Thomas was born in Tunstall, Staffordshire but is thought to have lived in the Stockport area for some considerable time. He was married, with six children, and lived at 37 Angel Street. He worked at Stockport Gas Works. Thomas was a skilled footballer and had played for New Brompton, Glossop and Grimsby Town.
He enlisted with his brother, in March 1915, into what was the local Regiment of his place of birth. The 7th Battalion had fought at Gallipoli as part of the Army’s 13th Division and, after finishing his training, Thomas probably joined it on active service just before it went to Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) in February 1916.
The original invasion forces had met with initial success but the British troops had over-stretched themselves and were defeated early in 1916. The troops were forced into a retreat and took refuge at the city of Kut-al-Amara where they were besieged by the Turkish Army. Attempts to relieve the garrison had so far failed and a new strengthened force, including the 13th Division, was assembled.
On 2 April, the troops left camp, crossing the Tigris at dawn the next day. By 6.30pm, they had reached the front line positions opposite the enemy at El Hannah. British artillery had been shelling the Turks for several days and everything was ready for an infantry assault. The men rested the next day as they were tired from the long march and all had become thoroughly soaked during a thunderstorm.
Just before dawn on the 5th, the men went “over the top” only to find that most of the Turkish forces had secretly pulled back, leaving their front line trench only lightly garrisoned. Not surprisingly, the British troops captured the whole line with relative ease. In the excitement, the 7th Battalion advanced further than ordered and found itself in the midst of the British artillery barrage.
The next three days were spent resting and reorganising but, in the evening of the 8th, the troops marched off again ready to undertake another attack, arriving at their designated positions at about 3am on the 9th. At 4.20am, without any preliminary artillery barrage, the whole of 13th Division quietly advanced across No Man’s Land towards Sannaiyat. When they were about 300 yards from the Turkish trenches, they were discovered. The Turks sent up a barrage of flares illuminating the whole of the area and immediately opened up a devastating fire.
The 7th Battalion’s War Diary records “There was nothing to prevent the Turks firing as long as they wanted to. They were under no fire themselves and the attack was made with the bayonet only and no artillery was used by us to keep the Turks heads down. Many acts of the greatest heroism were performed during the attack.”
It was already apparent that the attack had failed but, as dawn broke, it was clear that the Turkish trenches were held extremely strongly and any frontal attack would have been bound to fail. “It became a question of when the Turks would counter-attack.” Men dug small holes wherever they could to make a degree of cover and had to spend all day lying there. Many were killed during the day. It was not until just before midnight that they were relieved and able to make their way to safety.
44 men were known to have died and another 12 were missing. Thomas was amongst the dead and another local man, William Findlow, was missing. The Battalion Chaplain later wrote to Mrs Kelly “It was late in the evening that his brother who had been working heroically all day long bringing in the wounded came up and told me his brother had been killed. It was the completion of my cup of sorrow – my heart overcome with attending to wounded all day long. I could see how keenly his brother felt it – yet he bore it with sublime resignation and went on with his work. Your husband said goodbye to me the evening before; each of us hoping to meet again. He had been to mass and communion that day. I am sure he died the holiest and most perfect of deaths.”