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War Memorials

In Memory of
Private 241868
1/6th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment
Who was Died of Wounds on Thursday, 30th May 1918
Age 31

Buried Plot II Row E Grave 4
Pernes British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France

Commemorated in Perpetuity
by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Remembered with Honour
Canada Farm Cemetery

Pernes British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France1

Thomas William Turton was born in Beeston, Notts in 18852, the second child, eldest son of John (b. 1864, Nottingham) and Mary Elizabeth (b. c1863, Beeston née Hazzledine). John worked in the lace trade as a warper and, in 1901, was living with his wife and nine of their children at 4 Greyhound Yard, an area of poorer housing off the north side off High Road, adjacent to the inn of that name3. Thomas William, then aged 16, was there and working as a painter in a cycle works - most likely at the Humber Works in Beeston. In the next few years, tragedy hit the family when, first John died, aged under 40, in 1902, followed three years later by his widow, aged about 42. Two of their children also died, Herbert in 1901 and Nellie in 1902, which left eight siblings to continue their lives together. In 1911, they were all living at 40 Upper Regent Street, Beeston with the eldest, Mary Harriett, the notional head of the family. Annie, then aged 17 was looking after the domestic work at home, while all other siblings were employed outside the home. Thomas William (then listed as 'William') was then aged 26 and was working as an iron moulder's labourer4.

As the eldest man in a family of eight with both father and a mother dead, much of the responsibility of the household fell on Thomas. In these circumstances, it is perhaps understandable that he 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. Thomas appears to have enlisted in March 1916, joining the South Staffordshire Regiment for training5.

Although we have no record of the date on which Private Turton arrived in France, it is almost certainly the case that he had joined 1/6th Battalion there by the spring of 1917. His brother John's death from wounds in September 1916 would have added to the natural trepidation he and his siblings must have felt. The winter had brought mud, rain and snow which meant desperately difficult conditions with virtually no fighting. But as the frozen terrain became accessible from January onwards, the battalion took part in the Operation in the Ancre, intended to keep the enemy's attention on the Somme in preparation for an intended offensive at Arras in the Spring. In fact, German forces were planning a spring withdrawal to new positions on the shorter, more easily defended Hindenburg Line, about 25 miles narrower and to the rear of their previously held position. During fighting in February and March 1917 - in which 1/6th Battalion was involved6 - the withdrawal was successfully carried out and British patrols probing German outposts found them unoccupied. In preparation for the withdrawal, the enemy had destroyed the abandoned area - railways and roads had been dug up, trees felled, water wells polluted, towns and villages destroyed and a large number of mines and other booby-traps had been planted. This destruction and a well-prepared rear-guard, slowed the possibility of immediate follow-up and allowed the withdrawal to be completed in an orderly way. When it was complete, the British found themselves facing a far more formidable German defensive position than they had after the Somme battles, as the enemy once again occupied all the higher and more strategically important positions, overlooking lower ground on which the Allies had to dig in and attack from during subsequent actions in the area.

In August 1917, the battalion fought alongside Canadian troops in the Battle of Hill 70, which was designed to draw German troops away from the Third Battle of Ypres (known as Passchendaele) which was then underway.

In the early weeks of 1918, a major attack by the enemy was expected at any time. In early March the enemy positions were strangely quite and raiding parties had been carried out during which German prisoners had been taken for interrogation. 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. The first day started with an intense bombardment which was followed up by a fierce attack which threatened the Allied positions over a wide area and it was a threat that was repeated for many weeks, with desperate rearguard defences mounted by Allied forces who were forced to fallback to new positions which thankfully held. A feature of the enemy shelling was the use of gas shells and it appears that, at some point, Private Turton was 'wounded' by the effects of such an attack7. Based solely on his place of burial, it seems likely that he was evacuated to either 6th or 22nd Casualty Clearing Centre, both of which were based at Pernes from May 1918. Despite their best efforts, Private Turton died on 30th May 1918.

Private Turton was buried in Pernes British Cemetery which is located almost 1 kilometre west of the small town of Pernes-en-Artois in the Pas de Calais Region of France. The cemetery was not begun until April 1918 when the 1st and 4th Canadian Casualty Clearing Stations came to Pernes, driven back by the German advance. In May, the 6th and 22nd Clearing Stations arrived and in August, they were joined by the 13th. Almost all the burials were made by these units, but a few of the graves were brought into the cemetery after the Armistice. There are now 1,078 First World War burials in this cemetery and 18 graves from the Second World War. There are also 3 non Commonwealth burials. The cemetery was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens8.

Private Turton was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal9. His financial effects of 21 6s 1d, were paid in equal shares to five of his siblings, Job Alfred, Mary H, Annie, Caroline E and Kate on 6 May 1919. His War Gratuity of 9 10s was paid to his sister Mary on 8 October 191910.

Thomas's younger brother, John Samuel Turton, served with the Grenadier Guards and died of wounds on 12 September 1917. His other brother, Job Alfred Turton served with the Royal Garrison Artillery during the Great War and survived.

Of the ten children of John and Mary Elizabeth Turton, five were to go on to have full adult lives, with all but Mary marrying and setting down locally. Mary brought up her son at 25 Salisbury Street, Beeston, where other siblings stayed from time to time. Amos, and many of the wider family found work at Beeston Foundry - which became Beeston Boiler Company. Perhaps remarkably, this even extended to Caroline who worked there as a moulder just after World War 1 and again between 1925 and 1937 with employment at the Palladium cinema in Beeston in between.

1The photograph of the Pernes British 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 Q1/1885 (Ref 7b 181).
3Beeston, Notts, 1901 Census, Piece 3153 Folio 11
4Beeston, Notts, 1911 Census, Piece 20431 RD429 SD3 ED6 Sched 327
Thomas William's then surviving siblings were Mary Harriett (1883-1972), John Samuel (1887-1917), Kate (b. 1888), Sarah Joan (1890-1912), Annie (b. 1894), Job Alfred (1896-1956) and Caroline Eva (b1897). Also living in the household were Mary's son, Leslie Albert Turton, and a boarder.
5His enlistment date is calculated from the amount of his War Gratuity.
6This outline of the deployment of 1/6th Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment is from the Forces War Records website (www.forces-war-records.co.uk/units/321/south-staffordshire-regiment). The battalion War Diary survives but has not been seen by the author.
7The assumption for the cause of his death is based on the words "Wds (Gas)" written as the cause in his entry in the Army Register of Soldiers' Effects.
8This description of the Pernes British Cemetery is based on that on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
9Details from Thomas's Medal Card and Medal Rolls - available on ancestry.com.
10Details of the payments are from the "Army Register of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929" - available on ancestry.com. Sarah Jane Turton had died in 1912.

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