 68 Chilwell Road. His father died in 1928 aged 78. His mother died in 1944, reaching the age of 94.

1The photograph of Aire Communal Cemetery is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
2His birth was registered in Basford Registration District (of which Beeston was part) in Q3/1885 (Ref 7b 166)
3Beeston, 1901 Census, Piece 3153 Folio 95. A card lacer minds the Jacquard card machine that defines the pattern worked by the lace machine.
Thomas's surviving siblings were Maria (b. 1875) and Edith (b. 1888), Another sister, Mary Ann, died, aged 1, in 1880.
4Beeston, Nottingham, 1911 Census, Piece 20428 RD429 SD3 ED3 Schedule 160
5His Army Service Record is available online at ancestry.com and at findmypast.co.uk. It has been used to provide much of the detail of his service career.
6This description of the role of the Royal Garrison Artillery is based on that on The Long, Long Trail website at www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-royal-artillery-in-the-first-world-war/
7Details of this tragic event is derived from the online obituaries of two others from 99th Siege Battery who died in these circumstance at that time - see those for Lance Bombardier Wood at www.stockport1914-1918.co.uk/soldier.php?name_id=2744 and for Gunner Enock in the Fallen of Bloxham section of The Fallen from the Villages of North & West Oxfordshire website ( www.wardeadofnorthoxfordshire.com ). The original source is currently unknown.
8Details of Gunner Peach's transfer to 39th Stationary Hospital and death there are included in his Army Service Record.
9This description of Aire Communal Cemetery is based on that on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
10Details from Thomas's Medal Register entries, his Medal Card and the "Army Register of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929" - available on ancestry.com.

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