James and Thomas McDonald lost a wife and mother in the late 1890s. James, a doubler in a cotton mill, continued to raise Thomas with the help of female relatives. When the 1901 Census was taken, they were living at 18 Basil Street in the Lancashire Hill district of Stockport. With them, was Sarah McDonald, James' 19 year old sister together with Ellen Wright and Sarah Quinn, respectively his mother in law and sister in law.
After finishing school, Thomas became an apprentice in the letterpress department of local printers, Freer & Hirst of Wellington Road South. In his spare time, he was assistant scoutmaster of the troop at St Mary's Church, Heaton Norris.
Thomas enlisted at Stockport at Stockport and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers. Although this was one the Regiment's regular army battalions, Thomas was not a regular soldier and his enlistment was for the period of the War only.
On 31 July 1917, the British Army launched the attack that would mark the start of the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele). The Fusiliers did not take part in the attack and were held in reserve at St Lawrence Camp, near Brandhoek. On 5 August, they were called on to take over a section of the front line from the exhausted attacking troops and moved into positions near Frezenberg allowing the men of the 7th Leinsters to withdraw for rest.
The Battalion's War Diary records the tough time they had even getting to the trenches. "Battalion had to pass through a very heavy enemy barrage when going up to the trenches. For and hour and half, the men had to shelter in shell holes and relief was not complete until 3.45am. "A" and "B" Companies held front line, "C" Company in support and "D" in reserve. The Companys (sic) all had good accommodation in concrete dug-outs which had been practically undamaged by our artillery."
The remainder of this tour of duty was relatively quiet although the enemy artillery was active and there were several casualties. The problem, once again, came as they were moving about in the open after they had been relieved. On the evening of the 7th, a Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles took over from them and they made their way back to camp at Vlamertinghe Area No. 3. The War Diary records "About midnight, the enemy put over a large quantity of mustard gas, phosgene. They continued sending over the gas while the Companies were moving across the old No Man's Land to Ypres. The Battalion suffering heavy casualties in officers and men."
Most of the men who became casualties were injured or incapacitated by the gas but, during the day, seven had been killed. Thomas' body was never recovered and identified.